Frankenstein was Mary Shelley's immensely powerful contribution to the ghost stories which she, Percy Shelley, and Byron wrote one wet summer in Switzerland. Its protagonist is a young student of natural philosophy, who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from relics of the dead, with horrific consequences. Frankenstein confronts some of the most feared innovations of evolutionism: topics such as degeneracy, hereditary disease, and mankind's status as a species of animal. The text used here is from the 1818 edition, which is a mocking expose of leaders and achievers who leave desolation in their wake, showing mankind its choice - to live cooperatively or to die of selfishness. It is also a black comedy, and harder and wittier than the 1831 version with which we are more familiar. Drawing on new research, Marilyn Butler examines the novel in the context of the radical sciences, which were developing among much controversy in the years following the Napoleonic Wars, and shows how Frankenstein's experiment relates to a contemporary debate between the champions of materialist science and of received religion.
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Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on August 30, 1797 in London, the daughter of William Godwin—a radical philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft—a renowned feminist and the author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She eloped to France with Shelley in 1814, although they were not married until 1816, after the suicide of his first wife. She began work on Frankenstein in 1816 in Switzerland, while they were staying with Lord Byron, and it was published in 1818 to immediate acclaim. She died in London in 1851.