Step into Victor Frankenstein's nightmare: A monster of his own creation, sewn together from corpses, hates him so deeply that it vows to kill everyone he loves. Frankenstein, a tale of horror by Mary Shelley, is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year! A classic work of English literature, Frankenstein is about more than fear and the unnatural. It's also about scientific advancement and ethics. As a fan of science fiction, I really enjoyed reading this classic novel.
Shelley's main character is Victor Frankenstein, a Swiss student of science who wants to discover something new. Through intense study, he unlocks the secret of life and uses it to create a human being out of corpses. Only his creation does not turn out as he intended. When it escapes, Frankenstein discovers that he is far from free of his monster, or the consequences of creating it. If you haven't read Frankenstein yet, this is the perfect year to pick it up!
One of my favorite things about reading is finishing a book and then finding out more about its author. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was only 19 years old in 1816, the year that she shared a villa on Lake Geneva with Lord Byron and her lover Percy Shelley. Inspired by reading German ghost stories, they challenged each other to a ghost story writing contest.
Mary Shelley began to write Frankenstein, drawing from her own experiences with life and death. She had lost a baby the year before; her first child with Percy was a premature little girl who died only 13 days after birth. She was also driven by the literary merits of her parents. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her father, William Godwin, wrote a variety of things as a journalist, philosopher, and novelist. And she was also encouraged by her literary friends. Mary Shelley is best known for Frankenstein, but what was happening in her life when she wrote it is also as interesting as her famous novel! Scandal, passion, and tragedy all played a part in her life.
Charlotte Gordon's book Romantic Outlaws is a unique biography of both Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft. They never knew each other because Mary's mother died giving birth to her, but they were a lot alike. A librarian who I work with told me that reading Frankenstein, hosting the library program Anatomy of a Masterpiece: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and then reading Romantic Outlaws was one of the best literary experiences of her life. If I wasn't reading so many teen books all the time I would attend the program too!
Classics like Frankenstein inspire the creation of many other stories. There have been so many plays, movies, and other media inspired by the novel that I can't list them all! But one that I enjoyed and want to mention is a retelling for teens called This Monstrous Thing. I didn't think much about Mary Shelley and her life until I read it. Author Mackenzi Lee cleverly puts Mary Shelley right into the novel as a character. Basing her novel Frankenstein on her friend Alasdair, a genius skilled in meshing clockwork to flesh who resurrects his brother Oliver, fictional Mary Shelley's publication of her famous book throws Alasdair's life into upheaval. This steampunk version of Frankenstein still captures the tension, controversy, and depression in Mary Shelley's original.
Frankenstein is a story with elements that mean something for us all. Modern science is always advancing, we all make mistakes, and we all experience grief and death at some point. That's why Mary Shelley's most famous novel will be with us for at least another hundred years.