Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Literature > 199. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

199.  Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851).  Frankenstein, or, the modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818. RBML, Samuels Collection

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was the daughter of William Godwin, a political theorist, novelist and publisher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In 1814, she and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married, fell in love and fled to Europe. During the summer of 1816, while visiting Lord Byron at his villa on Lake Geneva, Byron challenged each of his guests to write a ghost story. In response, Mary began writing what became Frankenstein, in rivalry with Byron's fragmentary "Vampyre." In December of that year, Mary and Percy were married, two weeks after his first wife committed suicide by drowning. Rescuers had taken Harriet Shelley's body to the receiving station of the London Society, where various methods, including artificial respiration and electric shock, were tried, but to no avail.

Frankenstein was inspired by the science of the day, including the work of the Italian physician Luigi Galvani, who investigated the electrical properties of living and dead matter. As Mary Shelley wrote of her talks with Byron and Percy Shelley, "Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things."

Bequest of Mollie Harris Samuels, from the Library of Jack Harris Samuels, 1970

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