Throughout Into the Unknown, in partnership with Penguin Classics, we’ll be presenting a series of book club events each focussing on an iconic title from Science Fiction.
The third in our series, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Henry Eliot, Creative Editor of Penguin Classics, is joined by a prestigious line-up of speakers to explore this iconic Science Fiction text – Professor Angela Wright of the University of Sheffield, whose critical study of Mary Shelley is due to be published later this year, and Professor Mark Bishop, an Artificial Intelligence specialist and Professor of Cognitive Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
On a torrential June afternoon in 1816, the ‘year without a summer’, a group of young friends gathered in the Villa Diodati on the shore of Lake Geneva to tell ghost stories. Lord Byron was renting the villa with his friend and physician, John Polidori. The party also included Byron’s pregnant lover, Claire Clairmont, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire’s 18-year-old stepsister, who was eloping with Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
It rained for three days, so to pass the time Byron challenged each member of the group to write a ghost story. Mary’s tale was inspired by a waking nightmare of a ‘hideous phantasm of a man’, stirring with an ‘uneasy, half vital motion’. Her short story developed into the novel Frankenstein. She worked on the text with Shelley, whom she married later that year, and it was first published in three volumes in 1818.
Frankenstein continues to exert a strong influence on popular culture, as is evident from the number of film adaptations of the story, from Boris Karloff’s iconic portrayal of the monster in 1931 to Mel Brooks’ uproarious Young Frankenstein in 1974 and Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie in 2012.
Drawing on the ancient myth of Prometheus, the overreaching creator of mankind, as well as contemporary experiments in chemistry and electrophysiology, Mary Shelley’s archetypal work of science fiction also looks far into the future, to our present world of bionics and artificial intelligence.
Penguin Classics Book Club: Frankenstein takes place on Thursday 13 July
Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction takes place 3 June–1 September