The first edition of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818. The author was Mary Shelley, a young lady of twenty years who had begun writing the novel when she was eighteen years old. Although her name did not appear on the original three-volume set, it appeared on the second edition printed in 1823.
In the foreword to the third edition of the novel, Mary recalled the summer during which she had conceived of and written the novel while on holiday in Geneva. She vividly recalled the “incessant rain” that “confined us for days to the house.” She also remembered Lord Byron’s proposition, “We will each write a ghost story.” Mary, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori all decided to compete and see who could write the best ghost story.
In that same introduction, Mary recounted the dream that served as her inspiration for Frankenstein.
I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. … He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.
I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond.…
On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, ‘It was on a dreary night of November,’ making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.
The novel itself is viewed by many as standing among the earliest examples of science fiction in literature. Since the novel’s publication in 1818, Frankenstein has become a cultural icon. Though Frankenstein is the name of the monster’s creator in the original story, it has become more attached to the monster himself, especially once the story began being adapted into motion pictures.