Did you know Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein turned 200 this year? Assembled from body parts torn from cadavers and brought to life with a powerful spark, Frankenstein’s noble monster is one of literature’s most beloved creatures whose legacy “continues to influence the way we confront emerging technologies, conceptualize the process of scientific research, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of scientists, and weigh the benefits of innovation with its unforeseen pitfalls.” To honor the novel’s historic birthday, the Keats-Shelley Association of America has created Frankenreads, an international celebration of the Modern Prometheus which will feature a number of Frankenstein-themed events throughout the year (like public readathons of the novel on October 31, 2018!).
"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." – Frankenstein's Monster
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born August 30, 1797, was the only daughter of William Godwin, a “social philosopher, political journalist, and religious dissenter who anticipated the English Romantic literary movement with his writings advancing atheism, anarchism, and personal freedom,” and Mary Wollstonecraft, a social reformer whose belief that women should be educated as thoroughly as men culminated in her famous A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.
Shelley published The Modern Prometheus (1818) at the age of 21, two years after she married Percy Bysshe Shelley, the English Romantic poet whose “passionate search for personal love and social justice was gradually channeled from overt actions into poems that rank with the greatest in the English language.”
She originally wrote the story to amuse her friends. The book – part Gothic novel, part philosophical novel – is considered to be one of the earliest works of science fiction, as it “narrates the dreadful consequences that arise after a scientist has artificially created a human being.”
"Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos." – Mary Shelley
Over the course of her life, Shelley also wrote Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). When Percy died in 1822, just six years after they married, she went on to publish his Posthumous Poems in 1824 and edited his Poetical Works in 1839.
A number of universities are taking part in the Frankenstein celebration, pioneering projects like FrankenBook, a “collaborative reading experiment” out of Arizona State University, and the Frankenstein@200 Initiative, which resulted in a mixed-media mosaic art exhibition at Stanford created by a third-year medical student. (The student in question, Nick Love, PhD, created two, eight-foot-tall mosaic tributes to the monster.) Mary Shelley will also be the subject of the third installment of National Geographic’s anthology series Genius. For more on the famed monster, check out Britannica’s “The Real Science Behind Frankenstein.”