Richard Holmes

Richard Holmes

My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley and the Birth of Frankenstein

Bristol800/
Fri 22 April 2016

Richard Holmes

My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley and the Birth of Frankenstein

Richard Holmes
Fri 22 April 2016,

“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.”

Mary Shelley began Frankenstein in June 1816 when she was only 18 years old, writing in a simple loose-leaf notebook – which still exists in the Bodleian Library, Oxford – and published it when she was just 20 in March 1818. Long afterwards, she famously claimed it was inspired by a single, terrifying nightmare, after a stormy evening of story-telling with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron on Lake Geneva. But in fact it is a highly complex novel of ideas, which according to her private journal took her nearly a year and a half to research and write, and which exists in at least three versions (1817, 1818, and 1831). Within its bold gothic narrative, and subtle Chinese-box-like structure, she somehow found space to make tantalizing reference to the latest experiments in chemistry, electricity and surgery; polar exploration; speculative concepts of vitalism, memory and consciousness; theories of education, friendship and Romantic solitude; literary influences ranging from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner; and above all to the beauty and terror of Creation. Plus, of course, a good deal of secret autobiography…

In this special lecture, Richard Holmes, award-winning author of The Age of Wonder, examines the research and writing that led to the creation of Shelley’s extraordinary work.

This event will also include the first reading of a new poem by Fiona Sampson, commissioned specially for Frankenstein, culture and science.

Richard Holmes’ lecture is presented in association with the Royal Literary Fund. The Royal Literary Fund was set up in 1790 to help professional authors. Past beneficiaries have included Coleridge, Joseph Conrad, D H Lawrence and Dylan Thomas. Last year it helped 200 writers, though not all of them are quite so famous yet. In 1999 a Fellowship scheme was established to place writers in universities to help students with their writing skills.  Since it began it has placed 450 writers in posts at 120 higher education institutions across the UK. Former Fellows are also paid to run reading groups in a range of community settings and for their contributions to the Fund’s website through podcast recordings and online articles.

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This is one of the events in a special weekend of activity looking at Frankenstein, culture and science. It is part of Bristol800: a programme throughout 2016 marking significant anniversaries in the city and what they mean for Bristol now and into the future. Mary Shelley lived in Bristol in 1815. Bristol800 is an initiative of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (Arts Council England, Bristol City Council and Business West).

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