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Frankenstein is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley about eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a grotesque but sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the second edition, published in France in 1823.Frankenstein is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement and is also considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story, because unlike in previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. It has had a considerable influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films, and plays.
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Mary Shelley was born as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Somers Town, London, in 1797. She was the second child of the feminist philosopher, educator, and writer Mary Wollstonecraft, and the first child of the philosopher, novelist, and journalist William Godwin. Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever ten days after Mary was born. Godwin was left to bring up Mary, along with her older half-sister, Fanny Imlay, Wollstonecraft's child by the American speculator Gilbert Imlay. A year after Wollstonecraft's death, Godwin published his Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), which he intended as a sincere and compassionate tribute. However, because the Memoirs revealed Wollstonecraft's affairs and her illegitimate child, they were seen as shocking. Mary Godwin read these memoirs and her mother's books, and was brought up to cherish her mother's memory.
Mary's earliest years were happy ones, judging from the letters of William Godwin's housekeeper and nurse, Louisa Jones. But Godwin was often deeply in debt; feeling that he could not raise the children by himself, he cast about for a second wife. In December 1801, he married Mary Jane Clairmont, a well-educated woman with two young children of her own—Charles and Claire. Most of Godwin’s friends disliked his new wife, describing her as quick-tempered and quarrelsome; but Godwin was devoted to her, and the marriage was a success. Mary Godwin, on the other hand, came to detest her stepmother. William Godwin's 19th-century biographer C. Kegan Paul later suggested that Mrs Godwin had favoured her own children over those of Mary Wollstonecraft.
Together, the Godwins started a publishing firm called M. J. Godwin, which sold children's books as well as stationery, maps, and games. However, the business did not turn a profit, and Godwin was forced to borrow substantial sums to keep it going. He continued to borrow to pay off earlier loans, compounding his problems. By 1809, Godwin's business was close to failure and he was "near to despair". Godwin was saved from debtor's prison by philosophical devotees such as Francis Place, who lent him further money.
Black-and-white engraving showing London buildings in the background and carriages and people in the foreground.
The Polygon (at left) in Somers Town, London, between Camden Town and St Pancras, where Mary Godwin was born and spent her earliest years
Though Mary Godwin received little formal education, her father tutored her in a broad range of subjects. He often took the children on educational outings, and they had access to his library and to the many intellectuals who visited him, including the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the former vice-president of the United States Aaron Burr. Godwin admitted he was not educating the children according to Mary Wollstonecraft's philosophy as outlined in works such as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), but Mary Godwin nonetheless received an unusual and advanced education for a girl of the time. She had a governess, a daily tutor, and read many of her father's children's books on Roman and Greek history in manuscript. For six months in 1811, she also attended a boarding school in Ramsgate. Her father described her at fifteen as "singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible."
In June 1812, her father sent Mary to stay with the Dissenting family of the radical William Baxter, near Dundee, Scotland. To Baxter, he wrote, "I am anxious that she should be brought up … like a philosopher, even like a cynic." Scholars have speculated that she may have been sent away for her health, to remove her from the seamy side of business, or to introduce her to radical politics. Mary Godwin revelled in the spacious surroundings of Baxter's house and in the companionship of his four daughters, and she returned north in the summer of 1813 for a further stay of ten months. In the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, she recalled: "I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered."
Mary Godwin may have first met the radical poet-philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley in the interval between her two stays in Scotland. By the time she returned home for a second time on 30 March 1814, Percy Shelley had become estranged from his wife and was regularly visiting Godwin, whom he had agreed to bail out of debt. Percy Shelley's radicalism, particularly his economic views, which he had imbibed from William Godwin's Political Justice (1793), had alienated him from his wealthy aristocratic family: they wanted him to follow traditional models of the landed aristocracy, and he wanted to donate large amounts of the family's money to schemes intended to help the disadvantaged. Percy Shelley therefore had difficulty gaining access to money until he inherited his estate because his family did not want him wasting it on projects of "political justice". After several months of promises, Shelley announced that he either could not or would not pay off all of Godwin's debts. Godwin was angry and felt betrayed.
