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Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheusby Mary Shelley
Synopses & Reviews
"I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion." A summer evening's ghost stories, lonely insomnia in a moonlit Alpine's room, and a runaway imagination--fired by philosophical discussions with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley about science, galvanism, and the origins of life--conspired to produce for Marry Shelley this haunting night specter. By morning, it had become the germ of her Romantic masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Written in 1816 when she was only nineteen, Mary Shelley's novel of "The Modern Prometheus" chillingly dramatized the dangerous potential of life begotten upon a laboratory table. A frightening creation myth for our own time, Frankenstein remains one of the greatest horror stories ever written and is an undisputed classic of its kind.
From the Paperback edition.
The story of Dr. Frankenstein and the obsessive experiment that leads to the creation of a monstrous and deadly creature
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of the masterpieces of nineteenth-century Gothicism. While stay-ing in the Swiss Alps in 1816 with her lover Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and others, Mary, then eighteen, began to concoct the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the monster he brings to life by electricity. Written in a time of great personal tragedy, it is a subversive and morbid story warning against the dehumanization of art and the corrupting influence of science. Packed with allusions and literary references, it is also one of the best thrillers ever written. Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus was an instant bestseller on publication in 1818. The prototype of the science fiction novel, it has spawned countless imitations and adaptations but retains its original power.
About the Author
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on August 30, 1797, in London. Her father, William Godwin, was a radical philosopher and novelist. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a renowned feminist and the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), died of sepsis ten days after giving birth to her. Godwin married Mary Jane Clairmont, their next-door neighbor, when Mary was four, and she was raised in an extended family that included a stepsister, Jane, and a half sister, Fanny Imlay. Largely self-educated--a source of some mortification to her--she was made aware from an early age that she was destined for, if not greatness, a respectable writing career. Her father founded a publishing company that he operated out of their house, and frequent visitors included Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Harriet; the essayists William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in their living room very late one night. Mary and Jane, ignoring their curfew, hid behind the couch to listen.
She spent part of her early teens in the Scottish countryside with family friends. On one return from Scotland to London, in May 1814, three months before her seventeenth birthday, she fell in love with Shelley. They eloped to France, accompanied by Jane. Godwin, despite lifelong professions of his belief in free love, protested; on their first day abroad, in Calais, "a fat lady . . . arrived," Shelley wrote, in a diary he and Mary kept jointly, "who said that I had run away with her daughter." Mrs. Godwin could not persuade either girl to go back to London with her, and left alone after a night's argument. Mary, Shelley, and Jane (who now called herself "Claire") went to Paris and continued on to Switzerland by mule, returning in September to London, where they rented an apartment. Shelley continued intermittently to see Harriet, who was pregnant with their second child.
Shelley had to hide from bill collectors through the fall and winter, and apart from various clandestine assignations, Mary saw very little of him. Early in 1815 she began an affair with a lawyer, friend, and creditor, Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Shelley, who had become involved with Claire, approved of the liaison. On February 22, 1815, while Shelley was away, Mary give birth prematurely to her first child, a girl, who died twelve days later, shortly after Hogg had helped Mary and the infant move to a different apartment. Mary became pregnant again almost immediately by Shelley; her second child, William, was born on January 24, 1816.
In the spring of 1816 Mary, Shelley, William, and Claire set up house near Lake Geneva, below the Villa Diodati, which was occupied by the poet Lord Byron, with whom Claire had had a brief affair earlier in the year, and whose child she eventually bore. It was a rainy summer, and they spent long nights with Byron and Polidori, his doctor, talking about the supernatural and science, and challenging one another to write ghost stories. One such conversation in mid-June--mostly about galvanism being used to reanimate a corpse--stretched almost until dawn, and when Mary finally got to bed, she dreamed a student built a human being and--as she put it--woke him up with machinery. The dream inspired her first novel, Frankenstein. Its composition was interrupted by a move back to England, intermittent sickness from a third pregnancy, and the suicides of her half sister Fanny and of Harriet Shelley, in October and November, respectively. Harriet, also pregnant by Shelley, drowned herself in the Serpentine.
Mary married Shelley on December 30, 1816. Five months later she finished
>Frankenstein, and on September 2, 1817, she gave birth to her third child, Clara, and published Journal of a Six Weeks' Tour, a travel book. Frankenstein was published on January 1, 1818, and immediately became a bestseller, although she never made much money from it.
Several months later the Shelleys moved permanently to Italy. On September 24, 1818, Clara died in Venice, of an illness that originated with a tooth infection; on June 7, 1819, William died in Rome of malaria while Mary was expecting her fourth child. Consumed by feelings of hopelessness, she wrote Matilda, a melodramatic novel whose theme is father-daughter incest. Her father, who, having become destitute, had begun to beg money from her, advised her not to publish it, and she agreed. On November 12, 1819, she gave birth to a son, Percy, in Florence. The following year she began work on a medieval Italian romance, Valperga, intending to donate royalties to her father, and became pregnant for the fifth time. She suffered a miscarriage in June 1821.
Shelley drowned in a storm on July 8, 1822, in the bay of Spezzia. His body washed ashore about ten days later and was cremated on the beach in the presence of Mary; the poet, critic, and essayist Leigh Hunt; Edward John Trelawny, a friend of the Shelleys' from Cornwall; and Byron, who asked for the skull. Hunt, remembering how Byron had treated the skull of a Franciscan monk found in a Spanish abbey--he made it into an ashtray--declined to see the great Romantic poet's skull thus treated, and refused. Trelawny snatched Shelley's heart from the funeral pyre, causing permanent damage to his hand, and gave it to Mary, who carried it in her purse, some say, for the rest of her life. She buried Shelley's ashes in Rome and returned to England.
Valperga was published in 1823 and, in the following year, the Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, which Mary edited. In the next few years she briefly considered two essentially loveless marriages to Americans--the actor-dramatist John Howard Payne and the writer Washington Irving--but ultimately rejected both men. In 1826 she published The Last Man, a tragic-ironic novel in the Gothic tradition that fused fantasy and realism and whose three central characters are based loosely on herself, Shelley, and Byron. She contracted smallpox in 1828.
The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, a historical novel, was published in 1830, and in 1831, she revised Frankenstein for republication. Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia commissioned a series of biographical and critical essays on Italian, French, and Spanish writers in 1832 that were published separately as Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain & Portugal (1835) and Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of France (1838). A semiautobiographical novel, Lodore, was published in 1835.
Her last novel, Falkner, partially an attempt to absolve Shelley of charges of causing Harriet's suicide, was published in 1837; its eponymous hero was based on Trelawny. She released Shelley's Poetical Works and Letters in 1839. Thereafter she underwent periods of severe illness, with recoveries spent on the Continent with her son, Percy, and his friends. Her last book was Rambles in Germany and Italy. She died on February 21, 1851, in London after a series of strokes, and was buried in Bournemouth.
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