Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dreaming Frankenstein

Many people say they read fiction for pleasure and escapism, as well as the thrill of facing their fears from the safety of a comfortable armchair. The horror, thriller, and suspense genres have always been immensely popular with readers.

But what about the authors who delve into the world of their nightmares in order to bring their readers tales that will prickle the hairs on the backs of their necks? What type of person confronts their personal darkness and then invents a story around it?

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley had dealt with death intensely, and often, during her young life. Her own mother died when she was only a few days old, her half-sister and her lover's wife both committed suicide, and she’d already lost three babies by the time she came to write Frankenstein. It seems death was a theme that Mary mulled over, even though she may have been a normal, and happy, young woman in many other ways.

During a holiday, Mary, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend Lord Byron, were reading aloud from a book of horror stories. They decided to write their own horror stories for fun, but Mary was unable to come up with anything that satisfied her and put it off.

After the coaxing and teasing of her friends, and much discussion of scientific theories of the period, Mary had a daydream one day that turned all her thoughts on the meaning of life, death, birth, and creation into a story about a man who creates a monstrous living being out of a corpse. Frankenstein was published in 1818.

Mary Shelley lived in a time when women were not encouraged to study, let alone write books of their own. So to be the author of what would become one of the most well known horror novels of all time is a remarkable and unusual achievement. To do so at the age of nineteen is truly amazing.

Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow more of her writing insights at her Fictional Life BlogVisit her website to download a list of the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make. Stay a while and browse through her resources for writers.

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  1. Very interesting. I didn't know about her life, let alone that she wrote the book Frankenstein at 19. What an achievement for any period, let alone the one she lived in.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Ditto what Helen said. I had no idea she was so young and that she had had such tragedies in her life.

  3. Amazing woman. And she was very self-confident to write, considering the success of her husband...

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. Thanks for that glimpse into the life of a famous author. Fascinating stuff.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Me too. I had no idea Shelley had been through so much or that she was so young. Does make one wonder if we should pay more attention to our dreams and nightmares though.

  6. I tend to forget that she was so young.

    An amazing achievement at any age.

    thanks for sharing :)

  7. What a great tidbit of history. Thanks for giving us this background on "Frankenstein."

    While we think of 19 as being young, we have to keep in mind that during the 1800s, 19 was very mature. Probably more mature than I was at 19. :-)

  8. And the sheer irony of Mary Byshe Shelley's writing career is, her fame will far outlast that of her husband's. No one but English Majors know what he wrote, but the entire Western World has read and/or seen some adaptation of "Frankenstein."

  9. Hers is a fascinating story, as is her mother's (Mary Wollstonecraft, who was a feminist author). Mary Shelley took her mother's surname rather than have the same name as her stepmother (Mary Godwin).

    Maryann is correct; in that era there was no such creature as a "teenager" - people went directly from child to adult and 19 was fairly mature compared to today.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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