Mary and Percy began meeting each other secretly at Mary Wollstonecraft's grave in St Pancras Churchyard, and they fell in love—she was nearly seventeen, he nearly twenty-two. To Mary's dismay, her father disapproved and tried to thwart the relationship and salvage the "spotless fame" of his daughter. At about the same time, Mary's father learned of Shelley's inability to pay off the father's debts. Mary, who later wrote of "my excessive and romantic attachment to my father", was confused. She saw Percy Shelley as an embodiment of her parents' liberal and reformist ideas of the 1790s, particularly Godwin's view that marriage was a repressive monopoly, which he had argued in his 1793 edition of Political Justice but since retracted. On 28 July 1814, the couple eloped and secretly left for France, taking Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont, with them, but leaving Percy's pregnant wife behind.
After convincing Mary Jane Godwin, who had pursued them to Calais, that they did not wish to return, the trio travelled to Paris, and then, by donkey, mule, carriage, and foot, through a France recently ravaged by war, to Switzerland. "It was acting in a novel, being an incarnate romance," Mary Shelley recalled in 1826. As they travelled, Mary and Percy read works by Mary Wollstonecraft and others, kept a joint journal, and continued their own writing. At Lucerne, lack of money forced the three to turn back. They travelled down the Rhine and by land to the Dutch port of Marsluys, arriving at Gravesend, Kent, on 13 September 1814.
Half-length oval portrait of a man wearing a black jacket and a white shirt, which is askew and open to his chest.
The situation awaiting Mary Godwin in England was fraught with complications, some of which she had not foreseen. Either before or during the journey, she had become pregnant. She and Percy now found themselves penniless, and, to Mary's genuine surprise, her father refused to have anything to do with her. The couple moved with Claire into lodgings at Somers Town, and later, Nelson Square. They maintained their intense programme of reading and writing and entertained Percy Shelley's friends, such as Thomas Jefferson Hogg and the writer Thomas Love Peacock. Percy Shelley sometimes left home for short periods to dodge creditors. The couple's distraught letters reveal their pain at these separations.
Pregnant and often ill, Mary Godwin had to cope with Percy's joy at the birth of his son by Harriet Shelley in late 1814 and his constant outings with Claire Clairmont. She was partly consoled by the visits of Hogg, whom she disliked at first but soon considered a close friend. Percy Shelley seems to have wanted Mary Godwin and Hogg to become lovers; Mary did not dismiss the idea, since in principle she believed in free love. In practice, however, she loved only Percy Shelley and seems to have ventured no further than flirting with Hogg. On 22 February 1815, she gave birth to a two-months premature baby girl, who was not expected to survive. On 6 March, she wrote to Hogg:
My dearest Hogg my baby is dead—will you come to see me as soon as you can. I wish to see you—It was perfectly well when I went to bed—I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it. It was dead then, but we did not find that out till morning—from its appearance it evidently died of convulsions—Will you come—you are so calm a creature & Shelley is afraid of a fever from the milk—for I am no longer a mother now.
The loss of her child induced acute depression in Mary Godwin, who was haunted by visions of the baby; but she conceived again and had recovered by the summer. With a revival in Percy Shelley's finances after the death of his grandfather, Sir Bysshe Shelley, the couple holidayed in Torquay and then rented a two-storey cottage at Bishopsgate, on the edge of Windsor Great Park. Little is known about this period in Mary Godwin's life, since her journal from May 1815 to July 1816 is lost. At Bishopsgate, Percy wrote his poem Alastor; and on 24 January 1816, Mary gave birth to a second child, William, named after her father and soon nicknamed "Willmouse". In her novel The Last Man, she later imagined Windsor as a Garden of Eden.
In May 1816, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and their son travelled to Geneva with Claire Clairmont. They planned to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron, whose recent affair with Claire had left her pregnant. The party arrived at Geneva on 14 May 1816, where Mary called herself "Mrs Shelley". Byron joined them on 25 May, with his young physician, John William Polidori, and rented the Villa Diodati, close to Lake Geneva at the village of Cologny; Percy Shelley rented a smaller building called Maison Chapuis on the waterfront nearby. They spent their time writing, boating on the lake, and talking late into the night.
"It proved a wet, ungenial summer", Mary Shelley remembered in 1831, "and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house". Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company amused themselves with German ghost stories, which prompted Byron to propose that they "each write a ghost story". Unable to think of a story, young Mary Godwin became anxious: "Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative." During one mid-June evening, the discussions turned to the nature of the principle of life. "Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated", Mary noted, "galvanism had given token of such things". It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the grim terrors of her "waking dream", her ghost story:
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. ”
She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley's encouragement, she expanded this tale into her first novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818. She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment "when I first stepped out from childhood into life". The story has been fictionalised several times and formed the basis for a number of films.
