Frankenstein – that most resonant and enduring of early nineteenth-century fictions – was born in the febrile atmosphere of the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816. Bored by the unseasonably cold, wet weather, the Villa’s residents, Byron, John Polidori, Percy Shelley and the eighteen-year-old Mary Godwin, amused themselves by writing ghost stories.
The other female member of the party – the pregnant Claire Clairmont – did not take part. Surrounded by three competitive males to whose conversations on “the nature of the principle of life” she was a “devout but nearly silent listener”, frustrated by her inability to “think of a story” (and perhaps also by her future husband’s determination that she should “obtain literary reputation”), one night Mary had a dreadful “waking dream”.
I 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 . . . show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion . . . . I opened mine [eyes] in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me . . . . 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.
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