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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

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Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (cf. Fuseli - 'Prometheus').

The story is about a chemist by the name of Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster, eight-feet tall out of bits of flesh acquired from butchers’ shops.  The chemist brings the monster to life.  The monster from this point on makes Frankenstein’s life a misery.  The monster causes the death of all of Frankenstein’s dearest friends, including his wife.  Frankenstein is also known as The Modern Prometheus.  Prometheus was a Titan from Greek mythology who stole fire from Heaven for the human race.  In revenge Zeus had him tied up to a rock where an eagle would come and feast on his liver every day, which then grew back every night, until he was rescued by Heracles.

Frankenstein’s narrative says: “Remember I am not recording the visions of a madman.  The sun does not more certainly shine in the heavens than that which I affirm is true.  Some miracle might have produced it, yet the stages of the discovery were distinct and probable.  After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I have succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I myself became capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.”

“Oh!  No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch.  I had gazed upon him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.”

Monsters are often described as the most important symbols of the grotesque.  The supernatural and witchcraft were characteristic of Romanticism.  Bringing a monster to life is most certainly classed as supernatural.


The Mortal Immortal.

This tale experiments with life and the supernatural.  In this tale an alchymist creates an ‘Elixir of Immortality’ which is consumed by his student Winzy, who narrates the story.  At the beginning Winzy who is 323 years old says: “I have lived on for many a year – alone, and weary of myself – desirous of death, yet never dying – a mortal immortal.”


Other Tales:

Some of Mary Shelley’s other tales deal with life and animation.  Roger Dodsworth and Valerius deal with ‘reanimation’, a theme from Frankenstein.  Her tale Transformation deals with a ‘doppelgänger’, also used by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Robert Louis Stevenson in Die Doppelgänger and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde respectively.

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