The HyperTexts

Did Lord Bryon inspire Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein?
Is her book a warning about the dangers of creation and procreation?

by Michael R. Burch, editor of The HyperTexts

I believe the hero of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the so-called monster, just as the hero of Milton's epic Paradise Lost is the rebellious Lucifer/Satan. And for the same reason: the unjustness of their creators. Surely no one sympathizes with Dr. Frankenstein or Jehovah: all our sympathies are with their victims of their "creativity."

Also, I believe Mary Shelley was posing important questions in her now-famous novel: Do any of us have the right to "play god" by bringing new life into a world where we cannot guarantee the happiness of our creations? Do human beings have the right to reproduce?

In my opinion Mary Shelley wrote a probing philosophical book that may have been based on, or influenced by, Lord Byron's pessimistic view of his assumed Creator, the biblical "god" Jehovah. From what I have read on the subject, Percy Bysshe Shelley, an atheist, had to “talk down” Byron at times from black moods induced by his religion, Christianity, and its diabolical "god" who creates human beings with needs and desires, damns them for acting on the needs and desires he instilled, then predestines (predetermines) which ones will go to heaven and hell. This discovery led me to wonder whether Byron's dark view of his Creator may have inspired Mary Shelley's fiendish doctor. After all, she and Percy were houseguests of Byron when she came up with the story.

But in any case Victor Frankenstein pales in comparison to Jehovah, who condemned all his creations to suffer and die, destroyed all but a handful in the Great Flood, then serial murdered babies and animals in the Plagues of Egypt, and so onto this day, if modern prophets like Pat Robertson are to be believed. Anyone who claims Jehovah was "good" has not read what the Bible actually says, in my opinion, or has not read it honestly. The biblical god was not remotely good, praiseworthy or trustworthy. Even the greatest Christian poets have struggled with the undeniable fact that no one can possibly love or trust Jehovah as he is portrayed in the Bible. After all, he murdered Adam, Eve and everyone we ever loved, including our pets! Consequently, the greatest Christian poets seemed to have little or nothing to do with the dubious "gods" of the Bible. In evidence:
Dante turned for salvation to the woman he loved, Beatrice, and the pagan poet Virgil, not Jehovah or Christ. Those are very curious choices for someone who has been called the greatest of all Christian poets!

• John Milton intended to “justify the ways of God to man,” but only managed to make Jehovah seem like a heartless tyrant and Christ like a blitzkrieging Rommel, while turning Adam, Eve and Lucifer into romantic heroes for the ages. Milton gave the "atonement" one enjambed line in his massive epic, as if the idea might have embarrassed him. Or perhaps he didn't believe in the "atonement" himself but thought he couldn't leave it out entirely. Does any educated human being want to believe in primitive, bloodthirsty gods, much less admit it in public? No wonder Milton rushed through that bit of spin, if he considered it impossible or dangerous to leave out.

William Blake, probably the English language's most spiritual major poet, called the biblical god “Nobodaddy” because no one would want him for a father. Blake also claimed to be his own Christ and denied that he needed anyone to "save" him.

Walt Whitman, the father of American poetry who created modern free verse by going back to the cadences of the King James Bible, also claimed to be his own Christ. He saw all earthly religions as equals but had no use for any of them himself.

Emily Dickinson, the mother of American poetry and perhaps its most spiritual poet along with Whitman, compared Jehovah to a burglar and a banker. Dickinson entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1847. At the time Holyoke classified its students into three categories: "established Christians," those who "expressed hope" and those "without hope." Dickinson was a "no hoper." In one of her most powerful poems, Dickinson wrote that after groping for answers "from Blank to Blank" she shut her eyes and discovered "'Twas lighter—to be Blind" (not exactly an endorsement of Jehovah, Christ, the Bible or the Christian religion).
Dante, Milton, Blake, Whitman and Dickinson have each been called a "sect of one." These are the major "Christian" poets, and yet no one can find a hint of orthodoxy in their poems. Where do they praise Jehovah for creating them? Where do they praise Christ for saving them? And Byron had an even darker vision of Jehovah. Did Byron see himself as a monster, the victim of an unjust Creator? He was born deformed with a club foot—was that his fault, or God's? If the rumors are true that Byron committed incest, who created such desires in his loins—was the fault his, or God's?

Blake posed similar questions in his companion poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger": What is the nature of a Creator who creates innocent, defenseless lambs, but also savage predators who will rip lambs to shreds without an ounce of pity? Is the tiger responsible for its savage nature? If not, who is? What is the nature of such a Creator, what are his intentions toward us, and why should we trust him?

While I admit that my theory is speculative, I believe it makes sense:

Mary and Percy Shelley were houseguests of Lord Byron at the time Frankenstein was conceived.
Byron had a clubfoot and a "monstrous" reputation that included accusations of incest.
Percy Shelley was aware of Byron's dark views of his Creator and sometimes "talked him down" during his black moods.
Byron challenged his houseguests to enter into a ghost-story-telling competition.
Did Mary Shelley make Byron the model for her story's protagonist?

In any case, I take Mary Shelley's book to raise the question: “Does anyone have the right to bring new life into such a dark, dangerous world?” That question might be asked not only of human scientists, but also of prospective parents and the Creator himself, if such a being exists.

The HyperTexts