Preface

THE EVENT ON which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it developes; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination of the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.

I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementary principles of human nature, while I have not scrupled to innovate upon their combinations. The Iliad, the tragic poetry of Greece—Shakespeare, in the Tempest and Midsummer Night's Dream—and most especially, Milton, in Paradise Lost, conform to this rule; and the most humble novelist, who seeks to confer or receive amusement from his labours, may, without presumption, apply to prose fiction a licence, or rather a rule, from the adoption of which many exquisite combinations of human feeling have resulted in the highest specimens of poetry.

The circumstance on which my story rests was suggested in casual conversation. It was commenced partly as a source of amusement, and partly as an expedient for exercising any untried resources of mind. Other motives were mingled with these as the work proceeded. I am by no means indifferent to the manner in which whatever moral tendencies exists in the sentiments or characters it contains shall affect the reader; yet my chief concern in this respect has been limited to the avoiding the enervating effects of the novels of the present day and to the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue. The opinions which naturally spring from the character situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to be drawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind.

It is a subject also of additional interest to the author that this story was begun in the majestic region where the scene is principally laid, and in society which cannot cease to be regretted. I passed the summer of 1816 in the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends (a tale from the pen of one of whom would be far more acceptable to the public than anything I can ever hope to produce) and myself agreed to write each story founded on some supernatural occurrence.

The weather, however, suddenly became serene; and my two friends left me on a journey among the Alps, and lost, in the magnificent scenes which they present, all the memory of their ghostly visions. The following tale is the only one which has been completed.

MARLOW, September 1817.

Footnotes

  1. Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote this preface under the pseudonym “Marlow” to give the story a more factual basis. At the time of the novel’s publication in 1818, science fiction was not a popular genre. Shelley aligns Frankenstein with science, great literature, and history in order to distinguish it from unsophisticated ghost stories as high-brow fiction. He takes the pseudonym from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where Shelley and her husband wrote.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Percy Shelley, posing as his wife and the author of this book, alludes to the competition that he, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley undertook in the summer of 1816. One night while the group read German ghost stories to each other around the fire, Lord Byron challenged them each to write their own horrifying story. Mary Shelley invented Frankenstein and his monster from a nightmare that she had had; Percy Shelley and Byron never finished their stories. Notice that Percy Shelley dismisses Mary’s work as less acceptable to the public than his own, even though she won the competition at Geneva.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Shelley argues that literature preserves the truths of human nature in order to tell stories and uses references to great literature in order to prove his point. The Iliad is an epic poem from ancient Greece that tells the story of the Trojan War, a battle between Troy and Greece over the abduction of Helen of Troy. The epic features multiple interventions from the gods and other supernatural elements. Shakespeare’s two most famous supernatural plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, rely heavily on the presence of magic to tell their stories. Milton’s Paradise Lost tells the story of Genesis by imagining heaven, hell, and Eden. While all of these stories use supernatural elements, they also preserve the principles of nature.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Dr. Charles Darwin was a geologist, biologist, and naturalist in the 1800s. Darwin is most known for his scientific theory of evolution published in The Origin of the Species. Contrary to religious ideology, Darwin’s theory suggests that humanity developed out of single cell organisms in response to environmental factors.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff