The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult
Mary Shelley
Sphere, 1976

Here we have one of the truly great classics of supernatural fiction; and, amazing to relate, its author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote it when she was only nineteen.

She had eloped with the celebrated poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley and become his second wife. In 1816 the Shelleys lived for some months in Switzerland and a neighbour of whom they saw a great deal was Lord Byron. Bad weather forced them to spend days indoors, so they read many books and among those they particularly enjoyed was one of ghost stories. This resulted in their deciding to each write a novel with a supernatural theme. Byron was then largely occupied composing his famous poem, Childe Harold, and Shelley’s genius did not incline to prose fiction; so the only one of the three who fulfilled the project was Mary with her Frankenstein.

It is common knowledge that Frankenstein has become the accepted word to describe any mechanical monster made in the form of a human being; but the original was a creature of flesh and blood, having a brain and subject to all forms of emotion.

The story is told as related to a sea-captain by a Swiss, named Frankenstein, then still in his twenties, who is rescued from death up in the Arctic.

Frankenstein was brought up in a happy family, which included an adopted daughter, the beautiful Elizabeth, with whom he fell in love. They had a house in Geneva and another outside the city. When he was thirteen they went to the baths near Thonon, but inclement weather compelled them to spend most of the day at an inn. There the boy came on a copy of the works of Cornelius Agrippa, and became so intrigued by its subject that he procured the books by Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus and other alchemists.

At the age of seventeen he was sent to Ingolstadt University and there devoted himself to biological chemistry. His excellent brain enabled him to master the most advanced experiments and one day he was suddenly inspired with an idea which might enable him to produce life in inanimate matter. Months passed while he laboured frenziedly in a locked room at the top of the house in which he was lodging, procuring the materials he needed from newly buried corpses and the University’s medical dissecting rooms. To make the more intricate portions of the body he was building easier work, he constructed a giant man, eight feet in height and broad in proportion.

At last the night arrived when the eyes of his creation flickered and opened. Frankenstein had taken every care to provide it with excellent teeth and other attributes but as it stirred into life he suffered an appalling shock. Its eyes turned a watery yellow and sank deep into their sockets, its mouth became hideously twisted and the flesh of its face the colour of old parchment furrowed by wrinkles.

Horrified, Frankenstein fled from the revolting creature down to his bedroom, tore off his clothes and, sweating with terror, buried himself under the bed clothes. Soon afterwards he heard his bed curtains wrenched aside and, on sitting up, found the huge monster grinning at him.

Again he fled, this time down to the courtyard of the house, where he spent an agonising night. In the morning he plucked up the courage to return upstairs. The terrible creature had disappeared.

A year or two later they meet again, high up in the Alps on an icy glacier. Meanwhile Frankenstein has had reason to believe that his hideous creation has committed murder; so he attempts to kill it. He is easily overcome and the giant tells him how the morning after his creation he found himself in a wood near Ingolstadt, his mind a blank and able only to make uncouth sounds. Then how for many months he wandered about, gradually acquiring knowledge of men and how to talk and read; but stoned and driven from every habitation by peasants terrified by his revolting appearance.

He then begs Frankenstein to make for him a woman of his own size, however ugly; so that he may have someone to love and not spend his whole life in utter loneliness. Frankenstein agrees and, to ensure secrecy for this second creation, travels to the almost uninhabited island of Orkney.

It is not for me to reveal here further particulars of this amazing and horrifying story; but for originality few can compare with it. And I have rarely read anything so skilfully told, so fascinating and touching as the monster’s long account of how, from a brute beast, he educated himself into the semblance of a highly sensitive human being.