In September 2011 the astronomer Donald Olson, after a visit to the Lake Geneva villa the previous year, and inspecting data about the motion of the moon and stars, concluded that her waking dream took place "between 2am and 3am" 16 June 1816, several days after the initial idea by Lord Byron that they each write a ghost story.
Since Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818, readers and critics argued over its origins and the contributions of the two Shelleys to the book. There are differences in the 1818, 1823, and 1831 editions, and Mary Shelley wrote, "I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world." She wrote that the preface to the first edition was Percy's work "as far as I can recollect." James Rieger concluded Percy's "assistance at every point in the book's manufacture was so extensive that one hardly knows whether to regard him as editor or minor collaborator" while Anne K. Mellor later argued Percy only "made many technical corrections and several times clarified the narrative and thematic continuity of the text."
On their return to England in September, Mary and Percy moved—with Claire Clairmont, who took lodgings nearby—to Bath, where they hoped to keep Claire’s pregnancy secret. At Cologny, Mary Godwin had received two letters from her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, who alluded to her "unhappy life"; on 9 October, Fanny wrote an "alarming letter" from Bristol that sent Percy Shelley racing off to search for her, without success. On the morning of 10 October, Fanny Imlay was found dead in a room at a Swansea inn, along with a suicide note and a laudanum bottle. On 10 December, Percy Shelley's wife, Harriet, was discovered drowned in the Serpentine, a lake in Hyde Park, London. Both suicides were hushed up. Harriet’s family obstructed Percy Shelley's efforts—fully supported by Mary Godwin—to assume custody of his two children by Harriet. His lawyers advised him to improve his case by marrying; so he and Mary, who was pregnant again, married on 30 December 1816 at St Mildred's Church, Bread Street, London. Mr and Mrs Godwin were present and the marriage ended the family rift.
Claire Clairmont gave birth to a baby girl on 13 January, at first called Alba, later Allegra. In March of that year, the Chancery Court ruled Percy Shelley morally unfit to assume custody of his children and later placed them with a clergyman's family. Also in March, the Shelleys moved with Claire and Alba to Albion House at Marlow, Buckinghamshire, a large, damp building on the river Thames. There Mary Shelley gave birth to her third child, Clara, on 2 September. At Marlow, they entertained their new friends Marianne and Leigh Hunt, worked hard at their writing, and often discussed politics.
At Marlow, Mary edited the joint journal of the group's 1814 Continental journey, adding material written in Switzerland in 1816, along with Percy's poem "Mont Blanc". The result was the History of a Six Weeks' Tour, published in November 1817. That autumn, Percy Shelley often lived away from home in London to evade creditors. The threat of a debtor's prison, combined with their ill health and fears of losing custody of their children, contributed to the couple's decision to leave England for Italy on 12 March 1818, taking Claire Clairmont and Alba with them. They had no intention of returning.
One of the party's first tasks on arriving in Italy was to hand Alba over to Byron, who was living in Venice. He had agreed to raise her so long as Claire had nothing more to do with her. The Shelleys then embarked on a roving existence, never settling in any one place for long. Along the way, they accumulated a circle of friends and acquaintances who often moved with them. The couple devoted their time to writing, reading, learning, sightseeing, and socialising. The Italian adventure was, however, blighted for Mary Shelley by the deaths of both her children—Clara, in September 1818 in Venice, and William, in June 1819 in Rome. These losses left her in a deep depression that isolated her from Percy Shelley, who wrote in his notebook:
My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone,
And left me in this dreary world alone?
Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—
But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road
That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode.
For thine own sake I cannot follow thee
Do thou return for mine.
For a time, Mary Shelley found comfort only in her writing. The birth of her fourth child, Percy Florence, on 12 November 1819, finally lifted her spirits, though she nursed the memory of her lost children till the end of her life.
