There are numerous references to authors, literary works and other (mythological) figures in Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. On this page, you will find which literary works and authors are referred to, where in the text they refer to as well as some information about those writings and authors. The references are listed in alphabetical order (excluding articles).
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- The Arabian who had been buried with the dead from the "Fourth Voyage of Sinbad" in The Arabian Nights
Sinbad is given a beautiful wife as a present by a friendly king. He later discovers that in that particular country it is custom to be buried along with your dead spouse. Soon after Sinbad discovers this, his wife dies. So Sinbad is "buried" with his wife in a cave. However, he is able to see a small spot of light by which he eventually is able to escape from the cave.
Mary refers to the Arabian in Chapter IV of Frankenstein.
- Arthur, King(earliest reference ca. 600)
The figure of King Arthur appears in a group of tales, known as the Arthurian Legend , group of tales that developed in the Middle Ages. Their main subject being Arthur, the semihistorical king of the Britons, and his knights. The legend is a complex weaving of ancient Celtic mythology with later traditions around a core of possible historical facts.
Although the earliest references to King Arthur are found in Welsh sources, the earliest continuous Arthurian narrative is in the Historia Regum Britanniae (ca. 1139) by the English writer Geoffrey of Monmouth. In this narrative, Arthur is identified as the son of the British king Uther Pendragon, and his counsellor Merlin is introduced. The Historia also mentions the isle of Avalon, where Arthur went to recover from wounds after his last battle, and it tells of Arthur's wife Guinevere's infidelity and the rebellion instigated by Arthur's nephew Mordred. All later developments of the Arthurian legend are based on this work by Monmouth.
Thus, the first English Arthurian story is in the poet Layamon's Roman de Brut (1205), an English version of Geoffrey's Historia. Arthur is depicted as a warrior on an epic scale; and the story of his magic sword Excalibur, which only he could extract from a rock, is included for the first time.
An Arthurian tradition also developed in Europe, probably based on stories handed down from the Celts who immigrated to Brittany in the 5th and 6th centuries. By 1100 Arthurian romances were known as far away as Italy. Inspired by chivalry and courtly love, they are more concerned with the exploits of Arthur's knights than with Arthur himself.
A reference to the King Arthur is made in Chapter 2
- Byron, George Gordon Noel (a.k.a. Lord Byron) (1788-1824)Lord Byron was one of the most important and versatile writers of the romantic movement.
The publication in 1812 of the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a poem narrating travels in Europe, brought Byron fame.
Rumours about his incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta and doubts about his sanity led to his being ostracized by society. Deeply embittered, Byron left England in 1816 and never returned.
For two years Byron travelled around Italy, settling in Pisa in 1821. He wrote the verse dramas Cain and Sardanapalus and the narrative poems Mazeppa and The Island during these years.
In 1822, with the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt, he started at Pisa a journal called The Liberal, but Shelley's death that year and a quarrel with Hunt put an end to this venture after only three issues had been printed. Don Juan, a mock epic in 16 cantos, encompasses a brilliant satire on contemporary English society. Often regarded as Byron's greatest work, it was completed in 1823.
Byron is mentioned several times in the Introduction to Frankenstein.
- Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (canto 1 and 2: 1812, canto 3: 1816, canto 4: 1818) by George Gordon Noel Byron (a.k.a. Lord Byron)
Childe Harold is a travelogue written by a melancholy, passionate and eloquent tourist. Byron wrote the first two canto's of this poem on his travels trough Spain, Portugal, Albania an Greece. Four years later, Byron took up Childe Harold again. He added the third canto relating his travels through Belgium, Switzerland and the Alps. In the fourth canto, published in 1818, Byron describes the monuments and cities of Italy.
The hero of the poem, Childe (an ancient term for a young noble awaiting knighthood) Harold, was the first example of what came to be known as the Byronic hero, the young man of stormy emotions who shuns humanity and wanders through life weighed down by a sense of guilt for mysterious sins of his past.
In the Introduction, Mary Shelley mentions Byron writing Childe Harold's third canto during their stay in Switzerland.
- Darwin, Erasmus (a.k.a. Dr. Darwin) (1731 - 1802)
Although not quite as famous as his grandson the evolutionist Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin was one of the most distinguished scientists of his age. His most famous works include The Zoonomia and The Temple of Nature.
He was a frequent visitor to the Godwin household. Although in the Preface to Frankenstein Mary Shelley states that "the event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin ( . . . ), as not of impossible occurrence", this is not entirely correct. Some comments Darwin made in an article entitled "Spontaneous Vitality of Microscopic Animals" have probably been remembered wrong by Byron and Shelley.
