This chilling gothic tale, begun when Mary Shelley was just
nineteen years old, would become the world's most famous work of
horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits
of human creativity.
The childhood of Mary Shelley (1797 - 1851), sounds rather like a dark fairy-tale. Her mother died giving birth to her and she was brought up by a remote father and a step-mother who hated her. Her step-sister was a depressive and later committed suicide and Mary had little in common with her step-brother or her half-brother. As a young girl, she escaped into books and would often read by the side of her mother's tomb.
In 1813 Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was only twenty-one but was already unhappily married. He was destined to be one of the geniuses of English poetry. The two fell in love and eloped, despite Mary's age. Her father, William Godwin, disowned her, but still she and Shelley were married in 1816. They settled in Italy but tragedy seemed to follow them. Only one of their four children lived very long and then, in 1822, when he was just thirty, Shelley was drowned. Mary lived for another thirty years but she lost the promise that she had shown in the company of her brilliant husband and his friends, such as the poet Lord Byron. The single book that we remember her for belonged to her happy time in Italy.
It was Byron who suggested in 1817, that they each write a horror story. The result in Mary's case, was Frankenstein. As well as being creepier than most other books in the genre, Frankenstein has a far better story-line and is in the end, both moving and tragic. Amazingly, a young girl of twenty gave us the book whose name has become synonymous with horror.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of the masterpieces of
nineteenth-century Gothicism. While stay-ing in the Swiss Alps in
1816 with her lover Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and others, Mary,
then eighteen, began to concoct the story of Dr. Victor
Frankenstein and the monster he brings to life by electricity.
Written in a time of great personal tragedy, it is a subversive and
morbid story warning against the dehumanization of art and the
corrupting influence of science. Packed with allusions and literary
references, it is also one of the best thrillers ever written.
Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus was an instant bestseller
on publication in 1818. The prototype of the science fiction novel,
it has spawned countless imitations and adaptations but retains its
This Modern Library edition includes a new Introduction by Wendy Steiner, the chair of the English department at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Scandal of Pleasure.
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in 1797 in London. She eloped to France with Shelley, whom she married in 1816. After Frankenstein, she wrote several novels, including Valperga and Falkner, and edited editions of the poetry of Shelley, who had died in 1822. Mary Shelley died in London in 1851.