Italy provided the Shelleys, Byron, and other exiles with a political freedom unattainable at home. Despite its associations with personal loss, Italy became for Mary Shelley "a country which memory painted as paradise". Their Italian years were a time of intense intellectual and creative activity for both Shelleys. While Percy composed a series of major poems, Mary wrote the autobiographical novel Matilda, the historical novel Valperga, and the plays Proserpine and Midas. Mary wrote Valperga to help alleviate her father's financial difficulties, as Percy refused to assist him further. She was often physically ill, however, and prone to depressions. She also had to cope with Percy’s interest in other women, such as Sophia Stacey, Emilia Viviani, and Jane Williams. Since Mary Shelley shared his belief in the non-exclusivity of marriage, she formed emotional ties of her own among the men and women of their circle. She became particularly fond of the Greek revolutionary Prince Alexander Mavrocordato and of Jane and Edward Williams.
In December 1818, the Shelleys travelled south with Claire Clairmont and their servants to Naples, where they stayed for three months, receiving only one visitor, a physician. In 1820, they found themselves plagued by accusations and threats from Paolo and Elise Foggi, former servants whom Percy Shelley had dismissed in Naples shortly after the Foggis had married. The pair revealed that on 27 February 1819 in Naples, Percy Shelley had registered as his child by Mary Shelley a two-month-old baby girl named Elena Adelaide Shelley. The Foggis also claimed that Claire Clairmont was the baby's mother. Biographers have offered various interpretations of these events: that Percy Shelley decided to adopt a local child; that the baby was his by Elise, Claire, or an unknown woman; or that she was Elise’s by Byron. Mary Shelley insisted she would have known if Claire had been pregnant, but it is unclear how much she really knew. The events in Naples, a city Mary Shelley later called a paradise inhabited by devils, remain shrouded in mystery. The only certainty is that she herself was not the child’s mother. Elena Adelaide Shelley died in Naples on 9 June 1820.
In the summer of 1822, a pregnant Mary moved with Percy, Claire, and Edward and Jane Williams to the isolated Villa Magni, at the sea's edge near the hamlet of San Terenzo in the Bay of Lerici. Once they were settled in, Percy broke the "evil news" to Claire that her daughter Allegra had died of typhus in a convent at Bagnacavallo. Mary Shelley was distracted and unhappy in the cramped and remote Villa Magni, which she came to regard as a dungeon. On 16 June, she miscarried, losing so much blood that she nearly died. Rather than wait for a doctor, Percy sat her in a bath of ice to staunch the bleeding, an act the doctor later told him saved her life. All was not well between the couple that summer, however, and Percy spent more time with Jane Williams than with his depressed and debilitated wife. Most of the short poems Shelley wrote at San Terenzo were addressed to Jane rather than to Mary.
The coast offered Percy Shelley and Edward Williams the chance to enjoy their "perfect plaything for the summer", a new sailing boat. The boat had been designed by Daniel Roberts and Edward Trelawny, an admirer of Byron's who had joined the party in January 1822. On 1 July 1822, Percy Shelley, Edward Ellerker Williams, and Captain Daniel Roberts sailed south down the coast to Livorno. There Percy Shelley discussed with Byron and Leigh Hunt the launch of a radical magazine called The Liberal. On 8 July, he and Edward Williams set out on the return journey to Lerici with their eighteen-year-old boatboy, Charles Vivian. They never reached their destination. A letter arrived at Villa Magni from Hunt to Percy Shelley, dated 8 July, saying, "pray write to tell us how you got home, for they say you had bad weather after you sailed monday & we are anxious". "The paper fell from me," Mary told a friend later. "I trembled all over." She and Jane Williams rushed desperately to Livorno and then to Pisa in the fading hope that their husbands were still alive. Ten days after the storm, three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici. Trelawny, Byron, and Hunt cremated Percy Shelley’s corpse on the beach at Viareggio.
