June 15, 1816: Mary Shelley’s Gothic Summer and the Birth of Frankenstein

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May 1816 – After giving birth to her son William in January, Mary Shelley, 19, travels with her partner Percy Shelley and her step-sister Claire Clairmont to Switzerland.

Claire Clairmont is at the time pregnant with Lord Byron’s child, who they meet at the lake Geneva along with his friend Dr John William Polidori.

The weather is inclement as 1816 is dubbed “The Year Without a Summer” and the Shelleys are the witnesses of tremendous thunderstorms.

June 1816Byron and Polidori take residence at the Villa Diodati, not far from Maison Chappuis the Shelleys are renting.

The unseasonable summer prompts the group to meet at night, reading ghost stories and having long philosophical conversations.

On June 15, the group have a conversation about the principle of life. While trying to sleep, Mary Shelley has a vision of a monstrous man animated by an engine and of its creator, a scientist horrified by his creation.

Frankenstein is born.

She starts writing it the following day.

During one of those nights fueled by intense conversations, laudanum and writing prompts, Polidori will get the inspiration from his seminal novel “The Vampyre”, based on an a fragment of a Byron story.

August 1816 – She expands Frankenstein from a novella to a two-volume novel. Back in London, she officially becomes Mrs. Shelley by marrying Percy.

1817 – A series of suicides strikes both families. Mary Shelley, now 20, tries unsuccessfully to publish Frankenstein. At the same time, she’s copying her husband’s translation of AeschylusPrometheus Bound.

January 1818Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus is published. Polidori‘s novel The Vampyre will be published the following year.

Those two works born on the same rainy nights of the 1816’s gothic summer would become the very foundations of horror fiction, still holding on centuries after their inception.


book_side_icon&16Read Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus

has been adapted numerous time since the beginning of cinema, from the Edison-produced movie in 1910 to the famous 1931 version starring Boris Karloff, the 1970′ film series from the Hammer with Peter Cushing and Kenneth Brannagh‘s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein featuring Robert de Niro & Helena Bonham Carter.

ico_eye_16_grIn 2011 Danny Boyle directed a play based on Frankenstein written by Nick Dear, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller… two actors known for playing a modern Sherlock Holmes on television.

movie_icon&16 The seminal nights at the Villa Diodati were featured as a prologue in The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, and fictionalized in Ken Russell‘s 1986 Gothic, followed two years later by the less horrific Haunted Summer.

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© LibrAdventures, Fabien Hurelle

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Posted: August 14, 2014

Author: Fabien Hurelle

Category: Authors

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