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A Life of Regret & The Nightmare of Technology
Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was famous in her own right as a feminist. She died of complications while giving birth to Mary, something that caused chronic suffering for her daughter.
Mary Shelley’s husband Percy was a follower of her father’s very liberal philosophies, so I suppose it was just natural for him to assume that Godwin would accept his affair with his 16 year old daughter – even though Percy was 5 years older and married with children.
Ooooh. Not so. After Percy Shelley left his wife to travel the world with Mary and her step-sister Claire (both of whom were having affairs with him and others), Godwin turned his back on them all due to the public outrage caused by their arrangement.
Mary became pregnant but lost the baby girl causing a deep depression and recurring dreams of her dead daughter. Looking for change, in 1816 Mary, Claire and Percy settled in Geneva with poet Lord Byron and his lover William Polidori, author and physician.
One day they all decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Mary Shelley pondered her storyline for weeks, eventually having a dream about a scientist who created life and then was horrified by what he had made, laying the foundation of her Frankenstein story. (Polidori wrote The Vampyre, published in 1819 – one of the first vampire novels in English.)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is intensely influenced by her experiences – guilt of her mother’s death at her birth, grieving her daughter’s death, her fears of losing Percy Shelley in one of his many affairs, and feelings of abandonment by her father who raised her with certain moral ideas but rejected her for living them – but it’s also influenced by the ideas of the time, no doubt the topic of the many debates with her housemates, such as galvanism (the contraction of muscles stimulated by an electric current), the occult, emerging technology, and the rise of the gothic horror story.
Mary Shelley’s ideas, her experiences and a dream created a story that according to William Patrick Maynard says “best reflects the ethical and moral issues that arise when technology consistently outpaces its maker’s ability to reconcile progress with the established strictures of society.”
Frankenstein, a Modern Prometheus Debuts
It was printed anonymously in London – probably due to the negative regard for female authors at the time, especially for the horror genre.
It had a preface written by her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley who was a famous poet at the time, and was dedicated to her father Edwin Godwin, a journalist, political philosopher and novelist himself.
It was released in a series of 3 volumes – called the Triple Decker – as was standard in publishing at that time due to the cost of printing and binding. (Volume 1 funds the printing of subsequent volumes.)
With its popularity it was reprinted in France in 1823, this time naming its now-famous author after she was given credit as the monster’s creator in the stage play Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein by Richard Brinsley Peake.
On Halloween 1831 it was reprinted in one volume but was heavily revised because Shelley was under pressure to make it more conservative. This is the edition that is still on sale today.
You can read it on Kindle for FREE, but my favorite volume is Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein – the preface was written by Stephen King, and Wrightson’s illustrations are masterful and amazing.
To see examples of Wrightson’s drawings, visit Blackgate.com
Did this information help you?
Mary Shelley history from article by William Patrick Maynard and Wikipedia.
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Once a week we'll tell you the upcoming daily celebrations & the articles you may have missed.