- Hamlet (ca. 1601) by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's most famous play is part of the third period which includes his greatest tragedies and his so-called dark or bitter comedies. The tragedies of this period are the most profound of his works and those in which his poetic idiom became an extremely supple dramatic instrument capable of recording the passage of human thought and the many dimensions of given dramatic situations.
Hamlet goes far beyond other tragedies of revenge in picturing the mingled sordidness and glory of the human condition. Hamlet feels that he is living in a world of horror; confirmed in this feeling by the murder of his father and the sensuality of his mother, he presents a pattern of crippling indecision and precipitous action. The interpretation of his motivation and ambivalence continues to be the subject of considerable controversy.
In the Introduction, Mary Shelley refers to the ghost of Hamlet": the ghost of Hamlet's father who lets Hamlet know that his death was part of a conspiracy.
- Heroes of Roncesvalles
Heroes of Roncesvalles is a reference to the earliest French epic "Song of Roland", dated about 1100. Roland is a heroic knight in the army of Frankish king Charlemagne. He gives Roland a horn which only he can sound. The sound coming from the horn is so intense that people cry out from the pain in their ears.
When the king has to return home, he leaves Roland with only a few men to hold the pass at Roncesvalles. Soon, they are attacked by an army of Saracens; they try to fight back but almost immediately find themselves in a losing position. Comrades urge Roland to sound his horn, but he heroically refuses. As the knights around Roland are struck and even Roland himself lay dying, he decides to sound his horn. The king returns but he is too late to help his knights.
The reference to Roland is made in Chapter II of Frankenstein.
- Homer (supposedly 9th century BC)
Homer is the name traditionally assigned to the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two major epics of Greek antiquity. Nothing is known of Homer as an individual. In fact, the question of whether a single person can be said to be responsible for the creation of the two epics is highly controversial, hence the "homeric question": by whom, how, and when were the Iliad and Odyssey composed? Linguistic and historical evidence, however, allows the supposition that the poems were composed in the Greek settlements on the west coast of Asia Minor sometime in the 9th century BC.
A reference to Homer is made in Robert Walton's first letter to his sister.
- Iliad by Homer (supposedly dated 9th century BC)This epic is written in impersonal, elevated, formal verse, employing language that was never used for ordinary discourse.
The Iliad deals with a legendary event that was believed to have occurred many centuries before its composition. It is set in the final year of the Trojan War(12th century BC), which forms the background for its central plot, the story of the wrath of the Greek hero Achilles.
Insulted by his commander in chief Agamemnon, the young warrior Achilles withdraws from the war, leaving his fellow Greeks to suffer terrible defeats at the hands of the Trojans. Achilles rejects the Greeks' attempts at reconciliation, but he finally relents to some extent, allowing his companion Patroclus to lead his troops in his place. Patroclus is slain, and Achilles, filled with fury and remorse, turns his wrath against the Trojans, whose leader, Hector (son of King Priam), he kills in single combat. The poem closes as Achilles surrenders the corpse of Hector to Priam for burial, recognising a certain kinship with the Trojan king as they both face the tragedies of mortality and bereavement.
The reference to the Iliad appears in the Preface to Frankenstein.
- Magnus, Albertus (aka Albert the Great) (1200-1280)
Magnus was widely known as doctor universalis for his wide interest in natural science. He was especially noted for his introduction of Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to the medieval world.
Born in Lauingen, Bavaria (Germany), to a noble military family, Magnus became a master of theology in 1245 and subsequently held one of the Dominican chairs of theology. Among his early students was Thomas Aquinas. Albert was an influential teacher, church administrator, and preacher.
Magnus had, on his journeys, shown an intense interest in natural phenomena , and he seized on Aristotle's scientific writings. He examined them, commented on them, and occasionally contradicted them on the evidence of his own careful observations. He produced essentially new works and, according to the English philosopher Roger Bacon, held much the same authority in his time as did Aristotle himself.
Albert died at Cologne on November 15, 1280. He was beatified in 1622 and declared a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1931, at which time he was acclaimed an official Doctor of the Church. In 1941 Pope Pius XII made him the patron of all who study the natural sciences.
In the section Literary works of Frankenstein on the Links-page, there is a link to more information about the Albert the Great.
Albertus Magnus is referred to in Chapters II and III of Frankenstein.
