Updated:
Original:
Year
1818

Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is published. The book, by 20-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is frequently called the world’s first science fiction novel. In Shelley’s tale, a scientist animates a creature constructed from dismembered corpses. The gentle, intellectually gifted creature is enormous and physically hideous. Cruelly rejected by its creator, it wanders, seeking companionship and becoming increasingly brutal as it fails to find a mate.

Mary Shelley created the story on a rainy afternoon in 1816 in Geneva, where she was staying with her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, their friend Lord Byron and Lord Byron's physician, John Polidori. The group, trapped indoors by the inclement weather, passed the time telling and writing ghost stories. The ideas for both Frankenstein, and Polidori's The Vampyre, which was published in 1819, were both born that day.

Although serving as the basis for the Western horror story and the inspiration for numerous movies in the 20th century, the book Frankenstein is much more than pop fiction. The story explores philosophical themes and challenges Romantic ideals about the beauty and goodness of nature.

Mary Shelley led a life nearly as tumultuous as the monster she created. The daughter of free-thinking philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, she lost her mother days after her birth. She clashed with her stepmother and was sent to Scotland to live with foster parents during her early teens, then eloped with the married poet Shelley when she was 17. After Shelley’s wife committed suicide in December of 1816, the couple married but spent much of their time abroad, fleeing Shelley’s creditors. Mary Shelley gave birth to five children, but only one lived to adulthood. 

Mary was only 24 years old when Shelley drowned in a sailing accident; she went on to edit two volumes of his works. Aside from her earnings from writing, she lived on a small stipend from her father-in-law, Lord Shelley, until her surviving son inherited his fortune and title in 1844. She died at the age of 53. 

Although Mary Shelley was a respected writer for many years, only Frankenstein and her journals are still widely read.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

New Year’s Day

In 45 B.C., New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar takes effect. Soon after becoming Roman dictator, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. Introduced around the seventh century ...read more

Haitian independence proclaimed

Two months after his defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s colonial forces, Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaims the independence of Saint-Domingue, renaming it Haiti after its original Arawak name. In 1791, a slave revolt erupted on the French colony, and Toussaint-Louverture, a former ...read more

Lincoln signs Emancipation Proclamation

On this day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Attempting to stitch together a nation mired in a bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln made a last-ditch, but carefully calculated, decision regarding the institution of slavery in America. By the end of 1862, ...read more

Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line

On this day in 1781, 1,500 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Line–all 11 regiments under General Anthony Wayne’s command–insist that their three-year enlistments are expired, kill three officers in a drunken rage and abandon the Continental Army’s winter camp at Morristown, New ...read more

United Nations created

On this day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issue a declaration, signed by representatives of 26 countries, called the “United Nations.” The signatories of the declaration vowed to create an international postwar peacekeeping ...read more