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Literary Sources of Frankenstein
Frankenstein is considered to be the greatest Gothic Romantic Novel. It is also generally thought of as the first science fiction novel. I have always been impressed and amazed by the fact that Mary wrote this novel when she was eighteen years old. What experiences and powers of imagination led to such an innovative and disturbing work?
The idea for the novel arose in the summer of 1816 when Mary Shelley was staying at Lord Byron's villa in Geneva Switzerland. Not only did Mary incorporate experiences from that summer into her novel, she also utilized the sources that she had been reading and studying. Two in particular were the Metamorphoses by Ovid and Paradise Lost by Milton.
It is believed that Mary studied Ovid in April and May of 1815. The major element that Ovid supplied to the theme of Frankenstein, was his presentation of the Prometheus legend. This is acknowledged in the subtitle: Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. The creation of the monster is similar to this passage from Ovid:
Whether with particles of heav'nly fire, The God of Nature did his soul inspire; Or earth, but new divided from the sky, And, pliant, still retain'd th'ethereal energy; Which wise Prometheus temper'd into paste, And, mix't with living streams, the godlike image cast... From such rude principles our form began; And earth was metamorphos'd into man.
Lines from Frankenstein that reflect the above passage are; "I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet." (p.51)
"...that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed." (Frankenstein p.101)
The second important literary influence was Paradise Lost by Milton. ( If you have not read this, it is really worth the time. It is difficult, but is well worth the effort. I find that it is helpful to have a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology when reading it. Almost all of Milton's mythological references are explained in Bullfinch.)
The influence of Milton's Paradise Lo...