First published in 1818, Frankenstein has endured for two hundred years as a devastating exploration of human ingenuity and inhumanity. Currently placed at #78 on The Greatest Books, a list compiled from over 100 other lists made by authors and critics, the characters of Victor Frankenstein (the scientist) and his unnamed Creation live on in modern popular culture, too, thanks to movies from Mel Brooks, Daniel Radcliffe, and others. Just as impressive as its critical and mainstream legacy, though, is that the world's most celebrated horror story was written by an eighteen-year-old.
Mary Shelley's epistolary tale of an ambitious scientist, his resurrected creation, and their gruesome rivalry was terrifying, beautiful, and thought-provoking. Her descriptions of the scientist's parts stolen from morgues and his secret laboratory humming with electricity juxtapose with the vast, open, sunlit landscapes of Switzerland and the Arctic circle. And her descriptions of the scientist's inner landscape weave interesting patterns across the text with the mind of the Devil-Creation. I can't help but love and hate both characters, and the situation they've been thrust into, and continue to thrust themselves back into, leading to the cinematic showdown in "the darkness and distance" of the icy north. [JG]
Possibly the woman painted here by Samuel John Stump. In 1814, then just sixteen, Mary Godwin fled her home in England to elope with her lover, Percy Shelley, a politically-minded Romantic. She became pregnant soon after, but suffered a miscarriage and in her journal wrote, "Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived." She bore another child though, and also befriended another ex-pat, Lord Byron. In his Italian villa, Mary, Percy, Byron, and some friends would read German ghost stories, and even took turns writing their own to share. Eventually, with these experiences and the mythic beauty and danger of the surrounding Alpine landscape, "an amphitheater of mountains," Frankenstein began to crackle to life on the banks of Lake Geneva and in Shelley's mind. She published it anonymously in three volumes in 1818.
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein