Contents Index

Creator and Created in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Naomi Hetherington

Keats-Shelley Review 11 (1997): 1-39.


{1} Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley began writing Frankenstein in the summer of 1816 when she was just nineteen years old.1 It is a tale so over-powered with sources and origins that it has gained a reputation in literary circles as 'the most protean and disputable of even Romantic texts'.2 Mary herself suggested several keys with which to unlock it. The novel's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus, refers to the two-fold Greek myth of the Titan who created human beings from clay and stole for them fire from heaven.3 On the frontispiece there appears as an epigram the fallen Adam's supplication to God from Milton's Paradise Lost:
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?4
In his preface to the 1818 edition, Percy Shelley, writing anonymously as though he were the author, described the novel's genesis from a ghost story competition, begun as a wet evening's entertainment. His opening line alludes to current scientific investigations into the principle of life, particularly as regards the work of Erasmus Darwin. In a new preface to the {2} 1831 text, Mary enlarged on these suggestions, explicitly naming galvanism as Frankenstein's method of creation so that he combines the roles of Prometheus Plasticator and Pyrophorus.5 She referred to a waking nightmare prompted by her husband's and Lord Byron's scientific discussions6 in which she saw:
with shut eyes, but acute mental vision . . . the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.


Posterity has developed additional ways of interpreting Mary's text. Modern ahistorical forms of criticism focus on subconscious or unconscious elements within the author's psyche. For instance, biographical critics have examined Mary's own relationships, in particular her marriage with Shelley, as a source of inspiration for her character studies.8 Feminist critics, such as Barbara Johnson, have read the novel as the story of Mary's experiences in writing it and diagnosed a 'frustrated female pen envy'.9

Here, however, I wish to concentrate on the allegorical meaning of the text, viewing it historically as a construction of meaning accessible to Mary's contemporaries and through them to posterity. Whilst modern critical methods tend to be unsympathetic to allegory, it pervades Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment literature. The tradition feeds into the poetic narratives of Shelley, Byron and the Lake poets, and the novels of Mary's father, William Godwin. Artistically, therefore, it is to allegory that Mary's story belongs.10

{3} [photo of Montanvert???] Montanvert was exactly opposite, at the distance of a league; and above it rose Mont Blanc, in awful majesty. I remained in a recess of rock, gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and glittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy.

Mary Shelley Frankenstein???

{4} Other studies have investigated the measure of political allegory within Frankenstein.11 In section one to three of this piece, I wish to offer three variant but complementary readings for the theological reader of Mary's original text of 1818. This version of the novel is seldom read today, and literary critics tend to regard it as superseded by the amended edition of 1831. It is, however, a far more radical and engaging text as I endeavour to show in section four, where I discuss how Mary's alterations affect the religious implications of her tale.12

Frankenstein abounds with Christian iconography of the creation and fall, and with parallel pagan references from the legend of Zeus and Prometheus. In her recent edition of the 1818 text, Marilyn Butler suggests that Mary's story began as a narrative comment on the contemporary public debate regarding scientific materialism and the Christian concept of a pre-existent immortal soul.13 The controversy was encapsulated in the figures of William Lawrence, the Shelleys' physician and personal friend, and John Abernethy, Lawrence's former teacher and President of London's Royal College of Surgeons. Abernethy believed that life is bestowed by the super-addition of a super-fine element analogous to electricity and co-relative to the Christian soul. In March 1816, Lawrence proclaimed in opposition to Abernethy that the power which animates animals resists abstraction from matter: 'The motion proper to all living bodies, or in one word, life, has its origins in that of their parents."14

Mary's original ghost story appears to have been a short satire of Abernethy's position, exposing it as nonsense. The being animated by the infusion of a 'spark', apparently of electricity, is not human but a grotesque distortion of our form, which the humans in the story cannot acknowledge. What is described in entirely human terms is the process of creation itself, {5} so that the creator who must have recourse to an external physical animating principle is not the omnipotent, all- loving Christian deity, but a demiurge in our shape.

In my first three sections, I wish to illustrate how in expanding her entry into a full length novel, Mary used Milton's Paradise Lost and the Prometheus legend as a mythological network through which to explore the religious implications of her rejection of spiritual vitalism. Carried to its logical conclusion, the materialist argument refutes the notion of a transcendent deity since it perceives nature as active and all-encompassing, not the passive recipient of a reserve of external power. Mary, I believe, wished to explore through fiction what it means to be human within this self-regulating universe. Through the different ways in which her characters correspond with Milton's, she wanted to create a new and subversive tale of human origins, which expounded simultaneously the timeless implications of this myth for disparate aspects of our nature. In so doing, she aimed to refute on a moral and philosophical basis the traditional Christian tenets which the new science questioned on empirical grounds.

In my fourth section, I suggest that Mary later revised her early work in order to dissociate it from Lawrence and to bring it more in line with orthodox Christian aetiology. By 1831, times had changed and the English public was more reactionary than it had been a decade earlier. Mary's own religious beliefs had become more conservative since Shelley's death in 1822 and she had started attending church. Pragmatically, her surviving son was heir to the Shelley estate and she wished him to take his place in upper class society. As a woman of letters, she had little income and a fresh edition of Frankenstein, rendered cheaper on account of new publishing technology, represented her best chance of earning. Keeping the book clear of scandal may have been the trade-off the publisher exacted.15


The popular image of Frankenstein today is perhaps that of the mad scientist, the over-reacher playing at being God in his lonely laboratory at {6} the top of a staircase. For traditional Christians, the novel belongs typologically with tales of human presumption, in which the protagonist is duly punished for overstepping human boundaries laid down by God. When the first edition was published, the reviewer for The Edinburgh Magazine tentatively suggested an orthodox reading:
It might, indeed, be the author's view to shew that the powers of man have been wisely limited, and that misery would follow their extension.16
In 1823, Brinsley Peake entitled his stage adaptation of the novel, Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein. He used a comic assistant and narrator, Fritz, to create an orthodox tale of sin and damnation. His Frankenstein immediately repents of his creative act, declaring 'a flash breaks in upon my darkened soul, and tells me my attempt was impious'.17

However, Peake was reacting against Mary Shelley's text more than elucidating it. He re-wrote Mary's novel in a form palatable to the conservative nineteenth century theatre-going public. Though Mary drew on the literary type of the over-reacher, she did not do so in the way in which Peake, and many in Hollywood, would have us suppose. By the Romantic era, over-reachers had become morally ambiguous figures. Post-Renaissance writers and dramatists often presented them sympathetically as in the Jacobean avenger heroes and Marlowe's portrayal of Dr Faustus.18 The two rebels with whom Mary explicitly equated Frankenstein, Milton's Satan and the Greek Prometheus, were especially given to fluid interpretation.

