The 200th anniversary of the writing of Frankenstein/The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is being celebrated in Geneva most appropriately—just a few hundred meters from where it was first drafted in 1816—by an exhibition at the Martin Bodmer Foundation in Cologny. This small but extensive collection “brings to life” the creation of Mary’s classic tale through hand-written drafts, diary entries, letters and illustrations of hers as well as the people most connected with her at Diodati during that summer—her husband Percy, Lord Byron and Dr. John William Polidori.
I recently took the tour (offered in French and periodically in English) and was delighted with what I saw and learned…
You can’t help but marvel at the pages from Mary’s original draft, complete with poetic edits by husband Percy in the margins. It was he who added the more “flowery” descriptions to her straight prose (and why not? he was a poet after all). A look inside Mary’s personal journal reveals that she was in fact working on the story, as there were some questions raised at the time, (including by Byron himself) as to whether it was even she who wrote it. Then there are the edited manuscripts, the author’s copies (Mary received only six author’s copies), the first edition (which did not bear her name) and various early editions.
Other documents on display include book reviews, the first copy sent to Lord Byron (signed only by “the author”—she was too modest to use her name), Byron’s and Percy’s works, personal letters, illustrations of Geneva locales that were important to the Shelleys and meteorological documents of that particular summer—it was a volcano eruption in Indonesia that affected the dismal weather patterns in Europe that summer even causing crop damage and famine. Books and scientific articles on experiments with electricity and animal magnetism provide us with the scientific literature that was being written at the time—writings that Mary would most likely have been aware of since she was well educated by her intellectual/liberal father.
It was interesting to learn that neither Percy nor Byron produced anything of importance from that challenge. In fact, Byron’s attempt—a work he eventually abandoned—is on display, too! Dr. Polidori did succeed in penning a story entitled The Vampyre, which is now credited as being the first in the “vampire” genre.
The exhibition does an excellent job of revealing a well-rounded back story of that summer in Geneva where grim weather and heady discussion fueled the young Mary’s imagination, inspiring her to create one of the greatest (and now touted as the first-ever) work of science fiction. It also motivated me to re-read the book, which now has so much more meaning since I am familiar with most of the settings and have a deeper understanding of what was going on outside her door…and inside her mind.
The AIWC is organizing an English-speaking guided tour of the exhibition on October 5…and I may just go and visit again. The exhibition is on until October 9, 2016.
*Edward Bulwer Lytton
All images taken at the Frankenstein exhibition at the Martin Bodmer Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/