200 years ago, the first version of a novel called “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” was published. It was written by Mary Godwin – later to be known as Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley – but published anonymously, for in 1818 it was still not socially acceptable for women to be novelists. This novel inspired an entire genre, and created one of the most powerful icons in the global imagination. To celebrate this achievement, Excalibur Books are mounting a special campaign during February, and here is the first part – “Seven Things You Never Knew About Frankenstein (The Novel)”! When we say never, of course, it depends how familiar you are with the original novel already … YMMV (-;
1) The novel was conceived under very strange circumstances. In 1816, the group of bohemian artists and friends Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin), Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, were traveling in Europe and staying at the isolated mansion called Villa Diodati, near Lake Geneva. They decided to have a contest – to see who could come up with the scariest story. Mary had a nightmare which she used as the inspiration for “Frankenstein”. Dr. Polidori thought up a tale which he later turned into the novel “The Vampyre”, published in 1819, the first literary exploration of vampires, published 78 years before Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.
2) The whole reason the group were inside the gloomy villa scaring each other instead of being outside enjoying the picnics and activities they had planned, was because 1816 was the “Year without a Summer”. In 1815 the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies caused a mini-Ice Age, with many freak weather events being felt around the world.
3) The novel is written in a highly unusual structure. It begins with the framing device of a sea captain named Robert Walton writing a letter to his niece (an epistolary frame, which is also how Bram Stoker would later write Dracula), relating the story told by Victor Frankenstein, a castaway who the ship picked up when he was lost in the Arctic. Halfway through, the POV switches to the monster telling the tale of his ordeals to Dr. Frankenstein, who is repeating this to the captain. The technical literary term for this is ‘hypodiegetic narrative’, which makes the creature’s monologue within Frankenstein’s monologue within Walton’s monologue a hypohypodiegetic narrative. There’s one to impress your literature teacher!
4) Electricity was not used in the novel to bring the monster to life. In the novel, Victor deliberately kept the process secret, because he did not want others following his research.
5) Frankenstein is considered the first real science fiction novel; it was the earliest popular novel with fantastic plot elements being presented as the results of human technology, and not through supernatural causes.
6) Amongst her many other works, Mary Shelley wrote another science fiction novel – “The Last Man”, published in 1826, the tale of a future world ravaged by plague. So there is a good argument to say she invented the genre of Post-Apocalyptic fiction as well.
7) When Mary Shelley started writing the book, which formed the basis of an entire cultural phenomenon which has been going strong for two hundred years and shows no sign of losing popularity, she was only eighteen years old.
As part of the Frankenstein 200 campaign, Excalibur will be giving away copies of “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” – a reimagining of the story by John Paul Catton. In this alternative history Gothic romance, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron go on the hunt for Frankenstein’s monster through a bizarre Steampunk Regency England – crossing swords with such grotesqueries as Boiler Calhoun, Billy Barebones and the deadly Dandy Brethren!
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Illustrations by Berni Wrightson, taken from the Marvel Illustrated Novel version of “Frankenstein”, All Rights Reserved.