Even in ancient times, Prometheus was a malleable figure. Aeschylus portrayed him as a rebel hero, stealing fire from heaven to benefit humankind with the tools of reason and civilisation. For Hesiod, he was a {7} trickster who destroyed humanity's original happy state and was justly punished by Zeus.19 Christianity came to identify him with God and Christ on the one hand and on the other with the forces of evil.20 The Romantic poets compared him explicitly with Milton's Satan and saw in them both a champion against the oppression of the Christian church and state. In the Walton passages which frame her novel, Mary juxtaposed the two contrasting views of over-reachers. When Frankenstein compares himself to Milton's Satan, he seems to consider himself justly damned:

All my speculations and hopes are as nothing, and like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell.


However, Walton's description of him in terms of the fallen Lucifer is an elevating one, suggestive of a tragic hero:
What a glorious creature must he have been in the days of his prosperity, when he is thus noble and godlike in ruin! He seems to feel his own worth and the greatness of his fall.


A third literary tradition which needs to be taken into account here is the growing secular critique of arrogance, egotism and inhumanity, strong amongst radicals of Mary's day. After all, Mary never actually described Frankenstein's creative act as rebellion against a divine order. He and Walton, as his type and admirer, defy only their earthly fathers, one in continuing to study alchemy in secret, the other in following a sea-faring career. The secular tradition is perhaps the one in which Frankenstein fits best. It most reflects the circle in which the author herself moved. Her {8} father, to whom she dedicated her novel, had written several such stories. Most similar to Frankenstein is his St Leon (published 1799), in which an exiled French aristocrat is given the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone on condition that he does not tell his wife. Like Frankenstein, he discovers that his secrecy forms an insurmountable barrier between himself and his loved ones. Too late he realises that happiness lies not in power and possessions, but in simplicity and domestic affections.

In his preface to the 1818 edition of Frankenstein, Shelley likewise juxtaposed the isolation of the over-reacher with domestic happiness. In a passage in part attempting to assuage criticism of the novel as immoral and impious, he presented this as one of its over-riding themes:

I am by no means indifferent to the manner in which whatever moral tendencies exist in the sentiments or characters it contains shall affect the reader; yet my chief concern in this respect has been limited . . . to the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue.


At the book's centre, in stark contrast to Frankenstein's physical, and later psychological, isolation, is the pastoral idyll of the De Lacey family.21 In a cottage in the woods, father, daughter, son and his sweet-heart live in poverty, but relative joy. The names of the younger generation stand for happiness (Felix), goodness (Agatha) and wisdom (Safie - from Sophia). They love one another deeply and are mutually supportive. They share their simple delight in the world around them. For instance, Felix brings his sister the first flower of spring.

In Frankenstein's own narrative, I believe that Mary used the secular critique of the over-reacher to re-interpret the double-edged religious imagery of the rebel in the novel's prologue and epilogue. Defiance is not Frankenstein's dominant motive nor is lofty ideology. His quest stems primarily from vanity. He describes himself to Walton in heroic terms as one 'who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow' (34), and {9} tries to present benevolence as his chief inspiration, but it is in fact self-elevation:

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. N o father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.


Right from the beginning, it is only Frankenstein's egotism which hardens him against the macabre nature of his work. It represses his instinctive repulsion at his progeny's grotesque appearance until he stands back at the moment of animation.

Mary satirised the notion that the over-reacher can be a grandiose figure either in a positive or a negative light. She wished to portray Frankenstein as the scheming small man, the arrogant student who gets more than he bargained for. Walton's eulogy of his friend depicts him as a grand entrepreneur, above the common herd. This is akin to our first encounter with Milton's Satan in Pandaemonium:

To reign is worth ambition though in hell:
Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.22
However, Frankenstein's own rebuke of Walton's crew for wishing to turn back from their quest and preserve their lives echoes the final speech of Dante's Ulysses, goading on his sailors to a fatal voyage of discovery 'to pursue power and knowledge'.23 It brings to the text the notion of the wily trickster, who defeated Troy, not through bravery in battle, but through his design of the wooden horse. It is akin to the casuist that Milton's Satan deteriorates into, entering Paradise like a wolf and a thief, and tempting Eve through smooth talk inside the body of a serpent.

{10} Marilyn Butler sees Frankenstein as a darkly comic character on account of the way in which his mind is unhinged by his own experiment. He recalls that the moment the creature came to life 'the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart' (39). Utterly repulsed and exhausted, he is sent into a nervous fever for several months. After the deaths of his brother William and the servant-girl Justine, he begins to exhibit symptoms of severe depression -- intense loneliness, guilt and dejection and violent mood swings as well as hallucinations that the being is at his throat. Other characters within the novel start to perceive him as approaching the threshold of insanity. Unlike the reader, they are unaware of the creature's existence as an external reality within the text, and hence Frankenstein's culpability as murderer; yet, nevertheless, clinically their diagnosis rings true.

Frankenstein's experiment hints, too, at an unacknowledged fear of sexual intercourse, in part a rite of passage into adulthood. Love-making involves the giving of oneself wholly to another person, and any children of the union become a shared responsibility, whereas Frankenstein still retains the egocentric, possessive perspective of his early childhood. Then he loved to cosset Elizabeth, his cousin-sister and bride-to-be, as one would 'a favourite animal' (20). Now he rejects fatherhood, a natural means of creativity, because his progeny would not be wholly his own. His artificial alternative allows him to regard his creation solely as a projection of self; but it does this by cannibalising his own life -- sacrificing his health and repressing his natural, especially sexual, feelings:

My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement . . . My eyes were insensible to the charms of nature. And the same feeling which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were many miles absent . . . I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed.


Mary's clever doubling of mythological types reinforces our impression of Frankenstein's sexual immaturity by presenting him on the eve of his {11} marriage as a young groom, terrified of consummating his union. The creature as well as Frankenstein appears as a Prometheus figure in that he steals fire from the cottagers and is unjustly treated by his deity. He is left to acquire for himself the basic tools of civilization and the faculty of discernment. Like Prometheus over Zeus' potential downfall through a marriage with the nymph Thetis, the creature taunts Frankenstein with a mysterious secret regarding his wedding night. Ostensibly, Frankenstein fears that it will culminate in his own death as the being's final revenge for refusing to create him a mate; but as Kiely describes, in its immediate setting, the language with which he chooses to reassure his bride is ambiguous and loaded with 'anxiety, phallic inference, and images of conflict'.24

Psychologically, Mary has subverted Frankenstein's ostensible drive to break through human limitations into an immature inability to come to terms with what being human means. The heroic over-reacher is an idealist, an attractive character because he retains the faith and optimism of a child that anything is possible; but Cantor praises Mary for being astute enough to perceive that what is childlike is also childish -- they are two sides of the same coin. Frankenstein's quest starts as a challenge to 'the one seemingly indisputable fact of man's nature, his mortality'.25 He initially understands his creation of another type of being as only the first step towards resurrecting a human corpse in entirety:

I thought that if I could bestow animation on lifeless matter, I might in process of time . . . renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.


