That is, the Creature, not the man. Mary Shelley’s incredible work of fiction – written when she was only 18 years old, and published in 1818 when she was 20 – has become a classic because her main character, Victor Frankenstein, a young man obsessed with experimentation, creates a monster made of body parts – a monster because it is frighteningly ugly and has no soul.
The Creature wreaks havoc with Victor’s life out of jealousy and because he cannot forgive his creator for giving him a life without love or happiness. Because who would love a soulless hideous monster?
Critics have called this romantic, gothic masterpiece the first true science fiction novel. Shelley was the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the novel was written during the summer of 1816 in a rented house in Switzerland when Gordon, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley’s sister’s lover, challenged all the visiting company to write a ghost story. That summer was cold and wet and dark worldwide due to the eruption of Mt. Tambora, and the miserable weather must have contributed atmospherics to Shelley’s fictional world.
I think we have come to love this story because it is such a rich metaphor for human nature. Happiness, the comfort of fellowship, and love are all crucial to mental health. I also think we love this story because is the product both of a brilliant young woman, and of her immersion into a literary “crockpot”. The house guests in Villa Diodati spent that cold, wet summer in deep discourse about philosophy, human nature, and politics. They talked and argued through the dark nights. What a rich environment – no cell phones, no television, no interruptions.
One of my favorite new takes on this great work is Lita Judge’s MARY’S MONSTER, about the creation of the tale and about Shelley’s life.