- Mazeppa (1821-22?)by George Gordon Noel Byron (a.k.a. Lord Byron)
Byron wrote this poem during his years in Pisa. As he was joined there by Percy and Mary Shelley, it is hardly surprising that Mazeppa should be mentioned in the Introduction to Frankenstein.
Mazeppa is a narrative poem that is at this point unfortunately not available online.
- Midsummer Night's Dream, A (ca. 1595) by William ShakespeareThis play was written is Shakespeare so-called second period which includes historical plays as well as comedies.
The comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream almost reads like a tale of fantasy. Several plots are interwoven: two pairs of noble lovers, a group of bumbling and unconsciously comic townspeople, and members of the fairy realm, notably Puck, King Oberon, and Queen Titania.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is referred to in the Preface to Frankenstein.
- Milton, John (1608-1674)
Milton, the author of the famous Paradise Lost, was an English poet who was known for his rich and dense verse. He was a powerful influence on succeeding English poets, and his prose was devoted to the defence of civil and religious liberty. After Shakespeare, Milton is often regarded as the greatest English poet.
John Milton's work is often centred around themes of lofty religious idealism and the cosmic. It reveals an astonishing breadth of learning and command of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew classics. His blank verse is remarkably varied and rich, so skilfully modulated and flexible that it has been compared to organ tones.
Milton is referred to in the Preface to Frankenstein.
- Mutability (ca. 1814-15) by Percy Bysshe Shelley
The last two stanza's this poem appear in Frankenstein when Victor has returned home after receiving the news of his brother death. He knows that the monster is responsible for the murder and consequently blames himself for creating it. He has left the house and starts wandering. He climbs a mountain and is for a short while dumb founded by the view and the magnificent surroundings.
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon:
How relentlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!-- yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost forever:
Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mod or modulation like the last.
We rest.-- A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.-- One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:
It is the same!-- For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.
- Newton, Sir Isaac (1643-1727)
Newton was an English mathematician and physicist; he is considered one of the greatest scientists in history, who made important contributions to many fields of science. His discoveries and theories laid the foundation for much of the progress in science since his time. Newton was one of the inventors of the branch of mathematics called calculus. He also solved the mysteries of light and optics, formulated the three laws of motion, and derived from them the law of universal gravitation.
In 1665, Newton received his bachelor's degree from Cambridge University. Newton ignored much of the established curriculum of the university to pursue his own interests: mathematics and natural philosophy. Proceeding entirely on his own, he investigated the latest developments in mathematics and the new natural philosophy that treated nature as a complicated machine. Almost immediately, he made fundamental discoveries that were instrumental in his career in science.
Sir Isaac Newton is referred to in Chapter II of Frankenstein.
- Paracelsus (aka Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) (1493-1541)
Paracelsus was a German physician and chemist who claimed diseases are caused by agents that were external to the body and that they could be countered by chemical substances. He defied the belief of the so-called Scolastics, that diseases were caused by an imbalance of bodily "humors" or fluids, and that they would be cured by bloodletting and purging.
Paracelsus devised mineral remedies with which he thought the body could defend itself. He identified the characteristics of numerous diseases, such as goiter and syphilis, and used ingredients such as sulphur and mercury compounds to counter them. Many of his remedies were based on the belief that "like cures like," and in this respect he was a precursor of homeopathy. Although the writings of Paracelsus contained elements of magic, his revolt against ancient medical precepts freed medical thinking, enabling it to take a more scientific course.
Shelley refers to Paracelsus on two occasions, namely in Chapter II (twice) and Chapter III (twice).
- Peeping Tom of Coventry (1307) originally by Matthew of Westminster
This original peeping Tom is part of the Lady Godiva fable, first recorded by Matthew of Westminster in 1307.
Lady Godiva's husband, the Lord of Coventry, imposed some very severe imposts on the people of Coventry, which Godiva tried to get mitigated. The Lord, wanting to silence her, said he would only comply when she would ride naked from one end of the town to the other. Godiva took him at his word, rode through the town naked and her husband had to remit the imposts.
Before Godiva started her ride through town, all the inhabitants voluntarily confined themselves to their houses, and resolved that anyone who stirred abroad should be put to death. A tailor could not contain himself and had a peep, but was rewarded with the loss of his eyes, and has ever since been called Peeping Tom of Coventry. There is still a figure in a house at Coventry said to represent Peeping Tom.
Mary Shelley refers to Tom of Coventry in the Introduction to Frankenstein.
- Romeo and Juliet (ca. 1595) by William Shakespeare
This famous tragedy relates the story of two ill-fated lovers, victimised by the feud that separates their families: the Montagues and Capulets.
