The publishers of the standard
novels, in selecting Frankenstein for one of their series, expressed a wish
that I should furnish them with some account of the origin of the story. I
am the more willing to comply because I shall thus give a general answer to
the question so very frequently asked me--how I, then a young girl, came to
think of and to dilate upon so very hideous an idea. It is true that I am
very averse to bringing myself forward in print, but as my account will only
appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined
to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely
accuse myself of a personal intrusion.
It is not singular that,
as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should
very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled, and my
favorite pastime during the hours given me for recreation was to "write stories."
Still, I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles
in the air- the indulging in waking dreams- the following up trains of thought,
which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents.
My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the
latter I was a close imitator-rather doing as others had done than putting
down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for
one other eye--my childhood's companion and friend; but my dreams were all
my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed-my
dearest pleasure when free.
I lived principally in
the country as a girl and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional
visits to the more picturesque parts, but my habitual residence was on the
blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary
on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the aerie
of freedom and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the
creatures of my fancy. I wrote then, but in a most commonplace style. It was
beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides
of the wood1ess mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights
of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine
of my tales. Life appeared to me too commonplace an affair as regarded myself.
I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would
ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people
the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age than my own
After this my life became
busier, and reality stood in place of fiction. My husband, however, was from
the first very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage and
enroll myself on the page of fame. He was forever inciting me to obtain literary
reputation, which even on my own part I cared for then, though since I have
become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired that I should
write, not so much with the idea that I could produce anything worthy of notice,
but that he might himself judge how far I possessed the promise of better
things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Traveling, and the cares of a family
occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading or improving my ideas in
communication with his far more cultivated mind was all of literary employment
that engaged my attention.
In the summer of 1816 we
visited Switzerland and became the neighbors of Lord Byron. At first we spent
our pleasant hours on the lake or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron,
who was writing the third canto of Chi/de Harold, was the only one among us
who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to
us clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine
the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him.
But it proved a wet, ungenial
summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes
of ghost stories translated from the German into French fell into our hands.
There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp
the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the
pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder
of his race whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all
the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise.
His gigantic, shadowy form, clothed like the ghost in Hamlet, in complete
amour, but with the beaver up, was seen at midnight, by the moon's fitful
beams, to advance slowly along the gloomy avenue. The shape was lost beneath
the shadow of the castle walls; but soon a gate swung back, a step was heard,
the door of the chamber opened, and he advanced to the couch of the blooming
youths, cradled in healthy sleep. Eternal sorrow sat upon his face as he bent
down and kissed the forehead of the boys, who from that hour withered like
flowers snapped upon the stalk. I have not seen these stories since then,
but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday.
"We will each write a ghost
story," said Lord Byron, and his proposition was acceded to. There were four
of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the
end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments
in the radiance of brilliant imagery and in the music of the most melodious
verse that adorns our language than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced
one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible
idea about a skull-headed lady who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole--what
to see I forget: something very shocking and wrong of course; but when she
was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did
not know what to do with her and was obliged to dispatch her to the tomb of
the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets
also, annoyed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial
I busied myself to think
of a story-a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which
would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror--one
to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the
beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story
would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered-vainly. I felt that
blank incapacity of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship,
when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. "Have you thought of
a story?" I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply
with a mortifying negative.
Everything must have a
beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked
to something that went before. The Hindus give the world an elephant to support
it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be
humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos;
the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark,
shapeless substances but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In
all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the
imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his
egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of
a subject and in the power of molding and fashioning ideas suggested by it.
Many and long were the
conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley to which I was a devout but nearly
silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were
discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether
there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They
talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin (1 speak not of what the doctor really
did or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken
of as having been done by him), who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass
case till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion.
Not thus~ after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated;
galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a
creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.
Night waned upon this talk,
and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest. When I placed
my head on my pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination,
unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose
in my mind with vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw-with
shut eyes, but acute mental vision-1 saw the pale student of unhallowed arts
kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm
of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine,
show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, ha1f-vital motion. Frightful must
it be, for supremely frigh1ful would be the effect of any human endeavor to
mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would
terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horrorstricken.
He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had
communicated would fade, that this thing which had received such imperfect
animation would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief
that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence
of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps;
but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at
his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery,
but speculative eyes.
I opened mine in terror.
The idea so possessed my mind that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I
wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around.
I see them still: the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters with
the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake
and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous
phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred
to my ghost story-my tiresome, unlucky ghost story! Oh! If I could only contrive
one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!
Swift as light and as cheering
was the idea that broke in upon me. "I have found it! What terrified me will
terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my
midnight pillow." On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story.
I began that day with the words "It was on a dreary night of November," making
only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.
At first I thought but
of a few pages, of a short tale, but Shelley urged me to develop the idea
at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident,
nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement
it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world.
From this declaration I must except the preface. As far as I can recollect,
it was entirely written by him.
And now, once again, I
bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for
it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which
found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many
a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was
one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my
readers have nothing to do with these associations.
I will add but one word
as to the alterations I have made. They are principally those of style. I
have changed no portion of the story nor introduced any new ideas or circumstances.
I have mended the language where it was so bald as to interfere with the interest
of the narrative; and these changes occur almost exclusively in the beginning
of the first volume. Throughout they are entirely confined to such parts as
are mere adjuncts to the story, leaving the core and substance of it untouched.
London, October 15,
The Complete Original Novel
Brought to you