Mary Shelley, the revered Queen of Goth, is a writer whose reputation is immersed in horror, absurdity, and scandal. Born on August 30, 1797, she was the daughter of two social radicals that helped to introduce her to unconventional ideas. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a champion for womans’ social and educational rights. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a womens’ rights novel that is still cited today. Her father, William Godwin, was a noted political journalist and credited as the founder of philosophical anarchism.
A few years after the death of her mother, her father married Mary Jane Clairmont. Unfortunately for Shelley, Clairmont despised her and refused to educate her. Yet, this deprivation did not stop Shelley from finding means of learning. Though she did not receive a traditional education, young Shelley spent much time in her father’s large library. She read voraciously and could often be found doing so beside her mother’s grave. Fittingly, Shelley also enjoyed daydreaming.
In 1812 Mary, still a teenager, met poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Despite his being married, the two began an affair and eventually ran away together to Europe in 1814. Two years later, his wife committed suicide, and Mary and Shelley finally wed.
During their time in Europe, in 1816, Mary Shelley was struck with the idea for her first story. While staying in Geneva throughout the rainy summer with Romantic poet Lord Byron, the three held a competition for who could write the best horror story. One night, Shelley awoke from a dream — or actually in a nightmare — covered in sweat, horrified by the creation of her own subconscious with a full-fledged idea. Her two companions encouraged her throughout her writing, and two years later in 1818, Shelley published Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus anonymously. (Shelley eventually re-published it with her name in 1823.)
The story depicts the journey of an ambitious scientist who strove to achieve unprecedented goals. In an attempt to create a human person, Victor Frankenstein studied the decay of human bodies. When completed with his work, Frankenstein was horrified by his creation and abandoned it. Angered that its creator rejected it, the Monster unleashed revenge on Frankenstein by killing off his loved ones. Each filled with hatred and thirst for vengeance, the Monster and Frankenstein began to chase each other throughout Europe in a tense cat-and-mouse game. Eventually, Frankenstein arrives in the middle of the Arctic, rescued by Robert Walton, an explorer. It is here he dies from the exhaustion of his journey. The Monster arrives on the ship
and finds the body of his creator. It kills itself in a fire, ashamed and lost without anyone to know it.
When first published, Frankenstein, as it is more commonly known, was criticized for its often grotesque description and heavy themes. Yet, stories that explored gothic themes were quickly gaining popularity, and her novel became a success.
Today, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus and its ingenious author are a household name in horror. If you’re searching for the perfect book to divulge with on a rainy, chilly night this fall season — look no further!
Norah Homa ’23