After her husband's death, Mary Shelley lived for a year with Leigh Hunt and his family in Genoa, where she often saw Byron and transcribed his poems. She resolved to live by her pen and for her son, but her financial situation was precarious. On 23 July 1823, she left Genoa for England and stayed with her father and stepmother in the Strand until a small advance from her father-in-law enabled her to lodge nearby. Sir Timothy Shelley had at first agreed to support his grandson, Percy Florence, only if he were handed over to an appointed guardian. Mary Shelley rejected this idea instantly. She managed instead to wring out of Sir Timothy a limited annual allowance (which she had to repay when Percy Florence inherited the estate), but to the end of his days he refused to meet her in person and dealt with her only through lawyers. Mary Shelley busied herself with editing her husband's poems, among other literary endeavours, but concern for her son restricted her options. Sir Timothy threatened to stop the allowance if any biography of the poet were published. In 1826, Percy Florence became the legal heir of the Shelley estate after the death of his half-brother Charles Shelley, his father's son by Harriet Shelley. Sir Timothy raised Mary's allowance from £100 a year to £250 but remained as difficult as ever. Mary Shelley enjoyed the stimulating society of William Godwin's circle, but poverty prevented her from socialising as she wished. She also felt ostracised by those who, like Sir Timothy, still disapproved of her relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In the summer of 1824, Mary Shelley moved to Kentish Town in north London to be near Jane Williams. She may have been, in the words of her biographer Muriel Spark, "a little in love" with Jane. Jane later disillusioned her by gossiping that Percy had preferred her to Mary, owing to Mary's inadequacy as a wife. At around this time, Mary Shelley was working on her novel, The Last Man (1826); and she assisted a series of friends who were writing memoirs of Byron and Percy Shelley—the beginnings of her attempts to immortalise her husband. She also met the American actor John Howard Payne and the American writer Washington Irving, who intrigued her. Payne fell in love with her and in 1826 asked her to marry him. She refused, saying that after being married to one genius, she could only marry another. Payne accepted the rejection and tried without success to talk his friend Irving into proposing himself. Mary Shelley was aware of Payne's plan, but how seriously she took it is unclear.
In 1827, Mary Shelley was party to a scheme that enabled her friend Isabel Robinson and Isabel's lover, Mary Diana Dods, who wrote under the name David Lyndsay, to embark on a life together in France as man and wife. With the help of Payne, whom she kept in the dark about the details, Mary Shelley obtained false passports for the couple. In 1828, she fell ill with smallpox while visiting them in Paris. Weeks later she recovered, unscarred but without her youthful beauty.
During the period 1827–40, Mary Shelley was busy as an editor and writer. She wrote the novels Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). She contributed five volumes of Lives of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French authors to Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia. She also wrote stories for ladies' magazines. She was still helping to support her father, and they looked out for publishers for each other. In 1830, she sold the copyright for a new edition of Frankenstein for £60 to Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley for their new Standard Novels series. After her father's death in 1836 at the age of eighty, she began assembling his letters and a memoir for publication, as he had requested in his will; but after two years of work, she abandoned the project. Throughout this period, she also championed Percy Shelley's poetry, promoting its publication and quoting it in her writing. By 1837, Percy's works were well-known and increasingly admired. In the summer of 1838 Edward Moxon, the publisher of Tennyson and the son-in-law of Charles Lamb, proposed publishing a collected works of Percy Shelley. Mary was paid £500 to edit the Poetical Works (1838), which Sir Timothy insisted should not include a biography. Mary found a way to tell the story of Percy's life, nonetheless: she included extensive biographical notes about the poems.
Mary Shelley continued to treat potential romantic partners with caution. In 1828, she met and flirted with the French writer Prosper Mérimée, but her one surviving letter to him appears to be a deflection of his declaration of love. She was delighted when her old friend from Italy, Edward Trelawny, returned to England, and they joked about marriage in their letters. Their friendship had altered, however, following her refusal to cooperate with his proposed biography of Percy Shelley; and he later reacted angrily to her omission of the atheistic section of Queen Mab from Percy Shelley's poems. Oblique references in her journals, from the early 1830s until the early 1840s, suggest that Mary Shelley had feelings for the radical politician Aubrey Beauclerk, who may have disappointed her by twice marrying others.
Mary Shelley's first concern during these years was the welfare of Percy Florence. She honoured her late husband's wish that his son attend public school, and, with Sir Timothy's grudging help, had him educated at Harrow. To avoid boarding fees, she moved to Harrow on the Hill herself so that Percy could attend as a day scholar. Though Percy went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, and dabbled in politics and the law, he showed no sign of his parents' gifts. He was devoted to his mother, and after he left university in 1841, he came to live with her.
In 1840 and 1842, mother and son travelled together on the continent, journeys that Mary Shelley recorded in Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843 (1844). In 1844, Sir Timothy Shelley finally died at the age of ninety, "falling from the stalk like an overblown flower", as Mary put it. For the first time, she and her son were financially independent, though the estate proved less valuable than they had hoped.
