Mary returns to London--and to fame.
Just one more: H. M. Milner’s Frankenstein; or The Man and the Monster! premiered on October 9, 1826, at the Royal Coburg Theatre. It ran for eight performances, originally, but was often reprised in the ensuing decades. Set in Sicily, at the foot of Mt. Etna, the play shows the creature coming to life, shows Frankenstein fleeing in horror at what he’s done—and, later, trying to kill his creation. It ends with armed peasants chasing the creature into the darkness near the summit of Etna.
And—as we well know by now—those peasants were chasing him into what seems to be a limitless future. As I write these words early in 2016, films about Frankenstein’s creature continue to appear—I, Frankenstein (2014, with Aaron Eckhart as the creature) has come and gone, as have a few others. On the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), the list of film (and TV) titles that include “Frankenstein” seems endless. Our fascination with the creation of life has never stopped—not in biologists’ laboratories, not at the local cinema.
Mary Shelley and her son returned to London on August 25, 1823, and just four days later, Mary and her father and stepmother went to see Presumption. We can only imagine her excitement. Practically unknown, she’d left England a few years before, and now she was sitting in a prominent London theater watching a staged production of what remains her most celebrated novel.
Unfortunately, there is a gap in her journal about the time she went to the play: After the entry for June 3, 1823, she has no entries until December 15 of that year. But in a mid-September letter to Leigh Hunt (a letter she apparently worked on several days), she tells him that her father and half-brother, William, met her at the wharf, and that she stayed for a while with the Godwins. And then she tells Hunt about her trip to the theater:
But lo & behold! I found myself famous!—Frankenstein had prodigious success as a drama & was about to be repeated for the 23rd night at the English opera house [now the Lyceum]. … I was much amused & it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience ….
And there was yet another surprise: Her father had arranged for the publication of a new edition of Frankenstein, a decision most Shelley scholars agree was motivated by the various stage versions beginning to appear on London’s stages. The same thing happens today, of course: When a film based on a book comes out, that book—even though it may long have been out of print (from The Hobbit, 1937, to Winter’s Tale, 1983, to The Hunger Games, 2008)—returns to the shelves of bookstores, to the listings on Amazon. And sales surge.