In her preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley tells the story of the period in which she, Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland, in June1816. She describes how the ‘incessant rain’ kept them indoors, where they amused themselves by reading ‘some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French’. Those 'volumes of ghost stories' were from a collection called Fantasmagoriana, shown here. It was these stories that provoked a story-telling challenge, which led to the composition of Frankenstein.
Which stories does Mary Shelley mention?
Mary Shelley refers to The History of the Inconstant Lover, and The Tale of the Sinful Founder of his Race, which were both Gothic horror stories in Fantasmagoriana. La Morte Fiancée is not exactly as Mary Shelley remembers it from 15 years earlier, but is a story of the ghost of a jilted lover who appears at the wedding preparations of her former fiancé wearing the same jewellery as the bride. It is noteworthy that the climax of Frankenstein centres on Frankenstein’s new bride and the monster’s lack of a mate. The Tale of the Sinful Founder of his Race, where the younger sons are doomed after being kissed by a ghost, appears in Portraits de Famille, in the same volume.
The first of these stories was translated into English by Sarah Utterson and published in 1820 as Tales of the Dead.