Personal Narrative

How Frankenstein Began

by Mary Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 1797–1851

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 1797–1851

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ca. 1840, Richard Rothwell.
Oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London.

People often ask: How did I think up such a hideous story when I was still a young woman? Here is how it came about.

In the summer of 1816 my husband and I went to Switzerland. There we became friends with our neighbor, the famous poet Lord Byron.

It was a very wet summer. The rain often kept us in the house for days, so we read ghost stories to pass the time.

One day, Lord Byron suggested, “We will each write our own ghost story.” I tried hard to think of a story that would make the reader afraid, but I had no ideas.

One day, I listened to a conversation between Lord Byron and my husband. They wondered if a dead person could live again. They wanted to know if body parts could be made, put together, and brought to life.

It was very late before we went to bed. I put my head on my pillow, but I did not sleep. Instead, my mind was filled with vivid images of pieced-together monsters.

I opened my eyes in terror!! I could not get the dream out of my head. I knew I must try to think of something else. So I thought of my unwritten ghost story. If I could only think of a story that would frighten my reader as much as I had been frightened by my dream!

That’s when the idea hit me: I only have to describe the monster in my dream. What terrified me will terrify others.

The next day I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day and wrote out the details of my dream.