How A Teenage Girl Became the Mother of Horror

Mary Shelley combined science and the supernatural to write 'Frankenstein,' the world’s first science-fiction novel.

Born on a dark and stormy night, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus is a true masterpiece of terror that began as a fireside ghost story and grew into a worldwide phenomenon. Its teenage author, the future Mary Shelley, drew upon her nightmares to come up with a story as challenging as it is chilling. (Read about "Frankenstein" electronic plants.)

The story took shape during the year without a summer, as 1816 came to be known. The 1815 eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano on the island of Sumbawa (part of modern-day Indonesia) had released vast amounts ash, rock, and sulfuric dust into the air, which dramatically lowered temperatures across many areas of the globe the following year. Reports of odd weather came in from all quarters in 1816: summer frosts in North America, red snow in Italy, and eight weeks of nonstop rain in Ireland.

The bizarre weather in 1816 also left an indelible mark on culture and literature. That year, a group of friends from England had been looking forward to spending the summer months together in a large house, Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva. The group included the poet Lord Byron, his personal physician John Polidori, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley’s teenage lover, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

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