It’s the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, my all time favourite classic Author. Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in London, England (1797), she is the author of Frankenstein ( published January 1, 1818), which is considered the first science fiction novel ever written, and the book that I read over and over again finding new angles in its pages each time I do.
After her marriage to the poet Percy Shelley, the couple went to stay in a lakeside cottage in Switzerland with the poet Lord Byron in the summer of 1816. One rainy night, after reading a German book of ghost stories, Byron suggested that they all write their own horror stories.
Everyone else wrote a story within the next day, but Mary took almost a week. Finally, she wrote an early version of a story about a scientist who brings a dead body to life. She turned the story into a novel, and Frankenstein was published in 1818. She was 21 years old.
There are many reasons that this novel has me returning to it time and time again, not least of all the fact that it was totally different from the works other Authors of her period were writing. It was dark and haunting in a way that Dickens and Bronte weren’t, and led to many moments where I actually was made to think outside the box and beyond the words on the pages. It fed my questioning mind, and still does, bringing up questions such as “Could the monster and Victor actually be different sides of the same coin?”
But why has this novel survived the test of time, in fact thrived over the 200 years since it was written? Ronald Levao, co-editor of “The Annotated Frankenstein” (Harvard Univ. Press), “She articulated our desire for, and fear about, the transgression of fundamental boundaries,” he says, “between vitality and dead matter, the human and the inhuman, ideal aspiration and monstrous consequence.” It seems he may be right as those monstrous consequences will be in play again this January with the release of “I Frankenstein,” a movie based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, who graduated from Howard University in Washington. Although the movie has very little to do with Shelley’s novel, it is still keeping alive the premise she intended when she put a pen to paper.
I will be celebrating Frankenstein Day by pulling my copy off the bookshelf again and settling in to read it over this holiday weekend. How will you be celebrating?