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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was 18 when she and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited some literary friends and got involved in a challenge, to see who could write the most frightening story. Out of a group that included the poet Lord Byron, only Mary’s story of a scientist who goes too far has lasted as a landmark of fantastic literature. Mary Shelley was twenty when the book was published.
Frankenstein was published in 1818, as the Industrial Revolution readied for takeoff in Europe. Science held out the promise of mankind’s triumph over nature, even over death itself – and electricity was the key. In the novel, a doctor uses electricity to re-animate parts of human corpses into a whole, living being – who, although hideous, develops intelligence and self-awareness – and finally turns against its creator. Frankenstein was banned in South Africa in 1955, for containing material deemed “indecent” and “obscene.”