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Tag Archive: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


Review by C.J. Bunce

In Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, chemist and author Kathryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic, reveals the results of a thorough investigation into the scientific knowledge available to young author Mary Shelley at the turn of the 19th century when Shelley wrote the first science fiction novel (and basis for the first horror movie), Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus The result is a detailed, marvelously interconnected picture of notable minds of the Enlightenment and their theories, a useful history of science and technology, and a worthy supplement to any reading or study of the classic story.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was greatly influenced by noted authors of her era, beginning with her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (through her writings), and her long-time companion and eventual husband, the noted author and political thinker Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Mary Shelley lived in a world of scientific improvements, while also at only the barest beginnings of modern chemistry, biology, and medicine.  Author Kathryn Harkup looked back to writings of the late 1700s and earlier, where religion, politics, and culture were undergoing a radical shift, with old concepts like alchemy winding down its influence on the thinking world.  As Harkup writes, “Dark, discredited, ineffectual alchemy was contrasted with enlightened, rational, powerful science.”  She follows Mary Shelley’s travels as documented in letters and diaries Shelley and her contemporaries wrote to locate hundreds of opportunities that could have influenced the author’s story as well as Victor Frankenstein the character inside the world where he would create life from the dead.  In doing so the reader will get a snapshot of the world in 1800-1818 and a class in a major chapter of the history of science and technology–what someone in Shelley’s circumstances as a woman among affluent families living among vocal sharers of ideas including the likes of Erasmus Darwin, Luigi Galvani, Benjamin Franklin, and Lord Byron.

Harkup takes her research a step further in Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, locating the possible influences of not only Shelley but those around Mary Shelley like her father, her husband, and Byron, whose access to cutting edge science and free thought reached across the ocean and nations.  She references the ongoing relationships and likelihood of the sharing of ideas among these men and Mary Shelley, all leading to the famous trip during the rainy summer of 1816, where the world was overtaken by darkness thanks to the earlier eruption of Mount Tambora in far off Indonesia.  Mary Shelley, age 18, with boyfriend Percy visiting Byron and Dr. John Polidori at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, were hunkered down reading ghost stories to each other from the French book Fantasmagoriana, when Byron suggested each should write his/her own ghost story (Polidori’s story would become The Vampyre, the first vampire novel).  Along with the science, Harkup provides a complete background of each step of Shelley’s life before and after completion of her Frankenstein contribution.

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First premiering at a film festival in Toronto last September, a new costume drama biopic will be slipping into theaters in the U.S. next month and UK theaters in July.  Mary Shelley is a film from a story by Emma Jensen, looking at Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s romance with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, including the famous contest in which Shelley would write in the year 1816 what has been called the most influential science fiction and horror story of all time.  Saudi Arabia’s first woman filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour, is directing, with Elle Fanning in the lead role.

The first trailer for the film unveils a historical drama, presenting a young cast for a new generation of Regency romance moviegoers.  Portraying 16 to 18-year-old Shelley is 18-year-old Elle Fanning (as of filming), who has impressed audiences in her short career with star roles in films Super 8, Maleficent, and the remake of The Beguiled.  Co-star Maisie Williams will be familiar to Game of Thrones and Doctor Who fans.  Mary Shelley has the look of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but without the fantasy and horror elements.  That may be thanks in part to co-star Douglas Booth as Percy Shelley, who appeared in both films, as well as Jupiter Ascending and a few historical TV dramas.  Mary Shelley also features Tom Sturridge (Far from the Madding Crowd) as Lord Byron, and Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse).

Actor Amelia Warner (Aeon Flux, Mansfield Park) composed the film’s musical score.  Kevin Downey, who worked in the art department on The Terror, Ripper Street, Little Women, and Penny Dreadful, is the film’s set decorator.  Caroline Koener is costume designer.

Here is the first trailer for Mary Shelley:

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