What do The Addams Family, The Munsters, Doctor Who, The Bride, and Hotel Transylvania all have in common? Frankenstein!
Celebrating 200 years of fame, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the first of its kind spawning a new genre of horror and science fiction stories. Shelley’s novel was a breakthrough for its time and has since inspired hundreds of thousands of science fiction books, songs and films. Frankenstein’s monster is arguably the most recognized character in science fiction, influencing today’s pop culture.
200 years after Shelly’s hit novel, Southern Utah University students had the opportunity to visit Switzerland and see several sites that inspired the novel. They studied the book and discussed why it is still one of the most widely recognized horror stories in our society.
Shelley’s inspiration for the book began with the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815, explained Dr. Kyle Bishop, Southern Utah University honors program director. Clouds of volcanic ash entered the atmosphere decreasing temperatures, obscuring the sun, and increasing rainfall in North America, Europe and Asia. The atmosphere was dismal and damp; perfect conditions for ghost stories.
The eccentric Lord Byron invited friends to Switzerland in the summer of 1816 to stay with him in Villa Diodati. Among the company were John Polidori, Claire Clairmont, Percy Shelley, and 18-year old Mary Shelley. The weather was overcast, rainy, and cold, so they were almost always confined indoors. In the middle of June, Byron suggested having a scary story contest to entertain themselves.
It was during this contest that Mary Shelley began contemplating the story of Frankenstein. She was fascinated by the ideas of Erasmus Darwin, who claimed he’d reanimated a worm through electrical impulses. One night she had a nightmare about a young student bringing a corpse back to life thus inspiring her to write Frankenstein.
Alexis Hollingsworth, a sophomore creative writing major from Las Vegas, went on this unique study abroad trip led by Dr. Bishop.
“Frankenstein is still well-known because it was the original science fiction novel,” said Hollingsworth. “It was written and published by a woman in the 1800s, a rare event during the time.”
Hollingsworth suggested that one reason why Frankenstein’s monster is used in media so often is because he reminds of us an uncomfortable fact of life: we cannot escape the consequences of our actions. Dr. Frankenstein toyed with the powers of life and death, bringing the monster to life, but then abandoned it because it frightened him. Shelley’s story illustrates a race against time as Dr. Frankenstein tries to stop the creature he created before it kills everything he holds dear.
During their two-week study abroad trip, students were able to write and share their own scary stories. Their stories were influenced by the European museums, old castle ruins and Frankenstein inspired statues they visited. Seeing the hand-written manuscript and signed copy of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley to Lord Byron was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Walking in Shelley’s footsteps and learning that she was only 18 when she wrote her iconic novel, gave students confidence in their own writing and storytelling abilities. It is through these unique trips and experiential learning opportunities that students at SUU take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real world experiences.Perhaps in 200 years people will be reading and studying a classic novel written by Alexis Hollingsworth during her trip to Dr. Frankenstein's Europe.