On This Day, 1814: The Origins of Frankenstein
203 years ago today, on 28 July, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley left England for France, having recently declared their love for one another. Shelley was at that time married to Harriet Westbrook who was expecting his second child. Mary and Shelley’s planned departure enraged Mary’s father, William Godwin. William did not support his daughter’s relationship with Shelley, believing the scandal would ruin her reputation. Despite the opposition to their relationship, the couple went ahead with their plan and left for Calais.
After travelling through war torn France, the couple eventually reached Switzerland before a lack of money forced them to return to England in September. Once there, Mary had to contend with the birth of Shelley’s second child by Westbrook. Mary herself fell pregnant but her daughter was born two months premature and unfortunately died soon after.
In May 1816, Shelley and Godwin returned to Switzerland, staying with the poet Lord Byron in a rented villa near Lake Geneva. Confined indoors as a result of poor weather, the party entertained themselves by telling German ghost stories, prompting the suggestion from Byron that each write their own. For Godwin, the result was one of the most famed novels of the 19th century.
Frankenstein is ingrained in the collective consciousness
Thanks to countless film and television adaptations, Frankenstein is so ingrained in the collective consciousness that even people who haven’t read the book know vaguely what it is about. If you are one of the lucky people who don’t know anything about Frankenstein do yourself a favour: abandon this post and get yourself a copy as quickly as possible!
The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein; a young wealthy intellectual who attempts to reanimate a patchwork body. Succeeding, Frankenstein is horrified by the grotesque physical appearances of what he has created and abandons the Creature to an isolated life. Eventually Frankenstein returns home where he learns of his brother, William’s, murder. Despite his certainty that the Creature is responsible, Frankenstein allows the guilt to fall on William’s nanny, who is hanged for the crime.
Struggling to cope with the guilt of his actions, Frankenstein becomes increasingly isolated, seeking solace in the mountains. Eventually, he is found by the Creature, who demands that he listen to his story. The Creature tells of his solitary life, living in the woods in a structure connected to a poor family’s cottage. Learning to speak by listening to the family talk, the Creature then teaches himself to read, before a desperate and ill-fated attempt to ingratiate himself with the family he has grown to love.
Struggling to cope with the guilt of his actions, Frankenstein becomes increasingly isolated
Embittered by the inability of those around him to see past his physical deformity, the Creature’s rage develops and the remainder of the narrative is dedicated to his desire for Frankenstein to create for him a mate with whom he can share his life. Frankenstein is conflicted: he believes bringing another creature into the world will bring about further disaster but is desperate to quell the increasing rage of his first creation.
Frankenstein is one of those books you can read again and again, and perhaps if Shelley and Godwin had never fallen in love and left for France in 1814 the world would never have experienced this classic of the horror genre.
Interested in more horror stories? Why not check out our 13 Books That Are Scarier than the Film’ list.