Portrait of Mary Shelley.

If you like scary reads, then there is one story you should definitely read ‚Äì Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. We’ve all heard of the book, and its famous author, but what is the story behind the creation of this Gothic Horror with its horrific descriptions and empowering emotions?

Mary Shelley was born in 1797 to William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who was herself a writer and an early¬†feminist. In 1812, Mary would meet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Two years after meeting the couple decided to elope, leaving Percy’s first wife Harriet Shelley without her husband. Harriett tragically drowned herself in 1816, allowing the eloped couple to marry. It was in the same year that Mary Shelley dreamed up the idea for her most successful novel.

Whilst staying in Switzerland with her new husband and Lord Byron the story of Frankenstein was conceived. All three sat around a warm fire on a dark and particularly dismal night. The rain outside was coming down in droves and the only element of amusement was the works of German Gothic writers. The small group were discussing these when Lord Byron challenged each member to write a similar ghost story of their own. For Mary, the result was Frankenstein. She would explain that the story was inspired by a nightmare and the weeks following that night saw her frantically put pen to paper. Frankenstein would be published in 1818, just two years later, when Mary was just 20 years old.

Poster for National Theatre Live production of Frankenstein.

Poster for National Theatre Live production of Frankenstein.

The story itself shows signs of the environmental influences that impacted Mary’s thoughts. In the early 1800s the world saw a scientific revolution. Galvani had supposedly made dead tissue move, whilst Aldini had wired a corpse to a battery that made the jaw appear to move, and the fist to clench tight. The similarities to her story are eerily familiar. The Frankenstein story also reveals certain revolutionary political ideas of the time. For instance, Victor Frankenstein actually challenges God by creating life of his own. The unpredicted hostility of his creation towards his master’s authority gives another insight. This comes under the backdrop of a time when society held an unwritten rule that the working class should be kept in their place. Politically, the House of Lords were able to pass laws without consent from the House of Commons. Mary seems critical towards these political ideas as both characters are punished with death. Victor, the creator, is the first to die and his creation lives out his remaining days in the frozen temperatures of the north before death allows him to escape his pain and loneliness.

The birth of Frankenstein, therefore, comes from the great minds and influences surrounding Mary Shelley at the time. The result was one incredible story that has gone down in history as perhaps one of the best Gothic Horror stories ever written.

-Claire Amundson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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