Frankenstein by Mary Shelleyby Rick Price - Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
First published in 1818, the story of how Frankenstein came to be written is as interesting as the novel itself. Alpine Europe, primarily in France and Switzerland, first became the object of tourism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The British discovered it at this time and began frequenting places such as Chamonix, underneath Mont Blanc, on the French side of Europe’s grandest mountain.
In the rainy summer of 1816 in Switzerland, Lord Byron found himself neighbors in Percy Shelly and his young wife Mary. The young poets passed the rainy evenings reading ghost stories aloud together, an activity that inspired Byron to challenge his colleagues to write a ghost story themselves which they would share by reading aloud. The result is this classic of 19th century Gothic literature, which endures to this day.
Fascinated by the grandiosity of nature presented by the French and Swiss Alps, Mary Shelley sets her novel around Lake Geneva, the Chamonix valley, and on the slopes of Mont Blanc (in addition to the wilds of Scotland which were also familiar to her). The tragic story of Victor Frankenstein, young university student and scientist, unfolds here as he dabbles in creating life itself. Shelley’s description of Frankenstein, indeed, invokes images of the mountain itself: "gigantic in stature, yet uncouth and distorted in its proportions."
Shelley’s descriptions of the monster created by her protagonist range from compassionate sympathy to vindictive evil-doer just as her descriptions of Mont Blanc range from "supreme and magnificent" to those of raw aggressive nature.
Frankenstein will eventually appear on our Mont Blanc hiking tour reading list right along with Nicolas Crane’s Clear Waters Rising and Scrambles Amongst the Alps: In the Years 1860-69 by Edward Whymper. So if you’d like to get a headstart on preparing for your Mont Blanc trek, feel free to begin with Mary Shelley’s classic novel.