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In May 1815, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley arrived with her husband, Percy Shelley, at a lakeside estate on the border of Switzerland and France. They had been invited by the famous writer and poet, Lord Byron, to stay for the summer on Lake Geneva. Among them were many other artists, writers, and poets who spent their time sailing on the lake, creating in their respective fields, and talking into the night. On one particular night, their host Lord Byron read to them a ghost story then suggested that the others create their own before the summer’s end. Each took to writing. Mary Shelley worried herself over what to write about, she read collections of other ghost stories but found no inspiration until she remembered a conversation the writers had about a famous philosopher Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have reanimated dead creatures. Her letter continues with the origin of Frankenstein:


June 1815


“I busied myself to think of a story,—a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One that 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[Pg 141] unworthy of its name. I thought and wondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability 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...


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 (I 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...


At first I thought of but 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.”


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley