Frankenstein and the Spark of Being

How did Regency period ideas about science and electricity influence Mary Shelley's tale of an infamous creation. Frank A.J.L. James and J.V. Field explain.

The story of Frankenstein has now become a myth. That is, it has taken on a life of its own independent of Mary Shelley's text, and indeed even independent of certain parts of her narrative. Modern versions of the myth, from the film starring Boris Karloff (1931) to the television advertisements for the denationalisation of National Power (1990), show electricity being used to bring the monster to life.

The electricity comes from generators of a kind unknown at the time of the novel's first publication, in 1818. It is interesting to note that at the time of the Karloff film, as at that of the television advertisement, the question of electricity supply was an important matter of public debate. Thus in both cases the images from the myth were expressive of elements embedded in the general culture of the time.

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