Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sunshine Would Have Killed One of Literature's Finest Monsters

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sunshine Would Have Killed One of Literature's Finest Monsters

Article excerpt

Byline: John Sutherland

THREE great novels dominated 1818: Frankenstein, anonymously (on January 1); Persuasion, by Jane Austen (posthumously, in late 1817); and The Heart of Midlothian by Walter Scott ( July 1818). Scott reviewed Frankenstein. "Peculiar", was his verdict. It was like nothing he had seen before. Had Austen lived to read it, she might have written a spoof to rival Northanger Abbey.

We've become, over the past 200 years, fascinated by the peculiarity of Mary Shelley's novel. It is a work that owes its existence to rain, for 1816 was the so-called "year without a summer", thanks to a volcanic eruption in the East Indies so violent it changed the world's climate.

A company of litterateurs Lord Byron, the two Shelleys (Mary, then Wollstonecraft) and Byron's doctor John Polidori, washed up in Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. Tourism was impossible, so to pass the time they devised a ghost story competition.

Byron soon got bored and Shelley, who had wakeful nightmares about nipple-shaped eyes, dropped out. But Polidori imagined "The Vampyre" and Mary created Frankenstein, supposedly inspired by Paradise Lost John Milton was also said to have stayed at the villa.

Why does Frankenstein matter all these years later? Partly because of the romance of its conception, but mostly because Brian Aldiss, the dean of British science fiction, saw it as foundational. …

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