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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. - A Horror Masterpiece.

Updated on March 4, 2014

An Unusual Beginning

One night in 1816, the young Mary Shelley along with her husband the poet Percy Shelley and writer physician John Polidori were visiting their friend the infamous Lord Byron at his holiday home Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It was a cold night and the conversation soon turned to eerie subjects, including galvanism and the possibility of returning a corpse to life. Byron suggested a challenge, they should all retire and try to think up the most horrific story they could imagine, that night during a dream, Mary Shelley would dream the outline of of one the most read, filmed, and loved stories in English Literature.

Mary Shelley.
Mary Shelley.

Mary Shelley

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on the 30th of August 1797, Mary was the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. After the death of her mother when she was only eleven days old Mary and her older half sister Fanny Imlay were raised by their father. At the age of seventeen Mary began a relationship with married romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and after the suicide of Shelley's wife the two were married in 1816. In that same year the couple traveled to Geneva with Marys stepsister Claire Claremont to visit Lord Byron and it was there that Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein.

Publication and Reaction.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus was first published in 1818 by a small London publishing house, the initial reaction by critics was generally unfavorable however the book became a favorite of the general public and was often the subject of melodramatic theater adaptations. With its theme of using dead bodies for study and reanimation using the new medium of electricity, Frankenstein was certainly very bold and controversial for its time and sparked moral outrage among some of the more religious members of society.

The Monster

Sometimes mistakenly named Frankenstein, the creature described in the book is at once both horrifying and sad. Made from the body parts of various unfortunate victims the creature is frightening to look at and is immediately disowned by his creator, Victor Frankenstein. After being left alone by his maker the monster seeks out revenge on Frankenstein and after escaping from the laboratory where he is created goes on to kill the younger brother of Victor and causes the death of a beloved maid of the Frankenstein family who is wrongly accused of the child's murder. The monster makes a pact with Victor Frankenstein that if he would agree to make him a wife he would go away and never bother him again. After Frankenstein reneges on his promise the monster achieves the ultimate revenge by murdering Frankenstein's new wife. The creature the heads to the North Pole to live out his life in solitude, he is swiftly followed by Victor Frankenstein, mad with anger, guilt and seeking vengeance.The story is told in three narratives, an introductory narrative by Captain Walton an explorer who finds Victor Frankenstein while on expedition to the North Pole, Victor Frankenstein himself who narrates the middle section and a concluding section by Walton.

An early cinematic recreation of Frankensteins monster.
An early cinematic recreation of Frankensteins monster.


The story of Frankenstein has been the inspiration for many other books over the years, not least Re-animator by H.P.Lovecraft, the creature was also an influence on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby when they came up with the idea for the Incredible Hulk. The well known horror writer Dean Kootz has written a series of novels set in New Orleans where Victor Frankenstein carries on his ghastly work. The most enduring image of the creature is the one portrayed by Boris Karloff in James Whales 1931 film Frankenstein. In this movie the creature features an extremely large forehead and has bolts through its neck, none of which is described in the book however this look has become engrained in the consciousness of the movie going public as the de facto look of the creature.

Boris Karloff as the monster.
Boris Karloff as the monster.


The amount of movie adaptations of the novel is incredible, some of the better known versions include those made by Universal Studios in the 1930s and Hammer Studios in the 50s and 60s. Some more recent versions include Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelleys Frankenstein and the creature featured in Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman. Comedy films have also jumped on the bandwagon with the brilliant Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein and British farce Carry On Screaming.

Movie poster for Young Frankenstein.
Movie poster for Young Frankenstein.


Today it seems incredible that this creature that is so familiar to all of us was dreamed up by a young girl in the early 19th century. It is quite surprising that so many people are acquainted with the Frankenstein story yet have never read the book. In my humble opinion, even today the book stands up incredibly well, it is an exciting tale and although it is written in what may seem an old fashioned form of English today, it is not a difficult read and well worth reading if you get the chance. Being as it is now in the public domain,the book should available to download for free.


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