200 years of the Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840. Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Shelley was just 18 years old when she began writing the English language’s most successful gothic horror tale, Frankenstein, which was first published  200 years ago. So after all these years what do we know about her, the story, and the circumstances that led to the creation of Frank Jnr.?

  • She did indeed write the story when she was 18, although it was not published until she was 21.
  • It was written as the result of a challenge laid down by Lord Byron (romantic poet extraodinaire), who along with young Mary, her husband Percy, and Byron’s “personal physician” John Polidori was staying in a spooky country house. On a stormy night telling ghost stories to each other, Byron thought it would be a good challenge for the group to see who could write the best ghost/horror story!
  • That session also led to Polidori writing the story ‘Vampyre’ which was influential on Bram Stoker for his work, ‘Dracula’.
  • ‘Frankenstein’ was first published anonymously on a short run of 500 using extremely budget materials by publisher Lackington’s, who are still operating today
  • In 1910 Thomas Edison created a 15min film based on the story – I love the music accompaniment on it!
  • The monster has no name but is referred to in the book by the names in my first sentence. For many years I believed the monster’s name was Adam, but I must’ve dreamed that!
  • The story was initially published anonymously with many readers assuming the author to be Mary’s husband Percy. Even after its reprinting in 1831 with Mary’s name on it many still thought Percy’s hand was involved. In truth it is now believed that Percy contributed a measly 6% of the text (4,000 of 72,000 words) with many readers considering that his contributions only detracted from the story, were over complicated and over described, making the whole thing harder to digest.
  • During her life Mary also wrote, seven novels, three books for kids, over a dozen short stories, and numerous biographies, articles, and poems.

The story of Frankenstein is now so embedded into our popular culture that there have been countless depictions and references all through the history of film and television; think Hermann Munster, the film Young Frankenstein, British tele series The Frankenstein Chronicles, and even with the fantastic kids film Tim Burton, Frankenweenie ,we see that this story of horror has even entered into the realms of children’s literature and culture.

But have we stayed true to Mary’s idea?? Does the monster still serve the same purpose as she intended; a lesson in mortality, human desire for control and intolerance for the different, perhaps even describing the perils of parental abandonment…? This series of charts from the Guardian suggests there have been some major deviations.

So how will you celebrate the outstanding achievement of Mary Shelley? Perhaps by reading some classic gothic/horror/monster literature, there’s plenty out there and I’ve created a short list of titles for you, all available through the Christchurch City Libraries catalogue and across many formats; books, audiobooks, ebooks, and graphic novels…

Classic Gothic/Horror/Monster stories

List created by DevilStateDan

Some spooky, dark, and unnerving tales, classic titles from famous names…

View Full List

Happy and spooky reading to you….

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