Frankenstein, one of the best-known horror stories in literary history, was first published two hundred years ago, in January, 1818, and since then it has inspired numerous films, television programmes, video games, as well as ballet, comic-books, visual art, posters and much more. Few stories have been featured, and continue to be featured, in as many films as Frankenstein, writes Gerry Breen.
Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley, who was married to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary was born in London on 30th August, 1797. She was the daughter of philosopher and writer William Godwin and the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Unfortunately, Mary never really knew her mother who died shortly after her birth.
When Mary’s father remarried, her step-mother saw no need to educate her, so she didn’t have any formal education, but she made good use of her father’s extensive library and found an outlet in writing.
‘As a child’, she once explained, ‘I scribbled, and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to write stories.’
It could be said that the story of Frankenstein began out of boredom. It happened on 17th June, 1816, when Mary, Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet Lord Byron and Dr. Polidori, a physician and writer, who was to publish what is regarded as the first vampire novel, were gathered at a mansion near Lake Geneva.
The weather was bad and they were confined to the house with time on their hands. Inspired by a collection of horror stories they had read, they decided to have a competition amongst themselves to see who could invent the best horror story of their own.
As her contribution, Mary told part of the story of what was to become the most enduring and iconic tale in horror history. At the time, Mary was eighteen years old. The novel itself wasn’t completed for another year. It was first published anonymously under the title Frankenstein with a subtitle: A modern Prometheus. It was dedicated to William Godwin, Mary’s father, and Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the preface. Many people assumed that Percy Bysshe Shelley was the author, and this belief continued even after Frankenstein was reprinted in Mary’s name.