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Mary Shelley spent a holiday on Lake Geneva in 1816 and wrote the novel Frankenstein, one of the most famous literary creations of the time. Just 18 years old when she began work on the novel, she had published this historic work by the age of 20. Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin August 30, 1797 Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley spent the summer with Lord Byron in his Swiss estate. A native of London, Shelley had nonetheless many storied travels by this time including Germany and the Rhine, where she heard of the Castle of Frankenstein.
While Frankenstein Castle is real, near Frankfurt, and home of the legend of an Alchemist named Dippel, gory details of grave robbing and anatomical expirements may actually be attempts to smear Dippel in his day, who nonetheless was a bit of a con artist.
The year of 1816 was an interesting year for New England. Called the Year without a summer, Shaker’s in New York documented the freezing of crops in June and frosts in July and August. Harvests failed in England and Ireland too. Thought to be the aftermath of volcanic eruptions, it was also near the end of the 500 year Little Ice Age.
Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont were hostage to the foul weather at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva, and decided to engage in a competition to write some scary stories. The elements encouraged them to explore other literature such as Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German ghost stories. The Villa Diodati is a manor in Cologny close to Lake Geneva. Built early in the 18th century and called Villa Belle Rive, Lord Byron called it Villa Diodati because of the ownership in 1816. The Diodati family included Charles Diodati who was friends with John Milton in the late 1600’s.
Lake Geneva is 1225 feet above sea level at the foot of the Swiss Alps. The famous villa is across the lake from Nyon but much closer to Geneva. An hour away by automobile these days is Chamonix-Mont-Blanc where peaks reach 15,000 feet and lower elevations are around 4,000 feet above sea level. The home of the 1924 winter Olympics, the history of the region is intertwined with Hanibal, the Romans in the 2nd century, the Holy Roman Empire, and now it is a corner of the world equally known as Swiss, French and Italian. Lake Geneva is entirely bordered by France and Switzerland, but the Italian Aosta Valley is less than an hour by motorcar from Charmonix.