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Frankenstein - 16 June 1816

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message 1: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8315 comments Today marks the 200th anniversary of the night Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein. June 16, 1816.

Luigi Galvani's work of making the severed limbs of animals move with the application of electricity had been all the talk for a number of years. Mount Tambora had exploded nearly a year earlier (July 15, 1815), throwing so much ash into the upper atmosphere it resulted in 1816 being called the "Year Without A Summer", where it snowed in New England in June and July, and frost killed crops across Europe.

Shelley, 18, and her boyfriend, Percy Shelley, 22, had run away from England, where he had abandoned his pregnant wife. They were accompanied by her sister and Percy's physician. They toured Europe, visiting Castle Frankenstein on the way to meet Lord Byron in Switzerland. Mary's sister had slept with Percy and was besotted with Byron. Byron was lusting after Percy. Meanwhile, Percy's physician was enamored of Mary... which is why we know a lot of this stuff, because he essentially kept a stalker's diary about Mary.

This was a big scandal, of course, and the group was treated badly everywhere they went, so they retreated to Byron's Swiss villa.

Because of the weather during what was called Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death, crops failed everywhere, resulting in a refugee crisis. For Shelley's group of the idle wealthy who wanted to play, though, they were trapped inside for days on end by the severe storms caused by Tambora's disruption of the climate.

So they sat around reading ghost stories until Byron declared them not frightening enough and challenged everyone to write something scarier.

Mary was the only one who couldn't come up with an idea and the others teased her for days. She thought perhaps she could spin a tale of her mother coming back to life, but it was more maudlin than scary. One night, June 16th, she was watching the massive lightning storms raging around the mountains and she remembered Galvani's experiments.

In a flash, it came to her: the lightning, galvanism, reanimation of corpses, hostile villagers, Castle Frankenstein, the condemnation and shunning of the crowds....

Everyone else gave up on their stories and went back to screwing around, but Mary kept at it for two years.

And that is how the Affluenza Tour of the Literate Kardashians of the 1800s resulted in the world's first Science Fiction novel.


message 2: by J (last edited Jun 16, 2016 05:30PM) (new)

J Austill | 72 comments Trike wrote: "Luigi Galvani's work of making the severed limbs of animals move with the application of electricity had been all the talk for a number of years."

I've seen this referenced with relation to the Mary Shelley novel a few times and I honestly don't get it. Unless there is a very different version of the book out there somewhere: at no point does Mary Shelley tell us that electricity was used to bring life to the monster, nor was he built out of the parts of deceased persons.

In fact, late in the novel (view spoiler) that possibility for 'how it is done' is refuted in that the necessary resources are not available in the location he chooses to perform the experiment.

I'm curious if Galvani's influence on the novel is apocryphal.


message 3: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8315 comments From chapter 3, which is essentially the scene Mary Shelley witnessed, fictionalized:

When I was about fifteen years old we had retired to our house near Belrive, when we witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm. It advanced from behind the mountains of Jura; and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribands of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.

Before this I was not unacquainted with the more obvious laws of electricity. On this occasion a man of great research in natural philosophy was with us, and, excited by this catastrophe, he entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which was at once new and astonishing to me.



message 4: by Sean (last edited Jun 16, 2016 08:44PM) (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Trike wrote: "They were accompanied by her sister and Percy's physician."

Polidori was Byron's doctor, not Percy's.

Mary's sister had slept with Percy and was besotted with Byron.

There's no proof that Claire and Percy slept together, though there's strong circumstantial evidence. She did sleep with Byron and was pregnant with his daughter -- the whole reason she went to Geneva was to tell him, and she roped Percy into paying for the trip by promising to introduce them. Claire's father and Byron both suspected that the child belonged to Percy, but Byron decided to take responsibility, mainly because he felt Claire was a flake who couldn't be trusted with another life.

And that is how the Affluenza Tour of the Literate Kardashians of the 1800s resulted in the world's first Science Fiction novel.

Even if we accept that an individual work can be a genre, there's no way to define "science fiction" so it includes Frankenstein but not Gulliver's Travels, Utopia and A True History.


message 5: by J (new)

J Austill | 72 comments Nice! Thanks for the correction.


message 6: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8315 comments Sean wrote: "Even if we accept that an individual work can be a genre, there's no way to define "science fiction" so it includes Frankenstein but not Gulliver's Travels, Utopia and A True History. "

I will cheerfully stipulate it's the "first modern Science Fiction novel" because maybe Utopia qualifies, but I wouldn't include the other two.

As for the doctor, I'll take your word for that. I wrote all of that from memory.


message 7: by Tina (new)

Tina (javabird) | 684 comments Polidori was Byron's doctor, and it is believed that Polidori based his title character in "The Vampyre" on Byron.


message 8: by Leesa (new)

Leesa (leesalogic) | 639 comments Neat stuff here!


message 9: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Richter (stephenofllongbeach) | 1322 comments I honestly believe Trike is directly related to the Knight on the wall who asked the question : " Where did you get the Coconut?"


message 10: by Joe Informatico (new)

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Sean wrote: "Even if we accept that an individual work can be a genre, there's no way to define "science fiction" so it includes Frankenstein but not Gulliver's Travels, Utopia and A True History. "

Sure there is. The type of publishing industry that even distinguishes between "popular genres" doesn't exist before the 19th century, so any work that predates that can't be genre. It can, at best, be an important forebear or inspiration on a genre.


message 11: by Trike (last edited Jun 22, 2016 06:47AM) (new)

Trike | 8315 comments Catching up on blog reading and podcast listening, there have been a couple items about the writing of Frankenstein.