Dominating his thoughts is surely the untimely and unnecessary death of his mother.26 In failing to let go of this, Frankenstein shows himself afraid to grow up, and he is forced to use personal fame and academic achievement as a proxy for genuine, sympathetic human relationships.


{12} When Frankenstein was first published, the majority of orthodox critics were hostile, perceiving the creative act primarily in divine terms. Put on their guard by the anonymous author's dedication, 'TO WILLIAM GODWIN, AUTHOR OF POLITICAL JUSTICE. CALEB WILLIAMS &c', they decried the novel as blasphemous and disgusting. The Tory Quarterly Review seethed with moral indignation:
Our taste and our judgement alike revolt at this kind of writing . . . it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners and morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their tastes have been deplorably vitiated.27
That the Shelleys envisaged and attempted to stave off such a reception appears from Percy Shelley's preface:
The opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction, nor is any inference justly to be drawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind.


Ostensibly, Frankenstein endorses Milton's justification of God the Father in Paradise Lost, for the creature longs for Adam's lot and frequently compares it favourably with his own. Yet he summarises Paradise Lost to his creator as 'the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures' (108), a position which he shares with Shelley. In The Essay on the Devil and Devils, published only a year after Frankenstein, Shelley painted a vivid picture of God and the Devil judging and tormenting a sinner's soul as young boys might bait a cat. He added:
It is pretended that God dislikes it but this is mere shamefacedness and coquetting, for he has everything his own way and need not damn unless he likes.28

{13} Shelley believed that Milton's God the Father complied to this pattern, punishing Satan as:

one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy . . . with the open and alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments.29
By contrast, he perceived the rebellion of Milton's Satan as grand and magnanimous so that he embodies the post-Renaissance over-reacher hero. Satan becomes God's first victim whose beneficence was wilfully turned to evil by a jealous omnipotence beyond his own control. Erroneously, Shelley believed that Milton had himself intended this radical interpretation of his epic. In The Essay on the Devil and Devils, he alluded cautiously to the fact that Milton might at one time have been a Unitarian.30 Later in A Defence of Poetry he spoke out boldly:
Milton's poem contains . . . a philosophical refutation of that system of which, by a strange and natural antithesis, it has been a chief popular support. Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.31
Mary Shelley, I believe, was better able to distinguish between Milton's intentions and what his text revealed to her and her contemporaries about traditional Christian theology. I suggest that Frankenstein provides the countertext to the apparent vindication of divine grace in Paradise Lost, which Shelley, by and large, believed the epic itself already contained. Mary built her story of Frankenstein and his creature around Paradise Lost and its Greek counterpart, the Prometheus myth, and appeared to support {14} Milton just enough to get her book into print. However, she radically altered the drift of his typology to elucidate the Mandaean mixture of good and evil which she and Shelley perceived in Milton's deity. She then used the new, almost gnostic, myth of human origins at which she arrived to illustrate in story form her own, and to some extent Shelley's, beliefs about the human condition, the nature of the universe and the problem of evil.

Mary aligned the three main antagonists of Paradise Lost -- God the Father, Satan and Adam -- with only two characters, Frankenstein and his creature. She did not keep Milton's middle term intact. Satan's traditional role absolved God of all blame for the presence of evil and humanity of most, but Frankenstein has become a demiurge (cf. Blake's Urizen)32 who does God's creative work, but with the motives Satan falsely attributed to Him in Paradise Regained:

     hee seeks glory,
And for glory all things made, all things
Orders and governs, nor content in Heaven
By all his Angels glorifi'd, requires
Glory from men.33
Creation and fall have been elided, and the rebel cast out of heaven has become one with humanity's creator. Imperfect himself, he creates in his own imperfect image:
His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! -- Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.


When the creature forces Frankenstein to call to mind his genesis in their confrontation on Mont Blanc, the creator is trapped into cursing himself {15} aloud, like Milton's Satan trying to curse God in his soliloquy on Mount Niphates:
whom hast thou then or what to accuse,
But heaven's free love dealt equally to all?
Be then his love accursed, since love or hate,
To me alike it deals eternal woe.
Nay cursed be thou; since against his thy will
Chose freely what it now so justly rues.34
God saw that his work was good, but the creature has only Frankenstein's laboratory reports which already betray his creator's shame and disgust. He is sickened reading them and curses the day of his birth and even his maker:
Hateful day when I received life! Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring . . . but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid from its very resemblance.


Ostensibly the creature is presenting the Christian God as a compromising figure in comparison to the merciless Frankenstein, but the discerning reader will reflect one myth back onto the other so as to interpret the Christian deity as an abusive parent who, in Shelley's terms, 'made man such as he is and then damned him for being so'.35 In recalling his own childhood, Frankenstein stresses the love and constant attention that he received from his parents:
No creature could have more tender parents than mine. My improvement and health were their constant care.


{16} Yet it occurs to him only fleetingly that his own creature may require some of the same affection. He gives this as just one of several reasons for agreeing to hear the creature's tale. Whilst he frequently reproaches himself for forming the being in the first place, he never once wishes that having done so, he had nurtured him instead of fleeing from him.

Mary parodied God's grace in Paradise Lost by subverting in the creature's narrative a number of specific details regarding Adam and Eve's creation and punishment.36 The creature's coming to consciousness parodies that of Adam. The light and heat are oppressive to him, and he has no-one to explain his sensations to him:

I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but, feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.


His first perception of his ugly appearance in the pool is the inverse of Eve's enchantment at her own beauty. When he leaves the De Laceys' outhouse after the younger generation's cruel treatment of him, he compares himself explicitly with Adam and Eve being banished from Eden -- 'And now, with the world before me, whither should I bend my steps?' (117)37 Yet whereas they have Providence as their guide, and their own spiritual paradise within, he is entirely alone in unknown territory, and knows that he cannot approach any humans for assistance because of his horrid appearance.

By the end of the novel, the creature's fortitude in affliction reaches Christ-like proportions. His description of his intended suicide presents him as the Promethean type of humanity, victorious in suffering:

I shall ascend my funeral pyre triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will he swept into the sea by the winds.


