Saturday, August 30, 2014

Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Author Mary Shelley was born on this day in 1797.  Shelley was a writer of novels, short stories, screenplays, essays, travel pieces, and more.  However, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

A woodcut  depicting Frankenstein's Creature by Lynd Ward for a 1934 edition of the novel

Frankenstein is considered a influential, classic work of Gothic Horror and, perhaps the very first Science Fiction tale.  In her novel, Shelley warns of the perils of man playing God as an obsessive scientist does the fantastic and terrifying, resurrecting a creature composed of dead tissue.  Upon his the "birth" of his creation, Frankenstein rejects the "Monster" and thus sets into motion a series of horrifically tragic events.  Readers sympathize with Frankenstein's creation, who turns out to be a tortured, misunderstood figure and justly recognize the doctor himself as being "the real monster".

Famously, an 18 year old Shelley began writing the story in Switzerland during the stormy summer of 1816 (apparently brought on by the eruption of an Indonesian volcano).  She and her future husband, Percy Shelley, were challenged by Lord Byron to create a horror story.  Initially stumped as to what exactly to write, Shelley became preoccupied with the idea of a man reanimating a corpse.  This germ of an idea led to severe nightmares.  Inspired, Shelley sett out to create just a short story, but the tale eventually developed into a novel.  The book was first published anonymously in 1818, although Shelley's name would appear on an 1823 edition and all subsequent publications of the story.

Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the Monster (Boris Karloff) face off in the classic 1931 Universal film

While the book would receive mostly negative reviews, it was popular among readers and would go on to become a classic.  Shelley's story is a cultural phenomenon that has inspired multiple stage and film adaptations.  Her legacy lives on as Victor Frankenstein and his "Monster" are now archetypal characters that remain indispensable fixtures of popular culture.

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