First is from Tor.com, which talks about a British astronomer using science -- sky science! -- to match the phase of the moon with the description of Shelley's writing to pin down the exact date of when she started writing.

Bonus: photo of Byron's villa. Looks nice, not what I was picturing at all.

http://www.tor.com/2016/06/20/mary-sh...

One of my favorite podcasts is Imaginary Worlds, and the most recent episode goes over the stuff I wrote in the OP. Except with music, dramatic readings, and fact checking.

https://soundcloud.com/emolinsky/the-...


message 12: by Sean (new)

Sean | 350 comments Trike wrote: "hostile villagers, Castle Frankenstein, the condemnation and shunning of the crowds"

Except that none of that's in the book, either. The angry villagers armed with torches and pitchforks storming the castle is from the old black and white movie. For a more faithful adaptation, try the 1994 version starring Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro.

And the only time I can recall Frankenstein being shunned and mocked in the book is when he spouts off about ancient Greek ideas about medicine while attending a (then) modern medical school. It'd be like someone studying nuclear physics today talking about radiation making things grow to gigantic sizes - at best, they'd be laughed at; at worst, booted from the program.


message 13: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8315 comments Sean wrote: "Trike wrote: "hostile villagers, Castle Frankenstein, the condemnation and shunning of the crowds"

Except that none of that's in the book, either. The angry villagers armed with torches and pitchf..."


It was amplified for the movie, but it's in there. From chapter 11:

at sunset I arrived at a village. How miraculous did this appear! The huts, the neater cottages, and stately houses engaged my admiration by turns. The vegetables in the gardens, the milk and cheese that I saw placed at the windows of some of the cottages, allured my appetite. One of the best of these I entered, but I had hardly placed my foot within the door before the children shrieked, and one of the women fainted. The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel,


From chapter 21:

I was exceedingly surprised on receiving so rude an answer from a stranger, and I was also disconcerted on perceiving the frowning and angry countenances of his companions. "Why do you answer me so roughly?" I replied. "Surely it is not the custom of Englishmen to receive strangers so inhospitably."

"I do not know," said the man, "what the custom of the English may be, but it is the custom of the Irish to hate villains." While this strange dialogue continued, I perceived the crowd rapidly increase. Their faces expressed a mixture of curiosity and anger, which annoyed and in some degree alarmed me.



message 14: by Sean (new)

Sean | 350 comments Okay, my issue here is that the description you gave sounds like one from someone whose only knowledge of it comes from the black and white movie. Honestly, it's why I loved when an episode of The Librarians had the Creature be incredibly intelligent and verbose, rather than a hulking monstrosity that was terrified of fire. Heck, in the book, the Creature is in the Uncanny Valley, not a hideous monster.

And honestly, I still question how "scientific" Victor's experiments were (even for the time), given how so much of his initial medical knowledge was derived from materials that were centuries out of date even then.


message 15: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Sovereign (vondrake) | 1 comments Just heard the latest episode and they asked about a fictionalized version of these events and I just so happen to be reading that book right now - The stress of her regard by Tim Powers. It's not exclusively about the writing of Frankenstein but has a lot of interesting ideas about it and the parallels of Percy Shelley's life and Victor Frankenstein


message 16: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3511 comments Mod
There has been a lot of speculation about how much of the book was actually written/influenced or guided by Percy.

There were critics at the time that thought it was all Percy.

It is almost certain that Percy taught Mary how to be a better writer and would have acted as her in house editor. Which if you have one of the great wordsmiths of English literature close by, you would be crazy not to use them.

Percy may not have written it, but he almost certainly helped polish it in to something better.


message 17: by Trike (last edited Jun 24, 2016 09:52AM) (new)

Trike | 8315 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "There has been a lot of speculation about how much of the book was actually written/influenced or guided by Percy.

There were critics at the time that thought it was all Percy."


Which sounds like a lot of blatant sexism typical of the era, which persists even up to this afternoon. Given the other things Mary wrote without Percy's influence (what with him being dead and all by drowning at age 29), I suspect his influence was slighter than most male scholars insist.

After all, Mary had a solid education, being homeschooled by her father, who was clearly ahead of his time, and he arranged for her to be tutored by other members of his circle of friends among the radical intelligentsia. He also wrote what is certainly one of the earliest mystery novels, which some claim is the first such example.

I don't doubt Percy had some input, because how could he not? But I'd be willing to bet one of the reasons he liked her so much was because she was his intellectual and artist equal. Her abilities can certainly stand on their own.


message 18: by Trike (last edited Jun 24, 2016 09:55AM) (new)

Trike | 8315 comments Here's more on the writing of the book from Slate:

http://www.slate.com/articles/technol...

And from Tor about NaNoWriMo's Frankenstein-related dare:

http://www.tor.com/2016/06/23/franken...


message 19: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3511 comments Mod
I don't believe the critics. I think it is Mary's work.

It is interesting listening to authors that go into great detail about the writing process, how much their story can change through the editing process. Scott Sigler gives great insight in his weekly podcasts and he had released his early un-edited works which are much different than the version released after he got his publishing contract and had to re-edit. (EarthCore and Ancestor for example)

I liken Percy's involvement as very much an in house editor role.

Which like I mention, she would have been foolish if she had never utilised his input.
I'm sure Mary had some influence on his writings.


message 20: by Tina (new)

Tina (javabird) | 684 comments Regarding influences on Mary, her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the great forward-thinking writers and essayists of the 18th century. It seems only natural that Mary would have grown up in a household that valued literacy and intellectual curiosity:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Wo...


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