And the answer: Frankenstein.
In 1816, poet Lord Byron and author Mary Shelley were vacationing with friends on Lake Geneva. The travelers experienced a dreary and rainy get-away, leading them to spend their nights reading morbid poetry and ghost stories. One night, Byron presented a challenge: write a better ghost story than the ones they had read. Thus, the oft misunderstood monster Frankenstein was born, leading to the novel‘s publication in 1818.
Did you know?
Today, August 30th, is Frankenstein Day! Written over two hundred years ago, Frankenstein is considered one of the first, and the best science fiction works ever written. In fact, with this work, Shelley is widely thought to have paved the way for the creation of horror as a genre.
Interestingly, the context that gave way to Frankenstein is much more than meets the eye. More than two centuries ago, Mount Tambora—a volcano more than seven thousand miles from Lake Geneva—violently erupted. Not only was the event locally devastating, but its huge expulsion of sulfur dioxide spread across the stratosphere to globally lower temperatures by several degrees. The aftermath of Mount Tambora’s eruption was so chilling that the year 1815 was later known as “The Year Without a Summer.”
While at first, this event may seem unrelated to the electrifying, horror tale that would be Frankenstein, the year of the eruption was the very same that Mary Shelley and her companions took a vacation on Lake Geneva. With the bad weather confining Shelley indoors, the travelers took to a scary story competition, and ultimately, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was voted best. She was encouraged to further develop the story, and ultimately published her novel in 1818.
However, at the time of its original publication, Shelley opted to keep her name off of the manuscript, thus masking the fact that she was a woman. At that time, it wasn’t unusual for a woman writer to publish anonymously, as many believed that female authors wouldn’t be accepted by the public. In 1823, the second edition revealed Mary was the true author, and critics panned the work. Yet it was around that time that a rumor began to spread, suggesting Percy, instead of Mary, had written Frankenstein. While the idea still persists today, it is not accepted by critics and the general readership alike.
Learn more about the famed monster that Shelley created here.