Mary Shelley

Frankenstein was the product of a game Mary played with her husband, Lord Byron and some other friends while they spent the summer of 1816 together in a house on Lake Geneva.

Illustration (left):
Roger Easton, Portrait of Mary Shelley, Watercolour and bodycolour on ivory laid on card, oval, 11 x 8.8 cm, Bodleian Library. Image credit: Bodleian Library.

“Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. […] Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.

Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. […] 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.”

Mary Shelley was the daughter of the philosopher and women's rights activist, Mary Wollstonecraft and the philosopher William Godwin. She was married to the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Frankenstein was the product of a game Mary played with her husband, Lord Byron and some other friends while they spent the summer of 1816 together in a house on Lake Geneva. The weather was bad for much of their stay and to fill the time Byron said, "We each write a ghost story." The germs of what became Frankenstein was Mary Shelley's contribution to the festivities and her account of the inception of the text is reproduced above. In addition to the creative, imaginative work she undertook in conceiving of the story, Mary Shelley exerted much effort researching the scientific backgrounds to the tale. For the narrative frame – the encounter between the explorer Walton and Dr Frankenstein – Mary was influenced by contemporary fascination with Arctic exploration, which fed into a range of contemporary publications, including John Barrow's A Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions (1818).