In the mid-1840s, Mary Shelley found herself the target of three separate blackmailers. In 1845, an Italian political exile called Gatteschi, whom she had met in Paris, threatened to publish letters she had sent him. A friend of her son's bribed a police chief into seizing Gatteschi's papers, including the letters, which were then destroyed. Shortly afterwards, Mary Shelley bought some letters written by herself and Percy Bysshe Shelley from a man calling himself G. Byron and posing as the illegitimate son of the late Lord Byron. Also in 1845, Percy Bysshe Shelley's cousin Thomas Medwin approached her claiming to have written a damaging biography of Percy Shelley. He said he would suppress it in return for £250, but Mary Shelley refused.
In 1848, Percy Florence married Jane Gibson St John. The marriage proved a happy one, and Mary Shelley and Jane were fond of each other. Mary lived with her son and daughter-in-law at Field Place, Sussex, the Shelleys' ancestral home, and at Chester Square, London, and accompanied them on travels abroad.
Mary Shelley's last years were blighted by illness. From 1839, she suffered from headaches and bouts of paralysis in parts of her body, which sometimes prevented her from reading and writing. On 1 February 1851, at Chester Square, she died at the age of fifty-three from what her physician suspected was a brain tumour. According to Jane Shelley, Mary Shelley had asked to be buried with her mother and father; but Percy and Jane, judging the graveyard at St Pancras to be "dreadful", chose to bury her instead at St Peter's Church, Bournemouth, near their new home at Boscombe. On the first anniversary of Mary Shelley's death, the Shelleys opened her box-desk. Inside they found locks of her dead children's hair, a notebook she had shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and a copy of his poem Adonaïs with one page folded round a silk parcel containing some of his ashes and the remains of his heart.
Frankenstein is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley about eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a grotesque but sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the second edition, published in France in 1823.
Frankenstein is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement and is also considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story, because unlike in previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. It has had a considerable influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films, and plays.
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Design and graphic: facilebook
Original title: Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus
St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—
TO Mrs. Saville, England
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.
I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There—for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigators—there snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.
These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good Uncle Thomas' library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father's dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.
These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven. I also became a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation; I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned into the channel of their earlier bent.
Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked harder than the common sailors during the day and devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate in a Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own I felt a little proud when my captain offered me the second dignity in the vessel and entreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness, so valuable did he consider my services. And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh, that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage, the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when theirs are failing.
This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stagecoach. The cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in furs—a dress which I have already adopted, for there is a great difference between walking the deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no ambition to lose my life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh and Archangel. I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend to sail until the month of June; and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister, how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, you will see me again soon, or never. Farewell, my dear, excellent Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings on you, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude for all your love and kindness.
Your affectionate brother, R. Walton
Archangel, 28th March, 17—
To Mrs. Saville, England
How slowly the time passes here, encompassed as I am by frost and snow! Yet a second step is taken towards my enterprise. I have hired a vessel and am occupied in collecting my sailors; those whom I have already engaged appear to be men on whom I can depend and are certainly possessed of dauntless courage.
