English Book Club: Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus. By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
The book: Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus
Frankenstein is a novel that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a grotesque, sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition of the novel was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in France in 1823.
Shelley travelled through Europe in 1814, journeying along the river Rhine in Germany with a stop in Gernsheim, near of Frankenstein Castle, where, two centuries before, an alchemist was engaged in experiments. She also visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland. The weather was consistently too cold and dreary that summer caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, so the group retired indoors until dawn. The company amused themselves by reading German ghost stories from the book Fantasmagoriana, then Byron proposed the famous bet. It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the grim terrors of her “waking dream”
She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley’s encouragement, she expanded the tale into a full-fledged novel. Shelley wrote the first four chapters in the weeks following the suicide of her half-sister Fanny.This was one of many personal tragedies that impacted Shelley’s work.
Frankenstein has been both well received and disregarded since its anonymous publication. Some papers said about the novel: “very bold fiction” or “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity”.
The British Critic knowing who the author was wrote:”The writer of it is a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment”.
The author: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Somers Town, London, in 1797. She was the second child of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, and the first child of the philosopher William Godwin. She was raised by Godwin, who was able to provide his daughter with a rich, informal education. Godwin married Mary Jane Clairmont, a well-educated woman with two young children of her own. Mary came to detest her stepmother.
In 1814, Mary began a romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married. Together with Mary’s stepsister, left for France and travelled through Europe for a time. They struggled financially and faced the loss of their first child in 1815. The following summer, the Shelleys were in Switzerland with Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori. The group entertained themselves one rainy day by reading a book of ghost stories. Lord Byron suggested that they all should try their hand at writing their own horror story. It was at this time that Mary Shelley began work on what would become her most famous novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. The book debuted in 1818 as a new novel from an anonymous author. Many thought that Percy had written it since he penned its introduction. The book proved to be a huge success.
Upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy’s child. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816, after the suicide of Percy Shelley’s first wife. Mary’s life was rocked by another tragedy in 1822 when her husband drowned. Made a widow at age 24, Mary Shelley worked hard to support herself and her son. She wrote several more novels, including Valperga and the science fiction tale The Last Man (1826).
Mary Shelley died of brain cancer on February 1, 1851, at age 53, in London, England. She was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth.