Byron thought that Frankenstein was a wonderful work for a girl of eighteen. Mary Shelley’s subsequent writings were never so impressive and suggested that the success of her first novel had more to do with conception than execution: a strong initial idea rather than a display of exceptional literary talent. She was lucky in that the idea or topic at the heart of Frankenstein – the unintended consequences of scientific experiment – became more rather than less relevant as the years passed. Even in her own day there were adaptations for the theatre, and later in the nineteenth century these proliferated. Film added new dimensions to the story, and in print fresh reworkings continued to appear. The novel is now so much better known than anything Byron ever wrote that his reference to a girl of eighteen begins to sound patronising.
Peter Ackroyd is treading where many others have trod before, but the contribution he makes to the Frankenstein legend is characteristically intriguing. In his version, Victor tells not just part but the whole of his own story and includes within it Mary Shelley, her husband, William Godwin, Byron, Polidori and