In 1816, a teenager began to compose what many view as the first true work of science fiction — and unleashed one of the most subversive attacks on modern science ever written. Eighteen-year-old Mary Godwin (as she then was) had the idea for Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus that summer, while at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, with her lover and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his friend and fellow poet Lord Byron. Forced inside by stormy weather, the group spent wild evenings telling ghost stories, while Byron’s personal physician, the brilliant 20-year-old John William Polidori, regaled them with reports of the latest developments in medical science.
Mary’s inventive mind was peculiarly primed to grapple with both literary and scientific controversy. Her mother was the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who had died from complications after Mary’s birth. Her father was anarchist philosopher and novelist William Godwin, whose friends included chemists and pioneering electricity researchers Humphry Davy and William Nicholson, and the opium-addicted poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These influences shaped her youthful thinking, and were encouraged by Shelley, who had dabbled in science at the University of Oxford before being thrown out for atheism.