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Mary Shelley

The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

3 July 2018

Mary Shelley, a film depicting the love affair between the title character and Shelley, is due to be released in the UK on the 6th July 2018 with Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth in the lead roles.

This year sees the 200th anniversary of one of the most famous horror stories of all time - Frankenstein. The book, which has inspired countless spin-offs, was written by Mary Shelley at the tender age of 18 and is still in the book charts two centuries later. What’s more, the author’s own life story is in itself incredibly dramatic and tragic.

Mary was born into a family of philosophers and radicals. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote one of the first treatise on feminism - A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - while her father was William Godwin the social philosopher. Mary Shelley’s life was dogged by tragedy. Her mother died days after her birth and she was brought up by her father who advocated liberal principles and provided her with an education.

One of Mary’s father’s acolytes was the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley whom she met in 1812. Two years later the pair eloped to Italy; they were eventually married in 1816 following the death by suicide of Shelley’s first wife.  It was in that year that the story of Frankenstein was first conceived; the novel was eventually published, anonymously, in 1818. Having suffered the deaths of three of their children Mary finally gave birth to her surviving son in 1819. But she was to endure further loss in 1822 when Shelley was drowned in a shipping accident. She returned to England where she devoted herself to publicising and editing her late husband’s work. She also continued to write, publishing five further novels and two works of non-fiction.

In her best known work Victor Frankenstein a young scientist creates a living creature from human remains. The ‘monster’ eventually turns on his creator. The book was not especially well received on publication although it did inspire two plays based on the character in the 1820s. The main influence of the tale has been to inspire film makers with well over a hundred films being made since the first, a short 16 minute film was released in 1910.

Some of the more famous Frankenstein films that you may remember are:

Frankenstein(1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), both starring Boris Karloff as the monster; Son of Frankenstein, (1939) starring Basil Rathbone as the title character, with Bela Lugosi as his assistant and, again, Karloff as the monster; Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) in a very silly parody, and; Young Frankenstein (1974), another comedy horror with Gene Wilder as Dr Frankenstein.

More recently the monster has been resurrected on the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011, when the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the monster were played in alternate performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. The play was directed by Danny Boyle. The critically acclaimed production widely viewed beyond by more than the theatre-going public when it was broadcast to cinemas across the country, and the world, as one of the National Theatre Live’s Encore Series. The screenings were ‘an internation sensation, experienced by over half a million people in cinemas around the world’.

You can immerse yourself in the story of Mary Shelley and her world with one of the following books from the Calibre Library:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (5054)

The Last Man by Mary Shelley (coming soon)

Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour (5870)

Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and other tangled lives by Daisy Hay (9121)

In Search of Mary Shelley: the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson (in production)

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (in production)

Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin (7105)

Selected Poems: Percy Bysshe Shelley by Percy Bysshe Shelley (6570)


Denise James