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Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, & Mary Shelley


Lord Byron's (George Gordon) Biography

(1788-1824), was the most colorful of the English romantic poets. Many people find his adventurous life as interesting as his poetry. Byron often set his poems in Europe and the Near East, and they reflect his own experiences and beliefs. Byron's poetry is sometimes violent, sometimes tender, and frequently exotic. However, the underlying theme is always Byron's insistence that people be free to choose their own course in life. George Gordon Byron was born in London, but he lived most of his first 10 years in Scotland with his mother. His father, who had abandoned Byron's mother, died when the boy was 3. Byron inherited the title Lord Byron at the age of 10, upon the death of his great-uncle. He then returned to England, where he attended Harrow School and Cambridge University. Byron's first book of poems, Hours of Idleness (1807), was severely criticized by the Edinburgh Review, a Scottish literary magazine. Byron replied with English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), a verse satire in which he attacked almost every notable literary figure of the day.
From 1809 to 1811, Byron traveled through southern Europe and parts of the Near East. In 1812, he published the first two cantos (sections) of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. These cantos, set in the countries he had recently visited, chiefly Portugal, Spain, Albania, and Greece, immediately established his fame. Eastern verse tales, such as The Bride of Abydos (1813) and The Corsair (1814), kept him in the public eye. In 1815, Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke. They had a brief, unhappy marriage, during which a daughter, Ada, was born. The marriage ended partly because of rumors that Byron had committed incest with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Byron left England forever in 1816.
Byron spent several months in Switzerland, where he met fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Byron then settled in Italy, where he carried on a long romance with the Countess Teresa Guiccioli and became involved in Italian revolutionary politics. Byron also wrote such works as the verse dramas Manfred (1817) and Cain (1821). His last and greatest work was the long, unfinished epic Don Juan. In 1823, while writing this poem, Byron decided to join the Greeks in their war for independence from the Turks. After a brief illness, he died in Missolonghi, Greece.
During Byron's last years, he wrote several types of works, notably such historical and Biblical tragedies as Sardanapalus (1821) and Cain. But the masterpiece of his Italian period is Don Juan. Byron wrote the poem in the loose, flexible Italian verse form called ottava rima. The poem deflates the legendary lover Don Juan to the level of a comic epic hero. The most important element in Don Juan, however, is the narrator, a free and self-contradictory spirit whose tone changes continually, ranging through the forceful, biting, sentimental, cynical, self-mocking, and self-assured. The narrator's voice maintains Byron's scorn for what he called cant, the deceptions played by individuals and societies upon one another. Despite the range of Byron's poetry, that scorn is the main force running from the beginning to the end of his career.

from Byron's "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"
(Apostrophe to the Ocean)

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Stops with the shore; upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths-thy fields
Are not a spoil for him-thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth's destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send'st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth-there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake,
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee, and arbiter of war-
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt Into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada's pride or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee-
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters washed them power while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts-not so thou,
Unchangeable, save to thy wild waves' play.
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow;
Such as creation's dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty's form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed-in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving-boundless, endless, and sublime;
The image of eternity, the throne
Of the Invisible; even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers-they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror- 'twas a pleasing fear,
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane-as I do here.

from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
"Apostrophe to the Ocean" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. In lines 1-36, how does the speaker portray the relationship between the ocean and human beings? What do these lines suggest about the ability of human beings to master nature?
2. In lines 37-54, how does the speaker contrast the nature of the ocean with the fortunes of human beings? What can you infer from this contrast?
3. In the last stanza, how does the speaker describe his boyhood relationship with the ocean? What do the first and last stanzas reveal about the speaker?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Byron wrote these stanzas as an apostrophe, a rhetorical figure in which the speaker addresses a thing as if it were a person. Do you think the use of apostrophe reinforces his theme, or main idea? Give reasons for your answer. (See Literary Terms Handbook pa Rl and R16.)

Byron's "She Walks in Beauty"

She walks in Beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

"She Walks in Beauty" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. To what does the speaker compare the woman? Use details from the poem to explain what you learn about her from this comparison.
2. Besides beauty, what other qualities does the woman have, according to the speaker? What can you infer about the speaker's feelings toward her?

Evaluate and Connect
3. What images in the poem best communicate to you the woman's beauty?
4. Theme Connections: In your opinion, does the speaker equate beauty with goodness? Do people do the same thing today? Explain your answers

Percy Bysshe Shelley's Biography

(1792-1822), was one of the great English lyric poets. He experimented with many literary styles and had a lasting influence on many later writers. Shelley was born on Aug. 4, 1792, in Sussex into a wealthy and politically prominent family. He had a stormy career at Eton College and Oxford University, from which he was expelled in 1811 for writing a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism.
In August 1811, Shelley eloped with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a former London coffee house owner. He abandoned her in 1814 and ran away with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Mary was the daughter of William Godwin, a political philosopher whose liberal ideas greatly influenced Shelley. Although both said they did not believe in marriage, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married in 1816, after Harriet drowned herself. They had three children, two of whom died in infancy. See Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft.
After March 1818, Shelley went into exile in Italy. There he wrote a series of important works, including the play The Cenci (1820) and the poems Prometheus Unbound (1820), The Witch of Atlas (1820), Epipsychidion (1821), and Hellas (1822). The death of an acquaintance, the English poet John Keats, inspired his elegy Adonais (1821). On July 8, 1822, Shelley drowned while sailing near Livorno (sometimes called Leghorn), Italy.
Shelley's poems are emotionally direct, but difficult to understand intellectually. Much of his poetry is openly autobiographical, including his most famous lyric "Ode to the West Wind" (1819). Shelley's spiritual attitudes were intensely personal and tended to oppose traditional Christian views. Shelley felt that spiritual truth was not based on either supernatural revelation or natural experience. Instead, he thought truth could be understood by the imagination alone. Shelley debated the role of the imagination as a spiritual guide in "Mont Blanc" (1816). This powerful meditative poem first revealed Shelley's mature style. Another early lyric, "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" (1816), tells of Shelley's decision to devote his life to the pursuit of ideals. He also developed this theme in his poem Alastor (1816).
Shelley's later poetry became more somber and skeptical. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats described Shelley's theme as an increasing conflict between infinite desire and the inability fully to realize such desire. The autobiographical Epipsychidion records Shelley's vision of ideal love finding its lasting home in an earthly paradise. The poem describes his supposed success in achieving that vision through his love for an Italian noblewoman, Emilia Viviani. In the end, however, the poem casts doubt on that success and, even more, on the ability of mere words to describe such perfection.
In 1821, Shelley wrote his famous essay A Defence of Poetry. The work is valuable for its insights into poetry and Shelley's attempt to use his views on imagination to define the role of poets. He asserts that poets sow the seeds of future reforms but do not themselves live to witness their realization. Whether Shelley had begun to find some definite faith, philosophical or otherwise, we do not know, but his final poems are as grim and sorrowful as any he wrote. The last love lyrics that Shelley wrote are serene only in their hopelessness.

Shelley's "Ozymandias"

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Might, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

"Ozymandias" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What does the traveler describe? What specific details help you visualize what is being described?
2. According to the traveler, what was the sculptor's attitude toward the subject? On what evidence does the traveler base this conclusion?
3. What words appear on the pedestal? What do these words suggest about Ozymandias's personality and character?
4. How does the traveler describe the area where the ruins lie? What does this description seem to suggest about the nature of power and fame?

Evaluate and Connect
5. In your opinion, what theme, or message, does this poem convey? Give evidence from the poem to support your answer.
6. Why do you think Shelley uses "a traveler from an antique land" as the storyteller within the poem? What is the effect of having both a speaker and a storyteller? Support your ideas with details from the poem.
7. Find several examples of alliteration. (See Literary Terms Handbook, page RI.) What effect is created by the use of this sound device?
8. Think of a historical figure or a famous person alive today who shares some of Ozymandias's character traits. What do the two individuals have in common?

Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine a'ry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystˆlline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves:oh hear!

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

"Ode to the West Wind" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. In sections 1-3, the speaker describes the West Wind's effect on three aspects of nature. What are those aspects? What do you learn about the speaker's view of the West Wind from these descriptions?
2. What relationship between himself and the West Wind does the speaker suggest in section 4? What do you think he is seeking? How does he think the West Wind can help?
3. In section 5, what does the speaker ask of the West Wind? What would the wind's help allow him to do? What does this request tell you about the speaker?
4. What is your interpretation of the last line of the poem? How does this line help you better understand what the West Wind symbolizes, or represents, for the speaker?

Evaluate and Connect
5. What effect does Shelley create by using apostrophe (see page Rl)? Support your ideas using specific examples from the poem.
6. Find several examples of simile and metaphor (see pages R14 and R9). Evaluate how each comparison enriches your understanding and appreciation of the poem.
7. If you were to address a poem or other piece of writing to some element of nature, what would it be? Explain your choice.

Shelley's "To a Skylark"

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight:

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see--we feel that it is there.

All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud.
As, when night is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

Like a high-born maiden
In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

Like a rose embowered
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awakened flowers,
All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Chorus hymeneal
Or triumphal chaunt
Matched with thine, would be all
But an empty vaunt--
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Yet if we could scorn
Hate, and pride, and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!

