Frankenstein: The Myth of Dark Creation

By Tudor, Lucia-Alexandra | Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Frankenstein: The Myth of Dark Creation


Tudor, Lucia-Alexandra, Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity


The genesis of a myth

Geneva, Vila Diodati, summer of 1816, the birth of one of the most fascinating myths of fantastic and horror literature--Frankenstein--, the outcome of a ghost story competition between George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), John William Polidori (1795-1821), and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851).

The starting points were some arguments and controversies about vampires and other supernatural beings, about Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790; electricity), James Lind (1716-1794; citric fruits, healthy connective tissues, scurvy, putrefaction), Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802; botany, natural history, theory of evolution), Luigi Galvani (1737-1798, electrical experiments), Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829; chemistry, usage of voltaic piles), Charles Darwin (1809-1882; species evolution, natural selection) and the development of modern sciences. Also discussed were the schools of vitalism--holding that living beings were fundamentally distinct from the inanimated ones because of some different physico-chemical elements or performances--and of materialism--holding that everything really existing was material in nature--, respectively, not to say anything about the creation of life, the experiments in galvanism on executed criminals, and a general vogue for automata (Mulvey-Roberts 1998: 214). Moreover, the four writers and close friends seemed to have been influenced by the stories read in Fantasmagoriana; ou, Recueil d histoires d 'apparitions, de spectres, revenans, fantomes (1812), translated by Jean-Baptiste-Benoit Eyries (1767-1846) from the first two volumes of the five-volume Gespensterbuch (1811-1815), edited by Friedrich Schulze and Johann Apel. It should be mentioned that Eyries's rendering had already been translated into English, as Tales of the Dead (1813), by Sarah Elizabeth Brown Utterson (1782-1851). (Shelley 2005: 48, Preface written for Percy Shelley, note 1, Macdonald & Scherf)

Mary Shelley stated the genesis of her novel in the Prefaces to the 1818 and 1831 editions, respectively.

In the 1818 Preface (written in 1817 for her husband Percy), the author mentioned that

The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it developes; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.... I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementary principles of human nature, which I have not scrupled to innovate upon their combinations....

The circumstance on which my story rests was suggested in casual conversation. It was commenced, partly as a source of amusement, and partly as an expedient for exercising any untried resources of mind. Other motives were mingled with these, as the work proceeded. 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 avoiding the enervating effects of the novels of the present day, and to the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue. 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. …

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