Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel by Romantic writer Mary Shelley. Shelley was only eighteen years old when she wrote the story, which is now considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. Frankenstein is also, by most counts, the novel that birthed the science fiction genre.
When Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, traveled throughout Europe, they spent some time near Lake Geneva in Switzerland at the home of fellow Romantic poet Lord Byron. Unlike the Shelleys, who often went through periods of financial hardship, Byron was wealthy. He was also very eccentric, which suited both of the Shelleys, but Percy in particular.
1816 is sometimes known as ''the year without a summer'' because a volcanic eruption in Indonesia caused a major climate abnormality in which temperatures dropped significantly in many parts of the world, especially parts of Europe. That summer, Mary and Percy Shelley were staying in Geneva with Byron. Also present were Claire Clairmont, Shelley's step-sister, and John Polidori, Byron's doctor. The group amused themselves by telling stories, and one night, they decided to create a writing challenge: they would each write a ghost story. By morning Mary had outlined hers story, centering on a quintessential “mad scientist” Dr. Victor Frankenstein who, with the best of intentions of restoring health and prolonging life, undertook to create an eight foot tall human being (subsequently referred to as “daemon” and “fiend”) made of body parts collected from exhumed graves.
The novel’s subtitle, “Or, the Modern Prometheus,” evokes the first great scientist of Greek mythology who in various versions teaches medicine and science, steals fire from Zeus and gives it to humanity, or creates a human being from clay. For those actions Zeus punishes him by having an eagle pluck out his liver every night.
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