The story of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein is almost as spooky as the tale itself. It starts on a stormy night in Geneva in 1818 — exactly 200 years ago. She, Percy Shelley, and the poet Lord Byron told chilling ghost stories at a lakeside villa. But Mary’s tale of a scientist whose creation went on to murder his wife and family became one of the most famous novels of all time. Its reflections on the nature of science, on humanity and on the consequences of knowledge have haunted generations of readers, and it still resonates with the most modern fears and paranoias.


Victor conceives of science as a mystery to be probed; its secrets, once discovered, must be jealously guarded. “What could not be expected in the country of eternal light?” asks Walton, displaying a faith in science. We have come a long way from the early experiments with electricity which inspired the tale of Frankenstein. What new boundaries are being tested by our most ambitious scientists?


The full title of the novel is Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. The Greek god Prometheus gave the knowledge of fire to humanity and was then severely punished for it. Victor, attempting to become a modern Prometheus, is certainly punished, but unlike fire, his “gift” to humanity — knowledge of the secret of life — remains a secret.


The sublime natural world, embraced by Romanticism as a source of unrestrained emotional experience for the individual, initially offers characters the possibility of spiritual renewal. Victor heads to the mountains to lift his spirits after the death of William and Justine. But eventually the natural world’s power to console him wanes when he realises that the monster will haunt him everywhere.


Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote one of the earliest feminist texts. Most female characters in Frankenstein are very passive, and most die an untimely death. But their deaths — and Frankenstein’s refusal to create a female companion for the monster — is often a catalyst for change.


In the Christian world of Mary Shelley’s Europe, perhaps Frankenstein’s greatest crime was trying to remove God from the process of life and death. But society today is less preoccupied with religious dilemmas — what does this mean for science?