Mary Shelley refers to Romeo and Juliet in the Introduction to Frankenstein, when she discusses Polidori's attempts at creating a ghost story. Apparently, he did not know where to go with his creation ("a skull-headed lady") that he had to kill her: "[he] was obliged to despatch her to the tomb of the Capulets".
- Round Table, Knights of the (earliest reference ca. 600)
In order to avoid problems of precedence among his knights, legendary King Arthur held his gatherings around a round table. Everyone would be equal as there was no one person sitting at the head of the table.
A reference to the Round Table is made in Chapter 2.
- Shakespeare, William (1564-1616)The third of eight children, William was the eldest son of John Shakespeare, a locally prominent merchant, and Mary Arden, daughter of a Roman Catholic member of the landed gentry.
In 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer. He is supposed to have left Stratford after he was caught poaching in the deer park of Sir Thomas Lucy, a local justice of the peace. Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway produced a daughter in 1583 and twins-a boy and a girl-in 1585. The boy did not survive. Shakespeare apparently arrived in London about 1588 and by 1592 had attained success as an actor and a playwright.
Shakespeare's modern reputation is based mainly on the 38 plays that he apparently wrote, modified, or collaborated on. Although generally popular in his day, these plays were frequently little esteemed by his educated contemporaries, who considered English plays of their own day to be only vulgar entertainment.
His plays were given special presentation at the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I more frequently than those of any other contemporary dramatists. It is known that he risked losing royal favour only once, in 1599, when his company performed "the play of the deposing and killing of King Richard II" at the request of a group of conspirators against Elizabeth.
Shakespeare is referred to in the Preface to Frankenstein as well as in the first letter of Robert Walton.
- Tempest, The (ca. 1610) by William ShakespeareShakespeare wrote this play around 1610, the period of the romances or tragicomedies. These plays often suggest redemptive hope for the human condition. They often end happily with a reunion or final reconciliation because of an intervention of magic, art, compassion or grace.
The Tempest suggests the beneficial effects of the union of wisdom and power. In this play a duke, who is deprived of his title and is banished to an island, confounds his usurping brother by employing magical powers and furthering a love match between his daughter and the usurper's son.
The Tempest is referred to in the Preface to Frankenstein.
- Vicar of Wakefield, The (1766) by Oliver Goldsmith
The plot is centred around the loveable figure of Dr. Primrose. He lives a perfectly happy life together with his family until abduction, impoverishment and betrayal threaten to destroy their happiness.
In Chapter V, Mary Shelley quotes from remarks made by the arrogant principal in Vicar of Wakefield: " 'You see me, young man, I never learned Greek, and I don't find that I have ever missed it. I have had a doctor's cap and gown without Greek; I have ten thousand florins a year without Greek; I eat heartily without Greek; and, in short,'continues he, 'as I don't know Greek, I do not believe there is any good in it.' "
- Wordsworth, William (1770-1850)
Wordsworth was one of the most accomplished and influential of England's romantic poets, whose theories and style created a new tradition in poetry.
Although Wordsworth had begun to write poetry while still a schoolboy, none of his poems was published until 1793, when An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches appeared. These works, although fresh and original in content, reflect the influence of the formal style of 18th-century English poetry. The poems received little notice, and few copies were sold.
William had met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an enthusiastic admirer of his early poetic efforts, resulting in a close and enduring friendship between the poets. In the ensuing period they collaborated on a book of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads, first published in 1798. This work is generally taken to mark the beginning of the romantic movement in English poetry. Wordsworth wrote almost all the poems in the volume, including the memorable “Tintern Abbey”; Coleridge contributed the famous “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Much of Wordsworth's easy flow of conversational blank verse has true lyrical power and grace, and his finest work is permeated by a sense of the human relationship to external nature that is religious in its scope and intensity. To Wordsworth, God was everywhere manifest in the harmony of nature, and he felt deeply the kinship between nature and the soul of humankind.
The tide of critical opinion turned in his favour after 1820, and Wordsworth lived to see his work universally praised. In 1842 he was awarded a government pension, and in the following year he succeeded Southey as poet laureate.
- Encarta '95. CD-ROM. United States of America: Microsoft Corporation, 1994.
- Abrams, M.H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1993.
- Cobham Brewer, E. "The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable." (January 1997). Online. Internet. 25 Oct. 1999. Available URL: http://www.bibliomania.com/Reference/PhraseAndFable/data/955.html
1 Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Mutability," The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. M.H. Abrams, 6th ed., vol. 2 (New York: Norton, 1993) 491.