{17} His language is sacrificial and reflects the conclusion of Byron's Prometheus, written in the same summer as Mary began Frankenstein. Here, the human Spirit foresees its own mortality as the end of a wretched and lonely existence. It triumphs in defying its destiny, 'making Death a Victory'.38 However, Frankenstein only perceives his progeny as Death itself, who in Paradise Lost is the inverse of Christ and the incestuous union of Satan and his daughter Sin. In his Oedipal dream following the creature's animation, Frankenstein imagines that he embraces Elizabeth, his bride-to-be, and her body transmutes into his mother's rotting corpse. He wakes to find the creature at his bed-side and reads its attempt at a smile as Death's ghastly grimace.

The abandoned creature owes this deus absconditus nothing. He retains Adam's innocence, but without Jehovah's protection and the companionship of Eve:

No Eve soothed my sorrows, or shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator; but where was mine? He had abandoned me, and, in the bitterness of my heart, I cursed him.


In the creature's repeated cursing of Frankenstein, Mary negated the excuse for divine injustice which biblical writers fell back on -- that human beings should accept God's judgement ipso facto because He is their creator. Biblical laments, such as those of Job and Jeremiah, only ever curse the sufferer's birth. However much the afflicted rail against God about the bitterness and unfairness of their lot, they never blaspheme against their deity's sovereignty by cursing God directly.39 The creature, however, like Mary and Percy Shelley, believes that he is fully justified in calling God into account on a moral and rational basis alone. {18} In this context, the novel's Miltonic epigram becomes the plea of the creature as one placed without consent in a situation where he is forced to do evil, and then blamed for it. The reviewer of the 1823 reprint of Frankenstein for Knights Quarterly Magazine confessed:
My interest . . . is entirely on the side of the monster. His eloquence and persuasion, of which Frankenstein complains, are so because they are truth. The justice is indisputably on his side, and his sufferings are, to me, touching in the last degree.40
Shelley's anonymous review of Frankenstein, published posthumously in 1832, saw the novel's message as primarily Godwinian -- 'Treat a person ill and he will become wicked'.41 In pleading with Frankenstein to make him a female counterpart, the creature declares:
I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.


His argument appears sincere, and Frankenstein's eventual refusal of his request for a mate to save humanity from a race of devils seems grounded not so much in fact, but his own subjective judgement.

However, Mary's description of the creature's atrocities in Satanic terminology suggests that her final theodicy runs deeper than Shelley's and is more pessimistic. Her notes to his lyrical drama, Prometheus Unbound, written after his death, suggest that she did not share her husband's belief in the accidental nature of evil:

It is not my part in these Notes to notice the arguments that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached to it with fervent enthusiasm.42
{19} Unlike Shelley's polarising of good and evil in the drama between Prometheus and Jupiter, Mary has split her middle term between both creator and created, so that evil has become endemic in the system. The creature shares with Frankenstein Satan's response of hatred and vengeance, even whilst in the Edenic surroundings of the De Laceys' cottage:
Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence . . . but I was wretched, alone and helpless. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.


Rebellion is therefore not the path to enlightenment as in Prometheus Unbound. Shelley's Prometheus expunges his over-lord, Jupiter, as a projection of his own bitterness and lack of self-control, but to dispel Frankenstein as a phantasm seems farcical when, to the reader's own experience, he is more real than his creature. With impure motives, the creature is incapable of liberating himself. He is not Adam, passively seduced into rebellion, but Satan, who actively pursues it. He threatens to become a tyrant himself, and Frankenstein speaks of 'the whole period during which I was the slave of my creature' (132). When he succeeds in killing his creator through mental and physical exhaustion in the final chase across the Arctic, he feels only the grief and repentance of an abused child:

That is also my victim! . . . in his murder my crimes are consummated; the miserable series of my being is wound to a close! Oh, Frankenstein generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst.


His own death is his only means of consolation and absolution.


{20} Northrop Frye concludes that the Miltonic allusions throughout Frankenstein 'indicate that the story is a retelling of the account of the origin of evil in a world where the only creators that we can locate are human ones'.43 Frankenstein never openly acknowledges a deity who created him, analogous to his relationship with his progeny, only his earthly parents. His own monstrous act of creation viciously subverts Milton's justification of the Christian God the Father. In a reading which dilates upon the being's plight as flawed humanity, he and Frankenstein come to represent the creative and creaturely aspects of our existence. One side wishes to transgress all mortal limits; the other wants to be troubled by no more than basic animal instincts. The final chase across the Arctic dramatises the impossibility of reconciling them. Their very natures force them to operate antagonistically, dooming them both.

In Jungian terms, the creature is Frankenstein's shadow. Frankenstein himself likens his progeny to 'my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me' (57). In one sense, he is a projection of Frankenstein's psyche, fulfilling his repressed desires, the energy from which was channelled into the creative act. For instance, the creature's murder of Elizabeth atones for the fatal illness she passed on to Frankenstein's mother, and prevents him from consummating the marriage he fears. He seems to know the creature's movements instinctively, whilst totally unable -- or unwilling -- to prevent them. On seeing his form silhouetted against Mount Saleve, Frankenstein thinks to himself:

Could he be (I shuddered at the conception) the murderer of my brother? No sooner did that idea cross my imagination, than I became convinced of its truth.


{21} In Prometheus Unbound, Shelley proffered a vision of a fully integrated humanity, in which our creative, rational side has gained total control over our creaturely passions:
Man, one harmonious soul of many a soul,
Whose nature is its own divine control.44
In this situation, each side of human nature is developed to maximum benefit. Our creative desire to dominate has been turned inward, abolishing tyranny. We have mastered the natural world, but without exploitation, and our mortal frame serves to pin down our spirit, so that it does not float off into nothingness:
Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
Over himself; just, gentle, wise: but man
Passionless? -- no, yet free from guilt and pain . . .
Nor yet exempt, though ruling them like slaves,
From chance and death and mutability,
The clogs of that which else might oversoar
The loftiest star of unascended heaven,
Pinnacled dim in the intense inane.45
For Mary, however, creator and created will never become integrated because both refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. They cannot get beyond Prometheus' initial cursing of Jupiter to improve their condition because each is always falling back on the other as his all-purpose excuse. The dying Frankenstein tells Walton:
During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blamable.


{22} The creature likewise rebukes him:
Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all mankind sinned against me? . . . Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.


Frankenstein presents himself as trapped within his own consciousness using the very image of Prometheus bound:
For an instant I dared to shake off my chains and look around me with a free and lofty spirit, but the iron had eaten into my flesh, and I sank again, trembling and hopeless, into my miserable self.


Only once is the being able to forget his bitterness against Frankenstein and react intuitively to the natural world around him. His perception altered, he finds solace there akin to Shelley and his Prometheus, but it is only temporary:
I felt emotions of pleasure, that had long appeared dead, revive within me. Half surprised by the novelty of these sensations, I allowed myself to be borne away by them, and forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy.


