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”).