Mary Shelley & the Creation of Frankenstein

As the spooky month of October begins, how can we not talk about author Mary Shelley and her world-famous novel Frankenstein? We have all heard of Frankenstein, even if you have not read Mary Shelley’s novel. Frankenstein has been a Halloween symbol for ages. Children paint themselves green and run around their neighbourhoods, trick or treating. You see Frankenstein decorations in every department store once the season of autumn hits. The character of Frankenstein has become less of a terrifying creature and more of a friendly Halloween celebrity.

The Life of Mary Shelley and the Writing of Frankenstein

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in London, England, on August 30th of 1797. Her parents were both established people. Her father, William Godwin, was a political writer and philosopher. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a well-known feminist. Unfortunately for Mary, she never got the opportunity to meet her mother and was only able to know her mother through her reputation; Mary Wollstonecraft died while giving birth to her daughter. So, Mary was left in the care of her father and her elder half-sister named Imlay Wollstonecraft.

During the year of 1801, William remarried. He wedded a woman named Mary Jane Clairmont who never formed a bond with Mary.

Mary Shelley was an independent daydreamer who would spend her days reading by her mother’s grave. Her stepmother made the decision to not put Mary through school, so Mary was forced to educate herself. She did this by reading novels in her father’s library.

Through reading, Mary found her love of writing. Her first piece was created in 1807 and was named “Mounseer Nongtongpaw”. With the help of William Godwin’s company, Mary was able to publish her poem. This piece of writing was a series of comical stanzas that mocked French and English stereotypes. It was inspired by a song created by eighteenth century entertainer, Charles Dibdin.

In 1814, when Mary was seventeen, Mary met her soon to be husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy was a poet and a student of her father. Mary and Percy made the decision to run away to England together. Percy was still married to his first wife when they left. Because of this, Mary and her father’s relationship became strained, and they did not speak to one another.

Mary and Percy moved around Europe, struggling financially. The pair also faced a lot of loss. Mary delivered her daughter in 1815, who sadly only lived a few days before passing.

Mary and Percy were in Switzerland in 1816 with Mary’s stepsister Jane Clairmont and two other friends named Lord Byron and John Polidori. It was a rainy day, and the group were reading a series of ghost stories to one another. Lord Byron thought that it would be exciting if each member of the group created their own ghost story. The group agreed and everyone got to writing. This is when Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, which was also once known as The Modern Prometheus. It is the story of a Swedish scientist named Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster using corpses. The monster seeks affection when it first comes to life, but when that affection is not reciprocated, the monster turns to violence.

More loss occurred, and Mary mourned the loss of a half-sister named Fanny who committed suicide. Percy’s wife committed suicide a little while after. At this time, Mary and Percy got married.

Mary published another piece of writing called History of a Six Weeks’ Tour in 1817 which was all about the adventures that Mary and Percy had in Europe. Throughout this time period she still worked on Frankenstein.

Finally, in the year 1818, Frankenstein was finally published. It was published by an anonymous author, and because of this, many people believed Percy had written it. The novel became a success, and the couple moved to Italy.

More trouble occurred for Mary and Percy. Mary was in love with Percy, but their marriage was filled with adultery. They also lost two more children, which caused more pain for both. Percy Florence was the only child that was able to live a full life. In 1822, Mary’s husband drowned, leaving her in complete devastation.

The now widowed Mary at age twenty-four worked to support herself and her son. She published two more novels. The first was Valperga, a novel set in medieval Europe that follows the story of Castruccio Castracani as a lord. The second is named The Last Man, an apocalyptic piece that takes place in twenty first century Europe. The book is about a mysterious plague that is on the verge of wiping out humanity. She also made sure to promote the poetry Percy once wrote.

When Mary was fifty-three, she died of brain cancer on February 1st of 1851. She died back home in London. She was buried beside her husband.

Frankenstein Throughout the Years

The first form of media ever to be made after Frankenstein was published was a film created in 1901. Many are critical of this movie because it is so different than Mary Shelley’s novel and changed the character of Frankenstein completely. Frankenstein was much more intellectually developed than how he was portrayed in the film. In chapter sixteen of Frankenstein, there is a beautiful quote that describes the monster’s intelligence.

“Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery.”

In the 1901 film, Frankenstein was a moaning and groaning zombie who did not have any wit. To begin with a notable difference, the scientist Victor Frankenstein is named Henry in the film because filmmakers believed that the name Victor would be too unfriendly for American audiences. Also in the film, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, a character that does not exist in the novel, steals the brain of a criminal to use for the monster. There is also no famous “It’s alive!” scene in the novel. As well, I will not spoil anything for you, but the ending of the novel is much different than the ending of the movie.

After the 1901 film came out, many others created their own Frankenstein adaptions. From the 1900s to one of the most recent Frankenstein films in 2015, people have been creating films and television shows featuring the familiar green, bolted, face.

Mary Shelley Lives On

Mary Shelley’s legacy lives on with Frankenstein being a famous symbol of Halloween. Her novel is brilliant, and she has a very imaginative, creative, and inspiring mind.

If you are interested in reading Mary Shelley’s work, check out our book club! For the month of October, we will be reading and analyzing Frankenstein. Here is the link to Readmore’s book club if you are interested! All are welcome!

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