|Miniature portrait of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. Image found here. Copyright the University of Oxford.|
On this day in 1797 Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley was born. Her novel Frankenstein is unique in its influence on the popular culture of English-speaking Western nations. (Of course, non-English-speaking nations have embraced her "horrible progeny" too.) The most successful Gothic novel ever--it has never been out of print--Frankenstein is the first truly important work in the literary traditions that came to be called "science-fiction" and "horror."
It was the work of the fertile imagination of a teenage girl! This fact forced male readers of the first half of the 19th Century to accept, if only grudgingly and privately, that women (or girls, really) were as capable of forcefully confronting dark themes and taboo topics as male writers. She was ahead of her time.
The writer Joyce Carol Oates deemed Frankenstein a unique novel, "if a novel at all;" an awkward patchwork blending Romantic, allegorical, and philosophical materials. (Not unlike Frankenstein's Monster himself.) Oates describes Frankenstein as being held together at its "deepest level" with subconscious elements that are "hallucinatory and surreal."
At the center of the unreal setting that seems to be Europe of the early Industrial Age is Frankenstein's "demon"--as the artificially created man is often referred to Shelley's book--who is both Adam and Satan: unique, alone, outcast.
And powerful only through anger and sin.
What horror-lover has not seen themselves that way? Who in our deliciously morbid community of fans has never identified with a glorious, destructive monster in a book or a movie?
Mary birthed the first monster of the modern age.We are all her stepchildren.
Related: My birthday wishes for Mary Shelley in 2007 (where I found a lesser-seen portrait of Mary, perhaps inaccurate) and 2009, when I talked to her ghost!