In Nietzschean terminology, the being's problem is that he is so thoroughly creature he is incapable of forming his own values. He is forced to accept them ready-made from his creator and his creator's race. Consequently, he can become creative only in destruction. All he has experienced from humanity is loathing and attempts to exterminate him. The most he can do is to attempt what Nietzsche calls the slave revolt in morals, merely reversing the values of his 'natural lord and king' (80).46 In this context, he echoes Milton's Satan: 'Evil thenceforth became my good', {23} (195).47 The benevolence he is able to find in Frankenstein in his love for his family and race, he perverts in himself:
I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept . . . I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery.


In the introduction to his edition of the 1831 text of Frankenstein, Joseph asks:
If Prometheus, in the romantic tradition, is identified with human revolt, is the monster what the revolt looks like from the other side -- a pitiful botched-up creature?48
This is Frankenstein's perspective as creator of his creaturely counterpart. As an idealist, his own creatureliness constantly frustrates him, and he wishes to break free from his corporal bounds. The creature's grotesque appearance despite Frankenstein's careful choice of the best possible components reads almost as a nightmare vision of Shelley's acknowledgement in A Defence of Poetry:
When composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet.49
However, neither Frankenstein nor the being is exclusively creative or creaturely. Indeed, it is their exchange of situations and characteristics that confirms our impression that the being is Frankenstein's Doppelgänger. Frankenstein's self-imposed isolation whilst creating his progeny is forced upon the being on account of his physical deformity. After the death of his {24} bride, Frankenstein becomes consumed with his progeny's thirst for revenge, praying to the manes of the murdered:
I call on you, spirits of the dead; and on you, wandering ministers of vengeance, to aid and conduct me in my work. Let the cursed and hellish monster drink deep of agony; let him feel the despair that now torments me.


Both Frankenstein and the being can find consolation only in sublime natural landscapes, and ultimately in death. Frankenstein longs to join the spirits of the departed. The being retains no hope of sympathy, and can look forward only to the fusing of his consciousness with the elements.

That our sympathy lies primarily with the being is not therefore a simple preference for creaturely over creative. As ever, Mary twisted her symbols to and fro to extract maximum insight from them, and it is the being's consciousness which she most thoroughly explored. To the Miltonic type of Adam, she added that of Rousseau's natural man in order to map out quasi-anthropologically the development of humanity from pure creature into what we are now. Creator and creature have become interdependent but in a negative fashion. It is not a clean case of uniting two polar opposites because simultaneous with the acquisition of creative reason is the development of basic animal instincts into abstract people-centred emotions. Rousseau portrayed natural man as free, but civilised man as dependent on those around him:

The savage lives within himself; the sociable man, always outside of himself, knows how to live only in the opinion of others; and it is . . . from their judgement alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence.50
In his initial state in the woods the being is solitary (cf. Rousseau's Second Discourse): 'I was dependent on none and related to none' (107). He needs only to fulfil his basic animal instincts for food, drink, warmth {25} and shelter. When any are lacking, he simply moves locale. He is at one with his natural habitat to the extent of being vegetarian:
My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.


However, his instruction from the De Laceys teaches him to long for the companionship that his appearance denies him. By watching them through a chink in his out-house and the different ways in which they relate to one another, an emotional response is excited in the creature's own breast. He recalls that when the old man smiled at his children:
I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food.


Gradually, the being is able to distinguish between different emotions and, as he begins to learn the De Laceys' language through observation and repetition, he can label and interpret them. Mary used the theatre model of the eighteenth century aesthetics to illustrate the extension and frustration of the creature's sympathies. First he watches passively, then unknown to the family he collects fire-wood for them at night like a guardian angel. Soon he begins to seek a reciprocal relationship, whilst coming to comprehend the physical obstacle that separates him from human contact. Already, he longs to return to his original state of innocence, but his creative striving pushes them forward:

Oh! that I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known or felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst and heat! Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when once it has seized on it. Like a lichen on the rock . . .


{26} Cantor compares the being's situation now with that of Rousseau's natural man in a civilised society, although with the added disadvantage that he is not even recognised as human. In the Second Discourse, Rousseau discussed savages brought over to Europe, who were regarded as inferior, but they at least brought with them the standards of their own more primitive society. The being possesses no independent standard by which to judge himself, and is therefore self-alienated. He is forced to accept the opinion of the only humans that he has ever known -- that he is hideously ugly and so inferior it is impossible to associate with him:
And what was I? . . . When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?


When Frankenstein refuses his request to make him a mate as deformed as himself, who will regard him as an equal, he loses his last chance of self- appreciation.

Ironically, this image works so well in gaining our sympathy because it embodies in concrete and extreme terms a fear which we, as civilised humanity in a civilised society, also share -- a fear of being ultimately unlovable because we fall short of collective standards. In developing a need for companionship and the approval of others, the being has, in fact, acquired what Rousseau sees as the key attributes of civilised man, but without even our partially satisfactory means of fulfilling them. Cantor writes:

The monster is undoubtedly placed in unusual circumstances . . . And yet his situation is not unique the way he claims . . . All men have moments when they feel different, when they feel themselves inadequate to mixing in society, when they sense some form of ugliness standing between themselves and other human beings. The monster's fear of not being accepted because of being different is, paradoxically, a very human fear.52


{27} In her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley claimed that her alterations to the text were merely of style:
I have changed no portion of the story nor introduced any new ideas or circumstances. I have mended the language where it was so bald as to interfere with the interest of the narrative; and these changes . . . are entirely confined to such parts as are mere adjuncts to the story, leaving the core and substance of it untouched.


She was, however, being a little economical with the truth. Although not extensive, her changes brought her creation mythology closer to contemporary orthodox opinion, and her silence here was presumably intended to give the impression that it was in agreement all along.53

By including within her preface the alleged dream origins of her novel,54 Mary gave it for the first time an explicitly religious interpretation:

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. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.


Thus she preconditioned her reader to view the creature's genesis against the back-drop of traditional Christianity. Despite misgivings about Peake's adaptation of her text, Mary introduced the word 'presumption' into the novel itself. In a new and penitent speech, Frankenstein describes the creature as 'the living monument of presumption and rash ignorance which {28} I had let loose upon the world' (217). He slips into the Christian type of the over-reacher, presenting his story to Walton as a cautionary fable:
Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drank also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me, -- let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!


In its revised format, Frankenstein's biography supports an orthodox theodicy as against the creature's citation of Godwinian principles to explain his own malevolence, and Mary seems almost to have been playing the two hypotheses off against one another. Frankenstein's narrative represents and endorses the message of Paradise Lost in a mundane setting, casting himself as Adam and his father as a kind of God figure. His early home life is idealised so that it becomes analogous to Milton's Eden. For instance, Frankenstein conceives of his parents' union as the perfect match in an image reminiscent of Shakespeare's Hamlet:

[His father] strove to shelter [his mother], as a fair exotic is sheltered by the gardener, from every rougher wind, and to surround her with all that could tend to excite pleasurable emotion in her soft and benevolent mind.


