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Mary Shelley received her inspiration for the epic horror story Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus while visiting with Lord Byron, the brother of her future husband, Percy Byron Shelley, at his Swiss villa in 1816. At the tender age of eighteen, she experienced an extraordinary nightmare following a “ghost story” session in which she had participated with Shelley, Byron, his mistress, and a local doctor. Byron, inspired by the stories shared in the group, suggested that all present should attempt to write a horror story. Mary Shelley had a nightmare that night that she recalled vividly enough to use as the basis for her novel. The following is part of her account of that nightmare.

My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reveries…. 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…. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing which had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter, and that he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life…. Swift as light and cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. “I have found it! What terrifies me will terrify others; and I need only describe the specter that had haunted my midnight pillow.” On the morrow, I announced that I had thought of the story.

Frankenstein was published in 1818. The novel is based, in part, on Luigi Galvani, a scientist who concluded through a series of experiments that electricity was the secret of life. He believed it was actually possible to reanimate a corpse by using an electrical stimulus.

In the story, Shelley tells a tale of scientific terror in which Victor Frankenstein creates a living being out of the parts of decomposing corpses. The Frankenstein monster in the original version of the story was an intelligent being who was not only able to speak but also reason. He possessed sophisticated reading capabilities and knowledge; the objectionable irrationality of his temperament was his one significant negative characteristic. Shelley describes the monster as being a living travesty of death, comprised of the pieces of the recently buried dead.

The monster’s struggle with Victor parallels, in some ways, the biblical struggle of the demons and God. When, in the end, the monster is triumphant he exhibits feelings of remorse, regret, and self-hatred. His acknowledgement of the emptiness of retribution shows a sense of human compassion that is absent in most villains. In the end, the creature vows to destroy itself, but the story concludes with it disappearing into the snowy darkness.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Despite the din raised by anti-technology ideologues and the claque of conservative bioethicists, our world is not filled with out-of-control Frankensteinian technologies.
In Roger Dodsworth: The Re-animated Englishman, Mary Shelley is thus interested in the question of reanimation, as in Frankenstein, while in Valerius; the Reanimated Roman she alludes to the question if life is possible (at least in a primitive form) in the absence of a soul, in the subtext the question being whether the Frankensteinian Creature had in fact a soul.
And paradoxically enough, this passion had less to do with philosophy than with blasphemy, hypochondria, and a cheerful and Frankensteinian hubris.
As for the Frankensteinian dilemmas the project raises, researchers say there's no danger that a microbe will leap out of a Petri dish and wreak havoc.
Why is it that her novel still speaks to audiences so powerfully even today, such that the term "Frankensteinian" is applied to scientific endeavors of questionable intent or troubling outcome?
This experiment produced resilient Frankensteinian amalgams that have ambled around the cultural landscape for centuries, influencing countless later cultural products such as Paul Green's The Lost Colony, which subsequently acquired cachet of its own.
Although the film draws from elements of different scifi subgenres, it combines a classic Frankensteinian theme with cyberpunk elements.
The somewhat Frankensteinian upshot of this speculation was "'Demi Ran, Nan,' Anna Rimed," a prolix, inane, impeccably metrical RETEP poem which overran some five pages of the Nov.
In his solo show "Juan and John," Roger Guenveur Smith digs up disparate parts of the 1960s and knits them together into a Frankensteinian whole.
Too often, web-mediated instruction offers myriad variations on the Frankensteinian theme of blended identities, leaving faculty to wonder why students cannot effectively develop and situate their ideas in an academic context.
Thus, the "forbidding name" of depecage, in particular in its most restrictive definition, reflects its equally forbidding substance--a sort of Frankensteinian figure composed of body parts originating from different jurisdictions and imbued with life only after its creation.
This, of course, is the plot of Frankenstein; and, indeed, many explications of Mary Shelley's novel discover in it an attack not only on rogue science, its ostensible subject, but even more so upon the political philosophy held liable for the French Revolution, the Enlightenment's own Frankensteinian Monster.