2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the Haunted Summer; the summer of 1816 that Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) spent together at Lake Geneva. The group took refuge from the poor weather one rainy June day in the Villa Diodati. Back then they didn’t have Netflix or the internet to occupy their time, so what better activity for a group of intelligent, creative, bored minds to do than write?
Lord Byron challenged each person in the group to compose a ghost story. Despite Byron and P.B. Shelley being well-established writers of the time, they attempted the challenge with little success. Polidori, Byron’s personal physician, would later write The Vampyre, which was then revisited by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mary, however, was struck by inspiration. That haunted night gave birth to one of the most iconic, well-known, thought-provoking tales of all time: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. She was only 18 years old during the Haunted Summer and 20 when her novel was published in 1818.
The first edition left the author anonymous causing many people to attribute the novel to Mary’s father, William Godwin, an influential philosopher of the time (and whose ideals influenced the plot of the novel). The second edition, published in 1822, gave Mary the credit she deserved. Several more editions were published both during and after her lifetime.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to list all the adaptations and creations that Frankenstein has influenced for the past 200 years. Literature, film, plays, television, and dance are just a few mediums by which people have explored the beloved story. In his book, The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy, writer and anthology editor Brian Aldiss supports the claim that Frankenstein is a progenitor of the science fiction genre and counts the novel as an ancestor of future works by the famous science fiction writer, H.G. Wells.
From a literary standpoint, the structure, flow, characterization, plot, and themes of this novel are so complex and interesting that people are still analyzing it today. Mary Shelley’s talent can be overshadowed by the success of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the works of the male-dominated canon, but it is important to remember this incredible novel and its importance to literary and world history. So, if you’re looking for a spooky read this Halloween, pick up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. I promise I’m not tricking you—this book is a real treat!