Frankenstein blames his fall, like that of Milton's Adam, primarily on a malevolent external force and secondarily on his own inability to govern his will and so resist cf. Adam's vain warning to Eve:
Reason is free . . .
But bid her well beware, and still erect,
Lest by some fair appearing good surprised
She dictate false and misinform the will.56
{29} His father is in no way responsible, unlike in the 1818 text where, despite having stated that her protagonist's family was not scientific, Mary had him introducing Frankenstein to the properties of electricity with a model of Franklin's kite. This role is now played by a stranger so that Frankenstein's scientific career truly begins at the University of Ingolstadt.57 His departure from home becomes the inverse of Satan's entry into Eden:
Chance -- or rather the evil influence, the Angel of Destruction, . . . asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father's door.


In this light, the reader observes a paradigm shift in Mary's attitude towards science since 1818. For the first time she named galvanism as Frankenstein's method of creation, but she omitted or transvalued a number of seemingly innocuous scientific passages in order to give the impression that Ingolstadt in the 1790s was teaching arcane magic in the name of rational science. This way, she presented science as an anti- Christian force in agreement with the most reactionary of her day. In the 1818 text, Frankenstein was inspired to investigate the principles of life by Professor Waldman's first lecture -- a panegyric of contemporary chemistry. Yet in the 1831 edition, Frankenstein does not present himself as genuinely enthused by Waldman, but indoctrinated by an evil force akin to Faust's Mephistopheles:
As he went on, I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being: chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose . . .


Waldman's eulogy of modern masters closely reflects Sir Humphrey Davy's summary of recent scientific achievements in his A Discourse: {30} Introduction to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry, a publication of his 1802 Royal Institution lectures, which Mary appears to have read in October 1816. Davy intended this particular lecture series primarily to generate enthusiasm for science amongst lay people, and Mary attributed to Waldman and the young Frankenstein Davy's exaltation at the wonderful improvements science will bring to society. Laura Crouch shows how each recent discovery mentioned by Davy is reflected in Waldman's speech.58 Only galvanism is missing as Frankenstein has yet to discover this.

In 1818, Mary appeared to share Davy's positive critique of science cautious only against its abuse. She suggested that scientific discoveries are amoral in themselves, but that humankind must be ready for them and able to use them wisely. Scientifically, the creature might be said to be a success. Since he is larger than us, he can move much swifter. He can survive in harsher climates and on a frugal diet of nuts and berries, but both Frankenstein and society at large fail in their inability to love him and to respond appropriately to his gestures. When he first smiles at his creator and stretches out one arm for affection like a baby, Frankenstein is unnerved and interprets his behaviour as threatening. Later, he rescues a young girl from drowning, and her father immediately shoots at him, assuming that he is molesting her.

Percy Shelley, who was himself a scientific enthusiast and immersed in chemistry whilst at Eton and Oxford, stressed the dependence of scientific creativity on the poetic if it was really to lead to an improved and equal society:

We have more scientific and economic knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies . . . To what but a cultivation of the mechanical arts in a degree disproportioned to the presence of the creative faculty . . . is to be attributed the abuse of all invention for abridging and combining labour to the exasperation of the inequality of mankind?59
In the 1831 edition, however, Mary made a second reference to Davy's A Discourse in such a way as to transmute his optimism regarding the benefits of science into an unfounded and blasphemous arrogance. She paraphrased the following passage from Davy:
Science has done much for man, but it is capable of doing still more . . . the benefits it has conferred ought to excite our hopes of its capability of conferring new benefits; and, in considering the progressiveness of our nature, we may reasonably look forwards to a state of greater cultivation and happiness.60
in a new soliloquy which she gave to Frankenstein:
So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein, more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation. (Emphasis mine).


To those readers familiar with her source, this provides a new and in reality distorted reading of it. It projects Frankenstein's development of galvanism back into Davy's A Discourse, placing it by implication amongst the de factum achievements of nineteenth century science. Christian tradition has always designated the Urzeit as God's realm beyond human understanding.61 Mary's loaded terminology therefore aligns Davy's belief in human perfectibility with the orthodox Christian portrait of the over-reacher as morally and religiously damned because he seeks knowledge belonging to God alone. When Davy goes on to describe science as the great parent, he appears to the reader of this text of Frankenstein to claim for her the very title of Christianity's God the Father.


{32} In her 1831 preface, Mary expressed a wish to enlarge on her novel's origins as a short ghost story on account of a question
so very frequently asked me -- 'How I, then a young girl, came to think of and dilate upon so very hideous an idea?'


Yet Frankenstein horrifies beyond its affinities with gothic tales in the bleak portrait its young author painted of the human condition. Despite Mary's later attempt to diffuse this by bringing Frankenstein's childhood more in line with traditional Christian iconography, the creature's tale and final immolation remain intact and present humanity as perpetuating its own destruction in an imperfect world.

Biographical and psychological critics point to ways in which the creature's sense of rejection may reflect Mary's own unsatisfactory early childhood experiences.62 Her mother died of septicaemia when she was eleven days old. Her father was emotionally withdrawn63 and, when Mary was four, re-married to a widow with two young children of her own. The 1818 text is also proleptic of the grief which Mary had yet to bear. The murder of Frankenstein's little brother William seems almost to anticipate the death of his namesake, Mary's own son.64 Shelley's drowning was to recall the creature's loss of his mate on Frankenstein's dissecting table. From here on, Mary's entries into the couple's joint journals are heartrending for they present her as severed from all bonds of human affection. Intentionally or otherwise, her scribbling for 3 September 1824 echoes the creature's final speech:

I never never shall be loved more -- never o never more shall I love . . . I am a wreck -- by what do the fragments cling together -- why {33} do they not part & be bourne away by the tide to the boundless ocean where those are whom day & night I pray that I may rejoin.65
For the theological reader of the 1818 text, Mary's allegory subverts Milton's Christian theodicy, but without vindicating the ways of humanity to God through absolving us of responsibility as Godwin and Shelley were inclined to do. Mary offered no comprehensive system through which to understand the self-regulating universe of the new science, and hence no single key with which to unlock her fiction. Some argue that the fluidity of her typology indicates an immature hand.66 I see it as her greatest strength, for she was brave enough to avoid masking the deeply disturbing contents of her narrative with a simplistic style of writing. In satirising the fall of Milton's Adam as a facile misunderstanding of the human condition, she militated against human progressiveness. In exchanging the Christian creation story for a gnostic tale of a blundering and self-glorifying demiurge, she presented a world which is intrinsically blemished and moves towards no ultimate purpose. Behind her very construction of this myth, she perceived a projection of the creative-creaturely dichotomy within human nature, which operates antagonistically, preventing our self-acceptance.

