In honor of Women in Horror Month, we must celebrate one of the authors who had a major impact on horror. Mary Shelley created one of the most iconic creature characters: Frankenstein’s monster. The story of this freak of nature has transcended the novel to 1931’s Frankenstein, 1994’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, among many others. It also has influenced some cult classic movies, like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. With this icon in horror history, we need to take a look at the woman behind its creation.
Mary Godwin Shelley was born on August 30th, 1797 to Mary Wollenscraft and William Godwin. Her mother passed shortly after Mary was born. Her father provided the best for his daughter, including a rich, informal education. In 1814, Mary met Percy Shelley and the two were married in 1816. It was that same year that the couple took a trip to Geneva, Switzerland, to stay with Lord Byron, where Shelley got the idea for her infamous story Frankenstein. But how did it all start?
During her stay in Geneva, the group had come up with a contest to have each person write a supernatural tale. Mary had a dream about a corpse coming back to life. It was then Frankenstein was born. She initially wrote the tale as a short story but her husband encouraged to flesh it out further. Mary Shelley was a teenager when she wrote Frankenstein, and she published the novel in 1818. Frankenstein was published anonymously; it wasn’t until 1831 when the novel was published under her own name.
Mary Shelley’s own life was filled with tragedy and death. She had given birth before she started to work on Frankenstein, but he baby died six weeks later; only one of her four children reached adulthood. Her sister-in-law also had committed suicide, so it is thought the these circumstances perpetuated the creation of the work. Tragically, everyone who participated in the supernatural story contest died young. Her husband, Percy Shelley, drowned in 1822, and Lord Byron died in 1824 of sepsis. In 1821, John Polidori committed suicide. Mary was the only one to live past the 1820s. She died in 1851 of a brain tumor. The only one of the group to live a long life was Claire Clairmont, who did not participate in the writing contest.
I first read Frankenstein as a sophomore in college. I felt bad for the creature, abandoned by his creator. The monster had to teach himself; he had no parental figure to help him. Mary Shelley wrote a masterpiece. Frankenstein is a Gothic novel but also the first science fiction novel. Mary Shelley took her tragedy and created this beautiful work of art that continues to grow.