The story behind the creation of Frankenstein

The dream that led to the creation of a monster

Outside the gloom of the Swiss manor house, the stormy night was wild and unforgiving. Inside, by a flickering fire, an 18-year old girl listened to her spouse talking about the evolutionary theories of Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. Later that same night she was woken by a nightmare so evocative, that she dared not fall into slumber again.

When the sun rose, she began to write what she had dreamt about the previous night.

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. 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…..

…..By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

-Mary Shelley, explaining what she say in her nightmare.

The year was 1816, the girl Mary Shelley, wife of the noted English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the place, the Swiss home of Lord Byron.

The three friends had agreed before retiring that each of them must produce a chilling ghost story. Mary initially couldn’t think of a suitable plot or storyline. Every morning, she was asked if she had come up with an intriguing horror story. While discussing about the principle of life, it occured to her that a corpse getting re-animated would be an interesting scenario worth considering.

The result was the publishing of the iconic horrifying novel about a medical student who builds a living body from parts of corpses, two years later.

However Mary was not the first to create this notion of an artificial man. According to historical legend, the medieval German theologian Albertus Magnus was recorded to have built a robot, a mechanical automation in the form of  a brass head, that could answer simple questions.  Roger Bacon is also credited with such an accomplishment.

Legend has it that Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague made a giant figure that resembled a human being, from river mud. According to Jewish mythology, he brought it to life using magic, making it a golem. A golem was believed to be an animated anthropomorphic being created entirely from inanimate matter in jewish folklore. He is said to have used mystical powers based on the esoteric (likely to be understood by a small number of interested people) knowledge of how God created Adam. The general view of historians and critics is that the legend is a German literary invention of the early 19th century. The 16th century chemist Paracelsus was also rumored to have devised a formula for creating life.

Mary used all these themes. But Baron Frankenstein, used a more modern technique to bring his spare-parts creature to life-the newly discovered field of electricity.

And so, a monster was born.

Header image source:

Source and Reference: The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories, Amazing Facts


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