August 30th marks not only Mary Shelley’s birthday but also Frankenstein Day! This fun, unofficial holiday is dedicated to the novel Frankenstein. Ways to celebrate Frankenstein Day include: reading the novel, watching movie adaptations, listening to spooky music, baking Frankenstein-themed treats, and preparing for Halloween.
In honor of Frankenstein Day (and Mary Shelley), here are seven interesting facts about the most popular gothic novel of all time!
Mary Shelley was only a teenager when she wrote Frankenstein in 1816.
Shelley was just sixteen when she ran away with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The couple eventually journeyed to Switzerland where Lord Byron was residing. Shelley was eighteen when she began writing the story that would forever remain synonymous with her name. The novel was published in 1818 when she was twenty.
A ghost story writing competition prompted Shelley to write the novel.
Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley were in Switzerland during the “year without a summer.” An eruption of the Indonesian volcano Mount Tambora created unfavorable weather conditions. The Shelleys, Byron, and their friend John Polidori were forced to entertain themselves indoors.
Byron challenged the group to see who could write the best ghost story. Bysshe Shelley and Byron never finished their pieces. Polidori wrote a tale called The Vampyre, which would eventually inspire Bram Stoker while writing Dracula. Of course, Mary Shelley won the contest with Frankenstein.
The idea for the novel came to Shelley in a nightmare.
Mary Shelley initially struggled with forming an idea for her ghost story. However, one night, inspiration struck after experiencing a disturbing vision. Shelley included what she saw in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, which reads as follows:
“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. … He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”
Upon stirring from this phantasmal vision, Shelley claimed she thought to herself, “What terrifies me will terrify others.” She would then use this dream as the basis for her gothic novel.
Frankenstein is recognized as (one of) the earliest science fiction stories.
Although Shelley didn’t know it, her publication of Frankenstein was also the birth of the science fiction genre. Through Victor Frankenstein, Shelley formed the idea of the “mad scientist,” a character who is seen time and time again throughout fiction. Frankenstein is also regarded as one of the very first novels in the horror genre as well.
Shelley originally published the novel anonymously.
Shelley did not include her name when Frankenstein was first published. She dedicated the book to William Godwin, her father. Percy Bysshe Shelley also wrote the novel’s preface. These facts led many to think that Percy penned the novel.
Eventually, Frankenstein was reprinted twice and Mary Shelley was ascribed authorship. However, many people still believed Percy was the real author, even after the reprints.
Frankenstein is not the name of the monster.
One common mistake people often make when discussing Frankenstein is attributing the name to the creature. However, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not his creation. The creature has no name at all; Mary Shelley chose not to have Victor Frankenstein give him one. In the novel, he’s only referred to as “demon,” “monster,” “creature,” and “it.”
The novel was not popular when it was first published.
203 years after it was first published, Frankenstein remains one of the greatest and most influential pieces of literature ever written. However, when the novel first came out, it received very harsh criticism.
John Crocker from the Quarterly Review wrote, “What a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this work presents” and asserted that Frankenstein “inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their taste have been deplorably vitiated…”.
Luckily, reviews like these did not deter other readers from flocking towards the book. Gothic novels were becoming increasingly popular, and Frankenstein was slowly cementing itself into the literary world, pop culture, and the minds of readers.
Did you know Frankenstein also falls under the category of gothic fantasy? Check out some other recommendations from this fascinating and eerie genre here!