ENGL 103 B26: Frankenstein – Intertextuality and Adaptation


Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” published in 1818, has endured as a timeless classic in the realm of literature. It has captivated generations of readers and continues to be a source of fascination and inspiration for scholars, writers, and filmmakers. This course, ENGL 103 B26, delves into the intertextuality and adaptation of “Frankenstein.” In this essay, we will explore the multifaceted aspects of this literary masterpiece, examining its intertextual connections with other works and its rich history of adaptations in various forms of media.

Intertextuality in “Frankenstein”:

Intertextuality is a key theme in “Frankenstein.” Mary Shelley’s novel is replete with references to other literary works, which enrich the text and deepen its meaning. The most prominent intertextual element in the novel is the influence of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” The subtitle of “Frankenstein,” “The Modern Prometheus,” directly alludes to the Greek myth of Prometheus, who defied the gods to bring fire and knowledge to humanity. Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost” tells the story of Lucifer’s rebellion against God, which bears thematic similarities to Victor Frankenstein’s hubristic quest to create life. By drawing from “Paradise Lost,” Shelley intertwines the narrative of Frankenstein with the themes of rebellion, creation, and the consequences of transgressing moral boundaries.

Another literary work that informs is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust.” Victor’s relentless pursuit of knowledge, which leads to disastrous consequences, mirrors Faust’s pact with Mephistopheles for unlimited knowledge and pleasure. Both narratives grapple with the Faustian bargain of sacrificing one’s soul for unchecked ambition.

Shelley also draws on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The mariner’s tale of a cursed voyage serves as a narrative frame for Victor Frankenstein’s confession. Both stories are frame as cautionary tales, warning of the dire consequences of recklessness.

Adaptations of “Frankenstein”:

The enduring appeal of “Frankenstein” lies not only in its intertextuality but also in its adaptability to various media. Over the years, the novel has been adapted into numerous films, plays, and other artistic expressions

  1. Film Adaptations:
    • James Whale’s 1931 film, “Frankenstein,” is one of the most iconic adaptations of the novel. Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster set the standard for how the creature is often envisioned.
    • “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) continued the story, exploring themes of companionship and the consequences of creating life.
    • Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” aimed for a more faithful representation of the novel.
  2. Contemporary Adaptations:
    • In the 21st century, “Frankenstein” has continued to inspire filmmakers. Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting” (1996) incorporates themes from by portraying drug addiction as a modern form of monstrosity.
    • The TV series “Penny Dreadful” (2014-2016) weaves various classic literary characters into its narrative, including Victor Frankenstein and his creation, providing a fresh perspective on the story.
  3. Stage Adaptations:
    • “Frankenstein” has also found a home on the stage. Playwright Nick Dear’s 2011 adaptation for the National Theatre in London offers a unique twist by alternating the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the creature between two actors.
  4. Literary and Artistic Adaptations:
    • The novel itself has inspired numerous literary adaptations, including “The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein” by Peter Ackroyd and “This Dark Endeavor” by Kenneth Oppel.
    • Artists like Bernie Wrightson have reimagined “Frankenstein” through graphic novels, adding a visual layer to the adaptation.

Themes in Adaptations:

The adaptations of “Frankenstein” are not mere retellings but rather reimaginings of the original story, . These adaptations allow for contemporary issues to be explored through the lens of Shelley’s masterpiece. Some common themes that emerge from these adaptations include:

  1. Scientific Responsibility:
    • Many adaptations underscore the ethical and moral questions surrounding scientific progress and the responsibility of scientists.
  2. Isolation and Loneliness:
    • The theme of isolation, often explored through the perspective of the creature, is a recurring motif, highlighting the consequences of societal rejection.
  3. The “Other”:
    • The creature in “Frankenstein” is often portrayed as the ultimate outsider, reflecting society’s fear and mistrust of those who are different.
  4. Gender and Female Agency:
    • Some adaptations, particularly those in the 21st century, emphasize the role of women, both as creators .


“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley is a literary masterpiece that thrives on intertextuality and adaptation. The novel’s rich tapestry of references to other works and its adaptability across different forms of media and cultural contexts have ensured its enduring relevance. By examining the intertextual connections between “Frankenstein” and other literary works and the various adaptations that have emerged, students in ENGL 103 B26 gain a deeper understanding of how this novel continues to inspire and provoke thought about the human condition, scientific ethics, and societal norms. “Frankenstein” is not just a story of creation and its consequences but also a story of adaptation and reinterpretation, reflecting the ever-evolving concerns of our society.

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