Lord Byron was the most famous poet of his day – and the most scandalous. His behavior was fiercely criticized by the public when his wife left him after only one year of marriage, and he left England – permanently – in April 1816. His first stop was Switzerland, where in the summer Shelley, Mary and Jane Clairmont came to visit him. People called 1816 “the year without a summer”: we know now that the worldwide severe weather conditions that year were caused by eruption of the volcano Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Almost constant rain forced Byron, Shelley, Mary, Jane and Byron’s doctor, John Polidori, to spend most of their time indoors.
They entertained themselves by reading a collection of German ghost stories, Fantasmagoriana. When they got bored with this, Lord Byron suggested a competition: they should each write a frightening story. Jane didn’t respond to the challenge, but the other four spent the next days thinking of something to write about.
In her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary says she had no inspiration for days, until she listened to Byron and Shelley talking about recenbt scientific experiments, including the 1783 experiment by the Italian Galvani (1737-98) in animating the legs of a dead frog with electricity. They went on to talk about how corps might be animated and a creature made from body parts. She describes how that night, in a state between sleeping and waking, she had a vision of a “pale student...knelling beside the thing, she as put together the hideous phantasm of a man"; in this kind of dream, she saw him “on the working of some powerful engine” the creature started to move. “What terrified me will terrify others” Mary thought , and next morning announced she had found the idea for her story.
Her husband encouraged Mary to complete the story, and Frankenstein was published in 1818. It was an immediate success,, The preface to this edition was written by her husband, and many people thought Percy Bysshe Shelley had written the novel itself. Mary, however, was soon recognized as the real author of Frankenstein and wrote her own introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein.