La Conquête de Plassans


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Émile Zola

The story of Frankenstein and his monster came about in a very unusual way. In1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her lover were traveling in the Swiss Alps. It started to rain very hard for a prolonged period of time and they were forced to remain in their lodgings due to the weather. Because they could not go out and see the sights as they had planned they started reading ghost stories in an effort to entertain one another. One of their neighbors and friends was Lord Byron, who was already a renowned poet. His suggestion was that they put their pens to people and see which one of them could write a great ghost story of their own. Naturally, Godwin took the prize as having the best story between the two of them. It took its place among all the German tales they had been reading and also went on to be published and become a bestseller. As a Gothic classic, readers are enjoying Frankenstein nearly two centuries after it was first created.

Mary Godwin was born in London in August of 1797. Her mother was a writer of feminist tracts and other works. She died during Mary's birth and Mary was in the care of her father. He was part of a group of radical thinkers such as William Blake and Thomas Paine, so Mary's upbringing exposed her to new and innovative ideas as well as connections with notable people. One of those people was Lord Byron and another was Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley was a young poet at the time, and they decided in 1814 to run away together. They toured Switzerland, Germany, and France during their adventures. Mary was in need of an escape from her family and Percy Shelley was interested in getting away from his wife for a time. Their affair was very happy at first but it did not stay that way. It was strained because of Percy's wife and the demands she was placing on him. The relationship came and went for some time, and Mary also took up with another man.

Harriet became pregnant with Percy's child but drowned herself before the baby was ever born. That took place in November of 1816 in London, and Percy and Mary married only a few short weeks later. There was a high degree of scandal surrounding Harriet's death and the subsequent marriage of Mary and Percy, but there was never any proof of Harriet's death being sinister or planned by the lovers in any way. Mary and Percy were well-matched in both the romantic and literary senses. Mary's Frankenstein manuscript was edited by Percy, and some say he also wrote the preface using her name. The novel was published in January of 1818 and was immediately a bestseller. Unfortunately for Mary, getting Frankenstein published was the only bright spot in the middle of a large group of tragic events. Between 1815 and 1819 she lost three of her four children as infants. In 1922, just when she began to think that things were looking up again, Percy drowned near Tuscany and she was left without the love of her life and with a child to raise.

Mary instantly became a single mother and a widow. She turned to her late husband's prose and poetry and started editing and publishing much of his work. Posthumous Poems came out in 1824, followed by Poetical Works and Letters in 1839. When Mary was not working on Percy's writing she was working on her own. She published a work under her own name every few years up until 1837. She also battled serious illness throughout her life, and it plagued her even while she was trying to publish more works and take care of her remaining child. Mary died in February of 1851 in London. Despite what some would consider a tragic life fraught with grief and peril, Mary's work lives on in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere who still enjoy Frankenstein and other works she created during her lifetime.

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