• Friday, January 30, 2015


Frankenstein's writer turns 217…

Shahriar Feroze

How many of you have attempted to play god?

More bluntly, create a monster that would eventually keep gnawing its creator: You.

None perhaps, but a lady born 217 years ago on this day, actually dare did. By her sheer imagination, gothic elements, an unorthodox scientific experiment, and ingredients of horror and hate, she would write a novel in epistolary form - that one day would exceed the prominence of its author herself.

Her name is Mary Shelley.

During the rainy summer of 1816, Mary Shelley, then aged 18, and her lover (and later husband) Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Shivering cold weather prevented them from outdoor holiday activities that they had planned, so during the trip, the group retired indoors until daybreak. Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company amused themselves by reading German ghost stories and all of a sudden Byron proposed that they each write a ghost story. And one evening, the conversation turned to the nature of the principle of life. The idea to experiment with a dead body sprang out, and coupled with galvanism (the therapeutic use of direct electric current), Frankenstein's creation process was chalked out. It was after midnight before the writers retired, and unable to sleep, Mary became possessed by her imagination and dreamt about a scientist who created life and later would be horrified by what he had created. Weaving of one of the world's earliest horror-cum-science fictions had begun.

Her dreams were her prized possessions, as she once quoted - “My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings,” and who knows perhaps it was at this point of time when she thought of writing my favourite lines of Frankenstein -“Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.”

However, it was never confirmed if Shelley was really inspired by the mad scientist who once inhabited the castle Frankenstein near Frankfurt in Germany. After having known the facts, I couldn't help asking myself 'had Byron not insisted on writing a ghost story then what would have Shelley written?' That will never be known.

You could ask 'Why only Frankenstein and why not other of her literary works should be remembered on her birth anniversary?' You have a point, but to that question, this writer dares say, had she only written Frankenstein and nothing at all, that would have sufficed to eternalise her aptitude as a writer.

I am only grateful that out of a single story she created such a powerful legacy of a monster, that later became the foundation of a plethora of horror and science fiction stories of the future.

Conceivably, the biggest lesson Shelley taught us through victor Frankenstein is: Unbridled passion can lead to danger, and even pursuit of knowledge is not an exception to this rule. She also showed the repercussions of playing god.

Happy birthday to Mary Shelley (August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851).

The writer is Current Affairs Analyst and deputy editor for SLR page, The Daily Star.

Published: 12:00 am Saturday, August 30, 2014

TAGS: Frankenstein Mary Shelley Percy Bysshe Shelley

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