1. Frankenstein is a bastion of the gothic genre
Gothic literature, believe it or not, bloomed from romanticism in the late 1700s, and Mary Shelley was definitely leading the pack with Frankenstein. Frankenstein has all the perfect ingredients of a gothic novel: mystery, the supernatural, and an unflinching examination of the darker aspects of life. Some even consider it an early example of science fiction, showing just how ground-breaking Shelley was for her time.
2. Shelley started writing Frankenstein for a competition to write the best horror story
While Shelley was staying with the well-known poet, Lord Byron, the friends had a competition for who could write the scariest ghost story. At first, Shelley was terrified she’d lose - she couldn’t seem to come up with a good idea. Then a conversation she had about the nature of life and re-animating corpses got the ball rolling…
3. The story of Frankenstein and its lessons never get old
Not only did the book have a huge influence on the literature that followed when it was first published, but its influences can still be felt now. The book set the standard for the gothic literature that followed and even other genres spawned from it. Ultimately, the question at the book’s core about playing God and what it means to truly be alive still get under our skin today.
4. For a book written 200 years ago, Frankenstein is remarkably forward-thinking
Shelley herself was politically very radical, having been brought up in a home where debate was encouraged. Shelley’s works are known for the thoughtfulness with which they argue for cooperation and sympathy. These are often seen as feminine qualities, and Shelley’s work suggests society as a whole would be better off if everybody adopted them. Some scholars argue that she was an early feminist, as Frankenstein can be interpreted as a warning about what happens when humans try to create life without a woman.
5. Benedict Cumberbatch... need we say more?
Frankenstein is one of the most enduringly popular stories in Western culture and there have been hundreds of adaptations of Shelley’s work. More recently, acclaimed director Danny Boyle (known for films such as Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire) directed a production of Frankenstein for Britain’s National Theatre. Benedict Cumberbatch and fellow actor, Johnny Lee Miller alternated the main roles of Frankenstein and ‘The Monster’ making for a remarkable theatrical adaptation. The NT Live broadcast alone has been seen by more than half a million people worldwide.
Read Mary Shelley’s work here:
Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley
The timeless cautionary tale of Dr Frankenstein who decides to animate a corpse - with disastrous consequences.
Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot (1820) by Mary Shelley
Originally written in 1820 but only discovered in Italy in 1997, this children’s story was written for the daughter of her friends.
History of a Six Week’s Tour (1817) by Mary Shelley
A travel narrative by authors, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley, this is a fascinating tour through France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland, told in letters.
Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives (2010) by Daisy Hay
Learn more about the romantic movement and its most well known figures.
Romantic consciousness: Blake to Mary Shelley (2003) by John Beer
The Romantic movement delved into questions of consciousness and being, and here those ideas are unpacked for readers.