In 1816, Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley, summering near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, were challenged by Lord Byron to take part in a competition to write a frightening tale. Mary, only 18 years old, later had a waking dream of sorts where she imagined the premise of her book:
When I placed 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.Thanks to the newly-opened Shelley-Godwin Archive, you can read “for the first time in digital form all the known manuscripts of Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley’s finest work and arguably the most famous work of British Romanticism.