Two hundred years ago this week, a teenaged Mary Shelley put Frankenstein and his monster on paper for the first time, creating the science fiction genre and forever changing the world of literature. And Shelley, who became one of the most prolific female authors the world has seen, broke through the glass ceiling and made her name synonymous with horror.
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Today, Course Hero celebrates that momentous occasion with our Frankenstein infographic, detailed with character diagrams and little-known facts about the novel. And to think, it all started with a writing contest!
Actually, in all likelihood, it started with a volcano.
The year before, in 1815, the most powerful volcanic blast in history took place when Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted. The explosion killed tens of thousands of people, shot so much ash into the atmosphere that it blocked the sun, and caused three years of global cooling.
The year after the blast—known as “The Year Without a Summer”—18-year-old Shelley and friends were vacationing at poet Lord Byron’s home in Geneva, Switzerland. The chilling effects of the blast were putting a damper on the group’s outdoor activities. In fact, to this day it remains the coldest and wettest summer in Geneva since records began in 1753.
Forced inside by the abysmal weather, they decided to entertain themselves with a little competition one evening to see who could produce the best horror story. While it’s unknown who came out the victor that night, it’s safe to say that Shelley’s lurid story about a creature come to life has outlasted her competitors. Although one of her writing companions comes in a close second: physician and poet John Polidori drafted a story called The Vampyre, which paved the way for the entire romantic vampire genre. (We’re thinking more along the lines of Dracula than Twilight.)
Now imagine what literature would look like today had the weather been a little better two centuries ago! Shelley might have been outside enjoying the sun instead of working on what is arguably the most recognizable character of 19th-century literature.