Did Mary then offer any hope for human happiness and moral improvement? I believe that she favoured a certain attitude of mind. At the centre of her novel is the creature's supplication to a different father-figure from Frankenstein -- blind old De Lacey. This is neither unquestioning submission as advocated by Milton nor the rebellion of Shelley's Prometheus. It is an emotive plea for a protective and supportive partnership based on rational and ethical evidence -- De Lacey's kindness to his own children and his inability to be influenced by the creature's appearance. It is a scene of great pathos:

This I thought was the moment of decision, which was to rob me of, or bestow happiness on me for ever. I struggled vainly for firmness . . . but the effort destroyed all my remaining strength; I sank on the {34} chair, and sobbed aloud. At that moment I heard the steps of my younger protectors. I had not a moment to lose; but, seizing the hand of the old man I cried, 'Now is the time! -- save and protect me! . . . Do not you desert me in the hour of trial!'


The creature fails, however, in narrative terms because he is nervous and speaks in riddles. Just as he is about to reveal his true purpose, the young De Laceys return and drive him from the cottage. He sees this as his banishment from Eden and it is what determines him to find Frankenstein as the only human being from whom he could claim pity and justice. Marilyn Butler likens the scene to Luke's parable of the prodigal son, but with the difference of an unhappy ending beyond both father's and son's control.67 I see in it also a reference to Shelley's belief in 'a pervading Spirit, co-eternal with the universe' as represented by old Monsieur De Lacey.68 The mature Shelley saw God as the essence and soul of the universe, a mysterious animating power within nature and humanity which tends towards goodness. It did not, however, create the natural order, and is itself subject to the principle of Necessity and therefore not omnipotent.69

Mary, I think, held with Shelley's basic tenet, but not with his optimism that goodness would ultimately prevail. Her allusion to Luke's parable may have been conscious, intended to juxtapose Jesus' portrayal of God, which Shelley believed coincided with his own, with that of Paradise Lost and the Genesis stories.70 However, Mary's new and tragic ending spells {35} out her conviction that whilst this deity is benevolent, it is too ineffectual to bring about the kind of metaphysical revolution with reference to Jesus' teaching:

This much is certain that Jesus Christ represents God as the fountain of all goodness, the eternal enemy of pain and evil . . . According to Jesus Christ, and according to the indisputable facts of the case, some evil spirit has dominion in this imperfect world. But there will come a time when the human mind shall be visited exclusively by the influence of the benignant Power.71
In Frankenstein, it is precisely because old De Lacey is blind, and therefore cannot defend the creature, that he is receptive to the creature's story. Thus Mary drove a wedge between sympathy and the power to manifest this in changing external circumstances. Human beings benefit from aligning themselves with the force of goodness in the universe only in so far as this liberates and ennobles them of itself. Whilst the creature plans his supplication to old De Lacey, he foregoes his hatred and bitterness and gains his dignity as an individual. He describes this to Frankenstein as allowing himself to 'ramble in the fields of Paradise' (110). Where he deludes himself is in looking beyond the strength and warmth of his emotions and expecting them to improve his life in a tangible and realist sense. When the world cannot sustain his feelings, the evil within him reasserts itself, destroying his hope for solace with the thirst for revenge. His eventual suicide counters Milton's optimistic conclusion to Paradise Lost, which looks forward to human salvation through Christ's crucifixion as traditionally understood. Milton could proffer the perfection of human history, since for him omnipotence and beneficence coincided in God the Father. In rejecting Christianity, Mary challenged her readers to grasp at happiness with only their own imperfect will and conscience.

The author wishes to thank Marilyn Butler for her advice and encouragement during the preparation of this piece.


1 Mary married Percy Bysshe Shelley some six months after she began writing Frankenstein. To avoid confusion, I call her by her first or married name throughout, and refer to Percy as her husband or Shelley.

2 Butler (1993), p. viii. For full reference, see bibliography.

3 The phrase 'modern Prometheus' first occurs in Shaftesbury's The Moralists (1709). It refers to artistic rather than scientific creation, but a nearby passage mentions alchemical discovery. Mary's record of her reading in her Journal does not mention Shaftesbury; but several years later she refers to the Characteristicks as a familiar work, so that it is tempting to suppose that these passages were familiar to her in 1816. For further details, see Small (1972), pp. 51-52.

4 Milton, J., Paradise Lost, Book X, ll. 743-745. All citations are as in Fowler (1971).

5 Various attempts had been made to induce life, by animating single-cell creatures and by reviving dead bodies, including executed criminals. Some of the best known were associated with Luigi Galvini (1737-98), who was testing the functions of electricity: see Aldini (1803).

6 James Rieger notes discrepancies between Mary's preface and the diary of Byron's doctor, Polidori. In defence of Polidori, see Rieger (1963). For a variant treatment in Mary's favour, see Butler (1993), pp. xx-xxi.

7 Butler (1993), appendix B. All page references for Frankenstein refer to this edition.

8 See especially Small (1972) for Victor Frankenstein as a critique of Shelley.

9 Johnson (1982), p. 8. See also Gilbert & Gubar (1979).

10 I owe this perspective to Marilyn Butler. See, for example, (1993) introduction, pp. xx-xiii, and (1981) chapters five and six.

11 For a good survey, see Baldick (1987), especially chapters two and six and the illustrations from Punch and the Anti-Jacobin Review.

12 This view has recently been put forward by Marilyn Butler. The original version of Frankenstein was not readily available until her paperback edition of the 1818 text was published in 1995.???

13 For further discussions of the Abernethy/Lawrence controversy, see Butler (1993), introduction and appendix C. For the wider issues, see Jacyna (1983).

14 Lawrence (1816), p. 142.

15 See Butler (1993), p. xlviii.

16 The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany ii (1818), pp. 249-253.

17 Peake (1884), p. 7.

18 The similarities between Frankenstein and the Faust legend are striking. However, there is no evidence that Mary was directly acquainted with either Marlowe's or Goethe's Faust.

19Mary's journals record that Shelley read Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound in 1816 and husband and wife studied it together on 13 July 1817. Shelley read Hesiod in 1815. Mary was also acquainted with the Prometheus myth through Ovid's Metamorphoses and the variation concerning the creation of a female in Mme De Genlis' Pygmalion and Galatée.

20 For a fuller treatment, see Raggio (1988). It is unlikely that Mary was directly acquainted with Christian iconography of Prometheus, but she would have been aware of its drift in so far as it had penetrated European art and culture of her day.

