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In May, 1816 Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her fiancee Percy Shelly, and others, including Lord Byron, killed time by telling one another ghost stories. They had hoped to enjoy a leisurely summer, but the eruption of Mount Tambora (Indonesia) created nothing but rain and cold and dreariness. At first Mary Shelly felt inferior to the others, accomplished writers, and it took time before an idea came to her which would become one of the greatest monster tales of all time. In her own words: MARY SHELLY IN 1840 “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 — with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, — 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. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle 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. I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story, my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night! “Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.” Her short story was so engaging that her friends, and Percy Shelly, encouraged her to expand it into a novel, which the young girl – not yet 18! - did, and in 1818 the first edition of 500 copies was published. It was not until the third edition that the identity of the author was revealed; many close to the book assumed that her new husband had been the author. Frankenstein has been published continuously ever since, and enjoyed by millions. It has spawned countless films, television programs, derivative novels and would-be sequels, toys, games, and all manner of product. The most common and popular image of Frankenstein's monster was created for the 1931 Universal Studios film starring Boris Karloff, but that was neither the first image of the creature (nor the most accurate). Readers unfamiliar with Shelly's work are often surprised to find that the creation is not the slow-moving, bumbling, green giant with bolts in his neck. Shelly's work stands on its own, and one can only wonder what she would think of its continued popularity after nearly two centuries.
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