Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

The Swiss scientist

Author: Paulo Coelho

I FEEL nothing. I think nothing. I get straight into my car and drive, not knowing exactly where I should go. No one is waiting for me at the end of the journey. Melancholy has become apathy. I need to drag myself onward.

Five minutes later, I’m outside a castle. I know what happened here; someone breathed life into a monster that remains famous to this day, although few people know the name of the woman who created him.

The gate into the garden is closed, but so what? I can climb through the hedge. I sit on the cold bench and imagine what happened in 1817. I need to distract myself, to forget everything from before and concentrate on something different.

I imagine that year, when the castle’s tenant, the English poet Lord Byron, decided to live here in exile. He was hated in his own country, and also in Geneva, where he was accused of holding orgies and getting drunk in public. He must have been dying of boredom. Or melancholy. Or rage.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that one day in 1817, two guests arrived from England: another poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his nineteen-year-old wife, Mary. (A fourth guest joined them, but I can’t remember his name right now.)

They doubtless talked about literature. They doubtless complained about the weather, the rain, the cold, the inhabitants of Geneva, their English compatriots, the lack of tea and whiskey. Perhaps they read poems to one another and praised one another’s work.

They thought they were so special and so important that they decided to make a bet: they would return to that same place within a year, each with a book he had written describing the human condition.

Obviously, after the initial enthusiasm and conversation about how the human being is a complete aberration, they forgot about the bet.

Mary was present during that conversation. She wasn’t invited to participate, first, because she was a woman, and, even worse, because she was very young. And yet that conversation must have marked her deeply. Why did she not just write something to pass the time? She had a subject, she simply needed to develop it and keep the book to herself when she had finished it.

However, when they returned to England, Shelley read the manuscript and encouraged her to publish it. Further, since he was already famous, he decided to submit it to a publisher and write the preface himself. Mary resisted, but in the end agreed, with one condition: her name should not appear on the cover.

The initial print run of five hundred copies quickly sold out. Mary thought it must be because of Shelley’s preface, but, on the second edition, she agreed to allow her name to appear as author. Ever since, the book has remained a constant presence in bookshops around the world. It has inspired writers, theater directors, film directors, Halloween partiers, and those at masked balls. It was recently described by one well-known critic as “the most creative work of Romanticism and possibly of the last two hundred years.”

No one can explain why. Most people have never read it, but almost everyone has heard of it.

It tells the story of Victor, a Swiss scientist, born in Geneva and brought up by his parents to understand the world through science. While still a child, he sees a lightning bolt strike a tree and wonders if that is the source of life. Could man create another human being?

And like a modern version of Prometheus, the mythological figure who stole fire from the gods in order to help mankind (the author used The Modern Prometheus as her subtitle, but few remember this), he begins to work to try and replicate God’s greatest deed. Needless to say, despite all the care he takes, the experiment slides out of his control.

The title of the book: Frankenstein.
(taken from my book ADULTERY)

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