On this day… 30th August, 1797 – Mary Shelley born.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In the summer of 1816, Mary Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont (Mary’s step-sister) visited Lord Byron in Geneva, Switzerland. The idea was to relax and enjoy the mild Swiss summer, but that summer was especially dreary. Unable to enjoy the outdoors, the group mostly read German ghost stories to entertain themselves. It was that reading that inspired Byron to propose that the group write their own supernatural stories and see who could come up with the best one.
Byron wrote only fragments. Polidori really didn’t come up with anything, but came up with something later based on Byron’s ideas. Mary retired for the evening and had a dream of a corpse that came back to life. Based on that dream she wrote Frankenstein. Percy concentrated on facilitating his soon-to-be-wife’s story. She imagined it as a short story, and wrote the first few chapters in a relatively short time. With Percy’s encouragement and editing, she fleshed out the story over the next year or so and turned it into a full-fledged novel.
Did You Know?..
Frankenstein was first published anonymously.
Frankenstein was published three times in the 19th century—anonymously in 1818, in 1823 after it first appeared on stage, and again in 1831, with significant changes to the 1818 text. The original included an introduction’s from Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Most critics at the time assumed that it was Percy who had written the book, but modern critics cite the long narratives and triple narrator as evidence of an inexperienced writer, which is exactly what Mary was. She first received a writing credit on the 1823 reprint.
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