In honor of the season, I began reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Dr. Karen Karbiener wrote an introduction that highlights some intriguing details about Shelley and her renowned character(s):
Shelley was 18 years old in 1818 when “Frankenstein” was first published.
Though the monster is known as Frankenstein in popular culture, it was not in the book. Shelley referred to the monster as, “the accomplishment of my toils,” “wretch,” “miserable monster,” and, “filthy daemon,” in the book, but Victor Frankenstein does not refer to his creation as his own surname.
Shelley’s life was full of personal tragedy: Her mother died shortly after Shelley was born; her half-sister committed suicide about a month after Shelley’s 19th birthday; four of Shelley’s five pregnancies ended in miscarriage, one which was nearly fatal; her husband of six years, Percy, drowned in 1832; and their close friend, Byron, died two years later.
While writing “Frankenstein,” Shelley was grieving the loss of a daughter that died shortly after birth. She wrote in her diary, “Dream that my little baby came to life again – that it had only been cold and that we rubbed it by the fire and it lived … wake and find no baby – I think about the little thing all day – not in good spirits.”
Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote several books promoting education reform for women, including, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” (1792), which is arguably one of the first great work of feminism.
When Shelley edited “Frankenstein” for republication in 1831, she changed Victor and Elizabeth’s formerly incestuous relationship to one of a then-more socially accepted romance. However, Elizabeth and Victor still refer to each other as “cousin” in the 1831 edition.