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.
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.”
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.