Sunday, 29 July 2012

Famous Dreamers - Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' Dream

Mary Shelley, née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797 – 1851) was an English writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. 

In 1816, teenager Mary and her husband-to-be, Shelley, visited the poet Lord Byron in Switzerland. Lord Byron’s residence, a villa on a lake, was often subject to stormy weather and as a result he and his guests were forced to take refuge indoors on occasion. Inside, Lord Byron and his guests would often sit and read to one another from a book containing ghost stories. Lord Byron seemed to gain much amusement from this and on this particular occasion he challenged his guests to write their own horror story and share it the next day.

The following is Mary Shelley’s account of what transpired after Lord Byron’s request:

When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think... I saw - with shut eyes, but acute mental vision - I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous Creator of the world.

...I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. ...I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story - my tiresome, unlucky ghost story! Oh! If I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!

Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke upon me. 'I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted me my midnight pillow.' On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, 'It was on a dreary night of November', making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.

This dream inspired Mary Shelley’s legendary novel, Frankenstein

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