“I shall thus give a general answer to the question, so frequently asked me—”How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” – Mary Shelley
Despite horror being seen as mostly a man’s world, it was a kickass female who created one of the most feared and beloved monsters of all time. In May 1816 in a villa near Geneva, Mary Shelley, on a bet from the poet Lord Byron, gave birth to Frankenstein’s monster. Her novel, about a medical student who dared to play God and the creature he made who both loved and despised him, proved that women were just as capable of thoughts as dark and horrifying as the thoughts of men.
The Bride of Frankenstein movie (1935) opens with a sequence featuring Bryon, the poet Percy Shelley and Mary. The director, James Whale, insisted on being allowed to include the sequence because he wanted to show that even pretty people (cough, girls, cough) could have wicked thoughts. Lord Byron playfully teases Mary “can you believe that bland and lovely brow conceived of Frankenstein, a monster created from cadavers out of rifled graves. It’s astonishing”. No, Bryon it’s not really.
Being a trailblazing woman who flew in the face of polite society was partially expected in Mary’s family. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft was a writer, philosopher and an advocate for the equality of women. Mary Shelley, proving she was as unconventional as her mother, was publicly shunned for openly being the married Percy’s companion until his wife committed suicide and she was able to become his legal wife. It is not a surprise that a woman so controversial in her private life would be just as controversial in her writing.
Mary had been an avid reader (Paradise Lost was apparently one of her favorites, no light romp itself) and story writer since she was a child. By the time Mary wrote Frankenstein, she had already experienced enough tragedy in her short life to pool dark material from. She had lost her mother (she died shortly after giving birth to Mary) and had lost a child of her own. Having just given birth, her thoughts were understandably on the child she had lost and what if she could bring her back somehow – what means would she go to and would she dare. Frankenstein was the natural expression of an intelligent, sensitive woman’s darkest fears and desires.
Here’s to Mary Shelley and all the kick ass female horror writers that followed in her daring, dark and innovative footsteps. And a warning to you dear reader – beware the fairer sex, who knows what wickedness lurks beneath our bland and lovely brows. Perhaps, if you are good, we’ll show you.