But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy, and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil, I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection. I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans. How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother! I am too ardent in execution and too impatient of difficulties. But it is a still greater evil to me that I am self-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common and read nothing but our Uncle Thomas' books of voyages. At that age I became acquainted with the celebrated poets of our own country; but it was only when it had ceased to be in my power to derive its most important benefits from such a conviction that I perceived the necessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that of my native country. Now I am twenty-eight and am in reality more illiterate than many schoolboys of fifteen. It is true that I have thought more and that my daydreams are more extended and magnificent, but they want (as the painters call it) KEEPING; and I greatly need a friend who would have sense enough not to despise me as romantic, and affection enough for me to endeavour to regulate my mind. Well, these are useless complaints; I shall certainly find no friend on the wide ocean, nor even here in Archangel, among merchants and seamen. Yet some feelings, unallied to the dross of human nature, beat even in these rugged bosoms. My lieutenant, for instance, is a man of wonderful courage and enterprise; he is madly desirous of glory, or rather, to word my phrase more characteristically, of advancement in his profession. He is an Englishman, and in the midst of national and professional prejudices, unsoftened by cultivation, retains some of the noblest endowments of humanity. I first became acquainted with him on board a whale vessel; finding that he was unemployed in this city, I easily engaged him to assist in my enterprise. The master is a person of an excellent disposition and is remarkable in the ship for his gentleness and the mildness of his discipline. This circumstance, added to his well-known integrity and dauntless courage, made me very desirous to engage him. A youth passed in solitude, my best years spent under your gentle and feminine fosterage, has so refined the groundwork of my character that I cannot overcome an intense distaste to the usual brutality exercised on board ship: I have never believed it to be necessary, and when I heard of a mariner equally noted for his kindliness of heart and the respect and obedience paid to him by his crew, I felt myself peculiarly fortunate in being able to secure his services. I heard of him first in rather a romantic manner, from a lady who owes to him the happiness of her life. This, briefly, is his story. Some years ago he loved a young Russian lady of moderate fortune, and having amassed a considerable sum in prize-money, the father of the girl consented to the match. He saw his mistress once before the destined ceremony; but she was bathed in tears, and throwing herself at his feet, entreated him to spare her, confessing at the same time that she loved another, but that he was poor, and that her father would never consent to the union. My generous friend reassured the suppliant, and on being informed of the name of her lover, instantly abandoned his pursuit. He had already bought a farm with his money, on which he had designed to pass the remainder of his life; but he bestowed the whole on his rival, together with the remains of his prize-money to purchase stock, and then himself solicited the young woman's father to consent to her marriage with her lover. But the old man decidedly refused, thinking himself bound in honour to my friend, who, when he found the father inexorable, quitted his country, nor returned until he heard that his former mistress was married according to her inclinations. "What a noble fellow!" you will exclaim. He is so; but then he is wholly uneducated: he is as silent as a Turk, and a kind of ignorant carelessness attends him, which, while it renders his conduct the more astonishing, detracts from the interest and sympathy which otherwise he would command.
Yet do not suppose, because I complain a little or because I can conceive a consolation for my toils which I may never know, that I am wavering in my resolutions. Those are as fixed as fate, and my voyage is only now delayed until the weather shall permit my embarkation. The winter has been dreadfully severe, but the spring promises well, and it is considered as a remarkably early season, so that perhaps I may sail sooner than I expected. I shall do nothing rashly: you know me sufficiently to confide in my prudence and considerateness whenever the safety of others is committed to my care.
I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow," but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the "Ancient Mariner." You will smile at my allusion, but I will disclose a secret. I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of ocean to that production of the most imaginative of modern poets. There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious—painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour—but besides this there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore. But to return to dearer considerations. Shall I meet you again, after having traversed immense seas, and returned by the most southern cape of Africa or America? I dare not expect such success, yet I cannot bear to look on the reverse of the picture. Continue for the present to write to me by every opportunity: I may receive your letters on some occasions when I need them most to support my spirits. I love you very tenderly. Remember me with affection, should you never hear from me again.
Your affectionate brother, Robert Walton
July 7th, 17—
To Mrs. Saville, England
My dear Sister,
I write a few lines in haste to say that I am safe—and well advanced on my voyage. This letter will reach England by a merchantman now on its homeward voyage from Archangel; more fortunate than I, who may not see my native land, perhaps, for many years. I am, however, in good spirits: my men are bold and apparently firm of purpose, nor do the floating sheets of ice that continually pass us, indicating the dangers of the region towards which we are advancing, appear to dismay them. We have already reached a very high latitude; but it is the height of summer, and although not so warm as in England, the southern gales, which blow us speedily towards those shores which I so ardently desire to attain, breathe a degree of renovating warmth which I had not expected.
No incidents have hitherto befallen us that would make a figure in a letter. One or two stiff gales and the springing of a leak are accidents which experienced navigators scarcely remember to record, and I shall be well content if nothing worse happen to us during our voyage.
Adieu, my dear Margaret. Be assured that for my own sake, as well as yours, I will not rashly encounter danger. I will be cool, persevering, and prudent.
But success SHALL crown my endeavours. Wherefore not? Thus far I have gone, tracing a secure way over the pathless seas, the very stars themselves being witnesses and testimonies of my triumph. Why not still proceed over the untamed yet obedient element? What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?
My swelling heart involuntarily pours itself out thus. But I must finish. Heaven bless my beloved sister!
August 5th, 17—
To Mrs. Saville, England
So strange an accident has happened to us that I cannot forbear recording it, although it is very probable that you will see me before these papers can come into your possession.
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