Monday, January 27, 2014

Frankenstein - The True Story

The story of “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley or as it is known by its alternative title “The Modern Prometheus”, has thrilled, frightened and chilled us in equal measure since it was first published in anonymously in London in 1818.

Here is the fascinating story behind the genesis of this novel:

During the rainy summer of 1816, the "Year Without a Summer", the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Mary Shelley, aged 18, and her lover (and later husband) Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was consistently too cold and dreary that summer to enjoy the outdoor holiday activities they had planned, so the group retired indoors until dawn.

Among other subjects, the conversation turned to galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life, and to the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter. Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale. Shortly afterwards, in a waking dream, Mary Shelley conceived the idea for Frankenstein:

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.

She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley's encouragement, she expanded this tale into a full-fledged novel. She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment "when I first stepped out from childhood into life". Byron managed to write just a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while travelling the Balkans, and from this John Polidori created The Vampyre (1819), the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre. Thus, two legendary horror tales originated from this one circumstance.

Today on Far Future Horizons we present the documentary "Frankenstein: The True Story" which explores the historical background of Mary Shelley’s Gothic horror story. Is Frankenstein pure fiction? This programme uncovers the facts and sheds light on a dark world of bizarre scientific experiments intended to unlock the secrets and mystery of life that inspired the novel. An interesting article by Patricia Fara also explores the scientific education of Mary Shelley and how a work of early science fiction inspired Frankenstein.

Frankenstein: The True Story

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