Mary Shelley's Frankenstein -or- The Post-Modern Prometheus
Science Creates Monster -or- It's Alive
Found in her journal entry of March 19, 1815, Mary Shelley recorded the following dream: "Dream that my little baby came to life again - that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it before the fire & it lived." Shelley had given birth to a baby girl which was born premature. The baby had died in February 1815 a number of days after birth. Did this dream provide the inspiration and literary conception for another waking dream vision that Shelley would have alittle more than a year after her journal entry?
While Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley were vacationing in Switzerland at Lord Byron's villa in 1816, the conversation turned to the scientific ideas and experiments of Erasmus Darwin and Luigi Galvani who were in search of the Creator's keys to the creation of life. These science fiction stories fueled the Gothic imagination and Byron challenged his guests to see who could write the best horror story. The result, Shelley's dark literary vision of "the hideous phantom" has endured for nearly two centuries to haunt the public's imagination.
Shelley gives an account of the dream that reads as follows; "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 endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world."
From a popular culture perspective, the Hollywood dream factory has reworked this Galvanic tale of the "the spark of life" and Frankenstein's "monster". The signature line in the 1931 film is; "It's Alive" (watch video clip). Frankenstein has produced both tragic and burlesque (Mel Brooks "Young Frankenstein") cinematic versions. The popular song "The Monster Mash" (watch music video) fits the monsterous sentiment. The X-Files episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" reworks Mary Shelley's dark romantic tale.