Influences

INFLUENCED BY

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was given birth by a variety of sources and influences. First and foremost was that of a dream, or more accurately, a nightmare she experienced on June 16, 1816. From our edition of Frankenstein an account of Shelley’s nightmare is written in the opening page of the introduction:

“I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion… His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken … and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. I opened mine in terror.”

This nightmare of Shelley’s is one of the many examples of where the influence and the idea of the novel came about. Additionally, Shelley had eloped with the poet Percy Shelley who was married at the time and was a soon-to-be father. His wife committed suicide while still pregnant – which led to Percy and Mary eventually getting married. During the years in which Frankenstein was written and eventually published, three of Mary and Percy’s children died as young children. This was no doubt an influence on Mary’s obsession with life and must have led to her desire for writing a novel relating to the creation of life. Perhaps she held guilt that Percy’s wife had killed herself. This may have been the cause for her to write about Dr. Frankenstein and The Creature both desiring a woman – Elizabeth, as in reality both Mary and Harriet desired Percy Shelley.

The novel also draws a lot of influence from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. According to the introduction of our text, Shelley alludes to the epic poem since it is a work that portrays creation, in this case the creation of Man and Man’s downward spiral (Fall of Man) due to his disobedience towards God. In Shelley’s novel, Dr. Frankenstein perhaps disobeys the Almighty by believing he can be a creator of life and go against the concept of death created by God and create a life himself. By doing so, Dr. Frankenstein is unknowingly leading himself into a downward spiral which leads to his downfall, misery and eventual death.

Additionally, the subtitle of the novel is The Modern Prometheus. Milton’s epic also deals with the Promethean theme of a character or a creature who inhibits “forbidden knowledge” or “over-reaching of boundaries”. Interestingly enough, in Shelley’s novel, I would argue that Dr. Frankenstein has more of the Promethean qualities than The Creature which would be the obvious comparison. I say this due to the fact that it is Dr. Frankenstein who tries to delve into the mysteries of life and who attempts to conduct an experiment and research that would be considered forbidden, farfetched, blasphemous and certainly as an over-reaching of a boundary.

Finally, since Paradise Lost deals with the story of Adam and Eve, it depicts a love between a man and a woman. The Creature desires nothing more than friendship, than companionship which he hopes to find in a woman – something he requests of Dr. Frankenstein. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve must pay for their sins. Eve does so by feeling the pain of bearing a child. The Creature commits violent acts due to his lack of love and the animosity towards him. Without being explicit, Shelley references Milton’s messages and his themes from Paradise Lost  into Frankenstein.

Here is a short video on the origins of Frankenstein and the humorous depiction of The Creature in modern cinema:

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