Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus


Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” is a literary masterpiece that has not only withstood the test of time but has also found its place in the pantheon of classic literature. First published in 1818, this novel has served as a fertile ground for countless adaptations. From films and graphic novels to video games and academic discourse, Frankenstein’s story has taken on new life and meaning. This essay explores the themes of intertextuality and adaptation within the context of ENGL 103 X53

I. The Genesis of a Masterpiece

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born out of a unique intertextual and creative process. The novel emerged from a contest between Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. In this setting, they engaged in a storytelling competition to pass the time during unseasonably cold and stormy weather. Mary Shelley’s contribution to this contest became the precursor to Frankenstein. Her novel drew inspiration from the ongoing scientific and philosophical discussions of the time. The concept of adaptation is inherent in the novel’s very inception.

II. The Intertextuality of “Frankenstein”

A. Literary Intertextuality

Frankenstein is rich in literary intertextuality, as Mary Shelley drew from a wide range of sources to create her masterpiece. The novel is often regarded as a “promethean” text, invoking the myth of Prometheus, who defied the gods to bring fire and knowledge to humanity. This intertextual reference adds layers of meaning to the narrative, exploring themes of hubris.

Shelley’s novel also contains references to John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” The creature, often erroneously referred to as “Frankenstein,” identifies with Milton’s Satan, and this connection adds depth to the novel’s .The creature’s recitation of Milton’s lines underscores the idea that he is a complex, tragic figure rather than a mere monster.

B. Scientific and Philosophical Intertextuality

Mary Shelley was deeply influenced by the scientific and philosophical discussions of her time. The novel engages with Enlightenment-era ideas about human progress and the boundaries of scientific inquiry. Victor Frankenstein’s ambitious experiments in reanimating life through the assembly of body parts reflect the scientific and philosophical debates surrounding vitalism

III. Adaptations of “Frankenstein”

A. Film and Television

One of the most prolific areas of adaptation for Frankenstein is in the realm of film and television. From the earliest silent film adaptations to contemporary blockbusters, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation has been reimagined in countless ways. Iconic adaptations include James Whale’s 1931 film “Frankenstein,”. These adaptations have not only reshaped the narrative but have also significantly influenced the public’s perception of the characters and themes.

Modern adaptations, such as “Frankenstein” (2004) and “Victor Frankenstein” (2015), have explored new angles of the story, with an emphasis on the moral. The constant reimagining of Frankenstein in film and television demonstrates the enduring power of Shelley’s original work.

B. Graphic Novels and Comics

Frankenstein has made its mark in the realm of graphic novels and comics as well. Mary Shelley’s original narrative has been reinterpreted. The Graphic Novel” by Gary Reed and Frazer Irving, and “I, Frankenstein” by Kevin Grevioux and Szymon Kudranski, which explores a futuristic and action-packed take on the classic narrative.

C. Literature

The influence of Frankenstein extends beyond its own narrative, as it has inspired countless literary works that engage with its themes. Contemporary authors have frequently drawn from Shelley’s novel to explore issues related to identity, ethics, and technology. For example, Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” uses elements of science fiction.

Furthermore, Jeanette Winterson’s “Frankissstein” (2019) is a metafictional exploration of the Frankenstein story. These adaptations and intertextual references to Frankenstein serve as a testament to the enduring relevance of the novel’s themes and ideas in contemporary literature.

D. Popular Culture and Video Games

Frankenstein has left its mark on popular culture and video games, where it has been adapted, parodied, and referenced in numerous ways. The character of the mad scientist and his creation has become a staple in horror and science fiction genres. The popular video game series “Bioshock” is a prime example of how Frankenstein’s themes are adapted and integrated into a new narrative, exploring the ethical dilemmas of genetic modification and the consequences of unchecked scientific experimentation.

IV. Conclusion: The Evergreen Relevance of “Frankenstein”

In conclusion, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” exemplifies the power of intertextuality and adaptation in shaping a literary masterpiece’s enduring legacy. The novel draws from a rich tapestry of literary, philosophical, and scientific sources, and its adaptability is evident through its countless incarnations in film, literature, graphic novels, and popular culture.

The enduring appeal of “Frankenstein” lies in its ability to address timeless themes, including the moral and ethical implications of scientific discovery, the consequences of human ambition, and the exploration of identity and societal rejection. Whether it’s through the lens of classic literature or in the context of modern adaptations, “Frankenstein” continues to provoke thought and reflection, ensuring that Mary Shelley’s creation remains a significant and influential work of literature that continues to inspire and captivate audiences across generations.

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