21 In the 1818 text, the family's name is spelt variously as De Lacy and De Lacey. In 1831, Mary kept to De Lacey throughout so I use this spelling.

22 Paradise Lost, Book I, ll. 262-263.

23 Alighieri, D. (Dante), Inferno, Book XXVI, 1. 120. Ellis (1994).

24 Kiely (1972), p. 165.

25 Cantor (1984), p. 115.

26 Frankenstein's mother caught scarlet fever from his cousin-sister Elizabeth and died shortly before his departure to Ingolstadt. She had insisted on attending Elizabeth even when the child's life was no longer in danger and against the advice of her family.

27 The Quarterly Review, xviii (1818), p. 385.

28 Clark (1954), p. 269.

29 ibid., p. 267.

30 ibid., p. 267.

31 Clark (1954), p. 290. In his preface to Prometheus Unbound, Shelley modified this view slightly, comparing Milton's Satan unfavourably with Prometheus in so far as he is tainted with 'ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement'.

32 William Blake's illustrations in The Book of Urizen depict Urizen as a white-bearded old man akin to the God of Genesis. However, the poetry presents him as a self-interested and self-glorifying being who cannot successfully carry out his own plans. Like Frankenstein's, his creative act is rooted in a desire to isolate himself and assert his own ego: 'self-balanc'd, stretch'd o'er the void / I alone, even I' (Plate IV, 11. 18- 19).

33 Milton, Paradise Regained, Book III, 11. 110-114. Masson (1917).

34 Paradise Lost, Book IV, ll. 67-72.

35 Note to Queen Mab on the line, 'Necessity, Thou Mother of the world', Hutchinston & Matthews (1970), p. 812.

36 For further points of comparison, see Tannenbaum (1977).

37 cf Paradise Lost, Book XII, ll. 646-647: 'The world was all before them, where to chose / Their place of rest.'

38 Byron, G. G., Lord, Prometheus, III, l. 25. McGann (1980).

39 Mary herself may have had Job's laments in mind. Shelley greatly admired Job, commenting in The Essay on the Devil and Devils: 'The expostulations of Job with God are of the most daring character; it is certain he would not bear them from a Christian' (Clark (1954) p. 269). As with Paradise Lost, Mary may have intended to supply the counter-text to Job's apparent faith in and final submission to God, which her husband found implicit in the original work. For a modern treatment of Job as a radical text, see Dell (1991).

40 Knight's Quarterly Magazine, iii, (1824), p. 198.

41 Clark (1954), p. 307.

42Hutchinson & Matthews (1970), p. 271.

43 Frye (1983), p. 49.

44 Shelley, P. B. Prometheus Unbound, Act IV sc.i, ll. 400-401. Hutchinson & Matthews (1980).

45 ibid., Act IV sc.i, ll. 194-204.

46 See 'The Ugliest Man' in Nietzsche, F. W. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part IV, which becomes in effect a dialogue between the creature and the creator in humankind, and explores the connection between creaturely ressentiment and the murder of the creator god.

47 cf. Paradise Lost Book IV, ll. 110: 'Evil be thou my good'.

48 Joseph (1970), p. xii.

49 Clark (1954), p. 294.

50 Masters (1964), p. 179.

51 The Shelleys were themselves vegetarians on ethical grounds, see Shelley, P. B., 'A Vindication of Natural Diet'. in Clark (1954), pp. 81-90.

52 Cantor (1984), p. 127.

53 For a complete list of all Mary's alterations in 1831, collating them with the original text, see Butler (1993), appendix A. All page numbers within this section refer to this appendix.

54 Opinions differ as to whether Mary's account of her waking dream is genuine or a literary device. Literary inspiration from dreams was fashionable amongst Romantic writers; cf. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan, which Mary admired and with which she may have wished to associate her work.

55 cf. Shakespeare, W., Hamlet Act I sc. ii, ll. 140-142. Craig (1959). The similarity of image is striking. In both cases, the father is all-attentive, but whereas Queen Gertrude is a shallow character, hastily marrying her husband's wicked brother, Frankenstein's mother reciprocates his father's love in a partnership of equal intellects.

56 Paradise Lost Book IX, ll. 352-355.

57 Ingolstadt was a Bavarian university, 1472-1800, notorious in the French Revolution period as the home of the feared sect of unorthodox religionists, the Illuminati.

58 See Crouch (1978).

59 Clark (1954), p. 293.

60 Davy (1802). Cited in Crouch (1978), p. 42.

61 In Paradise Lost, Book VII, when the prelapsarian Adam asks Raphael about the creation of the universe, Milton felt compelled to spell out that Adam is not here threatening the divine order; he wishes to procure only information permitted to humankind that they might glorify God. Raphael's reply (ll. 120-122) is in accord with this and may allude to scientific investigations of Milton's day, in particular astronomy.

62 For further discussion, see Nitchie (1970), introduction. A good biography of Mary Shelley presenting a succinct account of her childhood, is Spark (1987).

63 Many biographies of Mary and Godwin make this point. See, for example, Spark (1987), chapters one and two, Locke (1980), especially chapters ten to twelve.

64 William Shelley died of malaria in June 1819, age three.

65 Feldman & Scott-Kilvert (1987), p. 483.

66 This point was put to me by James Carleton Paget.

67 Luke 15:11-32. For a literary criticism of the parable within its Lucan context, see Drury (1985), pp. 139-141, 147-151.

68 Note to Queen Mab on the line, 'There is no God', Hutchinson & Matthews (1970), p. 812. Shelley was born into a traditional Christian home, but 1805-1810 he rejected Christianity in favour of deism. In a letter to Janetta Phillips, May 1811, he refuted deism for a system best termed pantheistic naturalism. For further details, see Clark (1954), introduction, pp. 5-11.

69 Shelley saw the principle of Necessity as a mysterious and omnipotent power which sustains and guides all life. To this, even his deity is subject. See note to Queen Mab on the line, 'Necessity, thou mother of the world', Hutchinson & Matthews (1970), pp. 809-812.

70 In Essay on Christianity, a fragment commonly dated 1815-1819, and hence contemporaneous with Frankenstein, Shelley claims that Jesus perceived God as a universal, limitless and mysterious being. His evidence is insubstantial. Whilst he acknowledges the difficulty of distinguishing the historical Jesus from the bias of the evangelists, he portrays Jesus as a social reformer, selecting as authentic those ethical and political teachings in accord with his own. For a fuller discussion and analysis of the more disputed references to Jesus within Shelley's early work, see Clark (1954), introduction, pp. 11-16.

71 Shelley, P. B., 'Essay on Christianity', in Clark (1954), p. 204.


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