Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thomas, Louisa. "Their Love is Alive." NEWSWEEK September 4, 2009.

It began as a game to pass the time while the rain fell and lightning struck. Visiting Switzerland in June 1816, a small group—young and rivalrous, amorous and ever so literary—agreed to a ghost-story-writing contest. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, just 18, could come up with nothing at first. Then she had a nightmare—a walking corpse, glimmering yellow eyes. It delighted her. The next day, she announced to the others that she had imagined a story. Frankenstein was born. Two years later Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was published anonymously. Readers immediately wondered about the author's identity. Some guessed it was the poet Percy Shelley, who had written the novel's preface. Those who knew that the author was Percy's (by then) wife, Mary Shelley, were amazed. Mary later said that she was constantly asked how she, "then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?" In an introduction to a revised 1831 edition, she told the Gothic tale of the ghost-story contest. (Percy, Lord Byron, John Polidori, and Mary's stepsister, Claire, were the others present.) As for Percy, she "certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling" in the book, but she did depend upon his encouragement and more. "Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone." The question of whether Mary alone wrote the novel, however, would not die. . . .

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