I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—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 mechanism of the Creator of the world.
Taken from Mary Shelley’s Author’s Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, this quote describes the vision that inspired the novel and the prototypes for Victor and the monster. Shelley’s image evokes some of the key themes, such as the utter unnaturalness of the monster (“an uneasy, half-vital motion”), the relationship between creator and created (“kneeling beside the thing he had put together”), and the dangerous consequences of misused knowledge (“supremely frightful would be the effect of . . . mock[ing] . . . the Creator”).
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?
These lines appear on the title page of the novel and come from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, when Adam bemoans his fallen condition (Book X, 743–745). The monster conceives of himself as a tragic figure, comparing himself to both Adam and Satan. Like Adam, he is shunned by his creator, though he strives to be good. These rhetorical questions epitomize the monster’s ill will toward Victor for abandoning him in a world relentlessly hostile to him and foist responsibility for his ugliness and eventual evil upon Victor.
This quote comes from Walton’s first letter to his sister in England. It encapsulates one of the main themes of Frankenstein—that of light as a symbol of knowledge and discovery. Walton’s quest to reach the northernmost part of the earth is similar in spirit to Victor’s quest for the secret of life: both seek ultimate knowledge, and both sacrifice the comfort of the realm of known knowledge in their respective pursuits. Additionally, the beauty and simplicity of the phrasing epitomize the eighteenth-century scientific rationalists’ optimism about, and trust in, knowledge as a pure good.
So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.
Victor utters these words in Chapter 3 as he relates to Walton how his chemistry professor, M. Waldman, ignited in him an irrepressible desire to gain knowledge of the secret of life. Victor’s reference to himself in the third person illustrates his sense of fatalism—he is driven by his passion, unable to control it. Further, the glorious, assertive quality of his statement foreshadows the fact that Victor’s passion will not be tempered by any consideration of the possible horrific consequences of his search for knowledge. Additionally, this declaration furthers the parallel between Walton’s spatial explorations and Frankenstein’s forays into unknown knowledge, as both men seek to “pioneer a new way,” to make progress beyond established limits.
I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.
In Walton’s final letter to his sister, he recounts the words that the monster speaks to him over Victor’s dead body. This eruption of angry self-pity as the monster questions the injustice of how he has been treated compellingly captures his inner life, giving Walton and the reader a glimpse into the suffering that has motivated his crimes. This line also evokes the motif of abortion: the monster is an unwanted life, a creation abandoned and shunned by his creator.