The mother of Frankenstein and science fiction
The daughter of feminist icon
Mary Wollstonecraft and radical thinker William Godwin, Mary Shelley was destined for big things. Her stunning debut Frankenstein has enthralled for 200 years, and its origin – from a ghost story contest organised by Lord Byron in Geneva during 1816, ‘the year without a summer’ – has become legendary. In a “waking dream”, Shelley, then 18, saw “with shut eyes, but acute mental vision” the “pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together”. Her vision resulted in the Romantic era’s most recognisable work, which is often credited with establishing the science fiction genre in England’s literature. Shelley utilised Gothic devices to examine the corrupt nature of power, and was among the Gothic writers of her generation to feature ‘the double’, which reached its height with Robert Louis Stevenson’s
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. Upon Frankenstein’s publication, critics were of the impression it was written by a man – Sir Walter Scott theorised that Mary’s husband Percy Bysshe Shelley was the thinker behind the pen – and when the novel’s true author was revealed, critics mostly ignored its politics, which examined the social, scientific and economic problems of Mary’s time.
“God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours…” Frankenstein
An 1831 illustration of Frankenstein’s Creature