(Or is it more considering all his body parts were different ages?)
January 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a classic in English literature and studied in schools throughout the UK. It’s a novel known throughout the world but rather than focus on analysing the text in this blog post, I wanted to focus a little more on the woman and how she came to be the writer of such a work.
Mary Shelley was the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and radical thinker Mary Wollstonecraft. She was born in 1797, only a few years after her mother had published A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792.
It’s not surprising that Mary Shelley became such an astounding woman and writer, given her education and upbringing. Her mother was happy to voice (or publish) her views and her father ensured Mary was raised with the same liberal principles he had.
Whilst Mary Shelley is best known for writing Frankenstein, published in 1818, in her day she was more well known for promoting the poetry of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. But there was more to Mary than that.
It isn’t helpful to take an anachronistic view of the past. We all know what the expectations of women were in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century’s, and the way women were viewed who did not confirm to society’s rules and regulations. It isn’t right. It wouldn’t be allowed these days, and can be difficult to read and understand. But we have to remember that people believed what they believed based on the value systems, the science and religion of the time. People thought they were being logical thinking women weak and stupid. We know that’s a load of nonsense thanks to women like Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, and others who stood against society’s rigid belief system. Sorry to rant. My point is, we have to accept that that’s what people thought, understand, and move on.
Anyway, back to Mary Shelley,. She was a tremendous writer in her own right and published many other novels that are only now being studied with as much enthusiasm as Frankenstein.
Frankenstein came about one wet summer in Italy where Mary and her husband had decamped with Lord Byron and his group. The rain was so incessant that they had a writing competition to see who could write the best ghost story, but Mary’s imagination was stalled. Then one night a thought occurred to her. What if a corpse was re-animated? And with that, the idea was born. Mary stayed up all night writing, caught in her own terrifying imagination. With the support of Byron she turned her short story into a novel. Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818. It would have been considered grotesque and unladylike for a woman to have written such a book. To be honest, she would have probably been committed to an asylum if they’d found out.
With the #metoo movement and the fight for equal pay in the media these days, it’s clear there is still a long way to go for women to be completely equal to men in our modern society. The recent Bronte/Lilly Cole row has illustrated as much. But what would Emily Bronte and Mary Shelley think of what we’ve achieved so far? Personally, I hope that they would be proud of every women striving to live their life in whatever way they choose and I am certain they would eloquently challenge those who still work to capture women in social and political boundaries.
Tonight, let’s raise a glass to all women of the past who have worked to allow modern women they freedoms they currently enjoy, even if we’re not quite there yet.