Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Quote of the Day (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, on How Invention Occurs)

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.”—English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797–1851), Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein

The wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley—and creator of the paradigmatic sci-fi/horror novel Frankenstein—was born 225 years ago today.

While staying at a villa by Lake Geneva in Switzerland with her husband, the teenage Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley engaged in a contest with him and his friends (including Lord Byron) for the best ghost story by relating her tale of a scientist and the creature he made in a lab. Obviously, posterity regards her as the winner of the contest.

But the “materials …[to] be afforded” to create her novel did not come from a “void,” but from her own intellectual research into what was happening in the world of science, including Sir Humphrey Davy’s experiments with electricity, according to this article from Mental Floss Magazine.

For a fascinating discussion of the circumstances behind this dramatic creation, I urge you to read Australian artist-writer Kirsten Mills’ blog post from four years ago.

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