"To a Skylark" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. In lines 1-30, what words and images (see page R8) help you imagine the skylark's flight and its song? Describe the speaker's attitude toward the skylark.
2. To what people or things does the speaker compare the skylark in lines 31-60? What qualities of the skylark do these comparisons suggest?
3. How does the speaker characterize the skylark's song? What does the speaker claim would happen if he could gain the skylark's gift? What does this suggest to you about Shelley's views of creativity and art?

Evaluate and Connect
4. What effect is created by the poem's rhyme scheme (see page RI3)?
5. Theme Connections What ideas about beauty and truth do you think this poem conveys? Do you agree with these ideas? Why or why not?

Mary Shelley's Biography

Born August 30, 1797, in London, England. Shelley's literary works include several novels that were mildly successful in their time but are little known today, and an edition of poetry by her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which she issued with notes that are now regarded as indispensable. Her reputation rests, however, on what she once called her "hideous progeny," Frankenstein. She was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the early feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and William Godwin, the political philosopher and novelist.
She was not formally educated, but absorbed the intellectual atmosphere created by her father and such visitors as Samuel Taylor Coleridge. She read a wide variety of books, notably those of her mother, whom she idolized. Young Mary's favorite retreat was Wollstonecraft's grave in the St. Pancras churchyard, where she went to read and write and eventually to meet her lover, Percy Shelley.
Three of their own children died in infancy, and Mary fell into a deep depression that was barely dispelled by the birth in 1819 of Percy Florence, her only surviving child. The Shelleys' marriage suffered, too, in the wake of their children's deaths, and Percy formed romantic attachments to other women. Despite these trying circumstances, both Mary and Percy maintained a schedule of rigorous study--including classical and European literature, Greek, Latin, and Italian language, music and art--and ambitious writing; during this period Mary completed Frankenstein (1818) and another novel, Valperga (1823).
Shelley's life after Percy's death was marked by melancholy and hardship as she struggled to support herself and her child. Sir Timothy Shelley offered her a meager stipend, but ordered that she keep the Shelley name out of print; thus, all her works were published anonymously. In addition to producing four novels in the years after Percy's death, Mary contributed occasional short stories, which she considered potboilers, to the literary annuals of the day.

from the Introduction to Frankenstein

It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print; but as my account will only appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion.
It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to "write stories." Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air -- the indulging in waking dreams -- the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator -- rather doing as others had done, then putting down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye -- my childhood's companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed -- my dearest pleasure when free.
I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then -- but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine of my tales. Life appeared to me too common-place an affair as regarded myself. I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age, than my own sensations.
After this my life became busier, and reality stood in place of fiction. My husband, however, was from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even on my own part I cared for then, though since I have become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could produce any thing worthy of notice, but that he might himself judge how far I possessed the promise of better things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading, or improving my ideas in communication with his far more cultivated mind, was all of literary employment that engaged my attention.
In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. At first we spent our pleasant hours on the lake, or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron, who was writing the third canto of Childe Harold, was the only one among us who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to us, clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him.
But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race, whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise. His gigantic, shadowy form, clothed like the ghost in Hamlet, in complete armour, but with the beaver up, was seen at midnight, by the moon's fitful beams, to advance slowly along the gloomy avenue. The shape was lost beneath the shadow of the castle walls; but soon a gate swung back, a step was heard, the door of the chamber opened, and he advanced to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep. Eternal sorrow sat upon his face as he bent down and kissed the forehead of the boys, who from that hour withered like flowers snapt upon the stalk. I have not seen these stories since then; but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday.
"We will each write a ghost story," said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to. There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole -- to see what I forget -- something very shocking and wrong of course; but when she was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did not know what to do with her, and was obliged to despatch her to the tomb of the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets also, annoyed the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task.
I busied myself to think of a story, -- a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror -- one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered -- vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.
Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindoos give the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of the void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.
Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin,(I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endured with vital warmth.
Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I place my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. 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. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. 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. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story, -- my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night!
Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. "I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow." 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.
At first I thought but of a few pages -- of a short tale; but Shelley urged me to develope the idea at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world. From this declaration I must except the preface. As far as I can recollect, it was entirely written by him.
And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations.

Introduction to Frankenstein Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Why does Shelley write this account of the origin of her story even though she claims she is "averse to bringing herself forward in print"? What does this contradiction tell you about her personality?
2. According to the second paragraph, what childhood activity did Shelley find more "agreeable" than writing? How did Shelley's parents and husband influence her as a writer?
3. What does Shelley claim is necessary for invention? Describe the events that led up to her idea for the plot of Frankenstein. Do these factors support her theory of invention?
4. What do Shelley's reflections in the last paragraph tell you about her life?

Evaluate and Connect
5. Shelley wants to appeal to "the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror." What books or movies have you read or seen that meet this description?
6. Do you agree with Shelley's opinion of what is needed for invention? Why or why not?
7. Shellet was not alone when she conceived of and wrote Frankenstein. What part did other writers play in her success?