Page 28. " these were 'old familiar faces;' but I believed myself totally unfitted for the company of strangers "

   The Old Familiar Faces was a popular verse composed in the late 1790's by English essayist and sentimental poet Charles Lamb (1775-1834), an acquaintance of the Shelleys.

Reading by Tom O'Bedlam:

From the Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900 (ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1919):

I HAVE had playmates, I have had companions, 
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days— 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 
I have been laughing, I have been carousing, 
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies—         5
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 
I loved a Love once, fairest among women: 
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her— 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 
I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man:  10
Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly; 
Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces. 
Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood, 
Earth seem'd a desert I was bound to traverse, 
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.  15
Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother, 
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling? 
So might we talk of the old familiar faces— 
How some they have died, and some they have left me, 
And some are taken from me; all are departed—  20
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
Page 35. " I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead, and found a passage to life "

   A reference to one of Sinbad the Sailor's more gruesome adventures from the well-known Arabian Nights cycle - buried alive in a cavern of rotting corpses, in accordance with the arcane marriage laws of an otherwise idyllic island, he survives by murdering his fellow prisoners for their provisions.

Online edition of 'One Thousand and One Nights', based on the translation by Richard Burton, (1882)

Page 38. " I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing "

   Despite Frankenstein's refusal to explain in detail his life-giving discoveries, for fear of their catastrophic results being repeated, they have become inextricably linked to the contemporary electrical experiments of Italian scientist Luigi Galvani (1737-1798).  Shelley herself identifies them in her introduction to the 1831 edition as among the topics of conversation at Byron's villa (See note to page 3).  Galvani demonstrated that an electric charge could be used to animate a disembodied frog's leg, theorising the existence of a motivating 'animal electricity' produced by the muscles themselves.  While this was swiftly disproven his research heralded the very real science of electrophysiology, and inspired a popular fascination with the possibility of returning dead tissues to at least a semblance of life. 

   This lust for spectacle was more than satisfied by his nephew Giovanni Aldini's public demonstrations with the reanimation of both animal and human body parts.  The most famous of these was presented to London's Royal College of Surgeons in 1803 when the freshly hung body of murderer George Forster was made to grimace, blink, breathe, and convulse its limbs through the application of conducting rods attached to a powerful battery.  Some observers reputedly believed that with enough electric current a dead body might actually return to life (a myth still perpetuated by televised medical dramas).  Despite there being no explicit mention of galvanism in this edition of the novel (See note to page 24), the popular connection between Frankenstein's experiment and electricity was cemented for all time by James Whale's famous 1931 film adaptation.


Online edition of The Newgate Calendar (1803), monthly bulletin of executions reporting Forster's postmortem electrocution and fearful credulity of uneducated observers

Page 39. " now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart "

   Although the French Revolution is conspicuously absent from Frankenstein's narrative, it roughly spanned the 1790s when several literary references place the novel (See note to page 95), and was fresh in the memory of a Europe still reeling from its impact in Mary Shelley's time.  In its early stages the Revolution was an ideological touchstone for radical observers, including Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge (See note to page 10), who saw established power as outdated and corrupt.  For many however, breathless excitement gave way to horror at the frenzied executions of the 'Reign of Terror' and warmongering expansion of a new, militarised French Empire.  Mary Shelley, who had seen firsthand the devastation left by the Napoleonic Wars on her trips to several European nations, shared the ambiguity of her peers towards an event which they felt, despite the "bloodshed and injustice with which it was polluted...produced enduring benefits to mankind"

Historical overview at the Encyclopædia Britannica

Analysis of how the French Revolution affected British politics by Mark Philp, (2009)

Online edition of 'History of a Six Weeks' Tour', Mary and Percy Shelley, (1817)

Page 39. " I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! "

   The physical appearance of Frankenstein's 'monster' is at the heart of the novel, the fear and disgust it inspires in others being the main reason he becomes a monster at all.  A fairly complete picture can be assembled from  Frankenstein's descriptive glimpses but, as he discovers, it is only the sight of these elements combined in a living, moving being which renders them insupportably hideous.  Artists, playwrights and filmmakers have produced a wide variety of depictions over the years, some more faithful to the novel than others, but all sacrificing one of its central ambiguities: the reader can never directly observe the creature's monstrosity, only the prejudice it provokes in others.



Page 40. " when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived "

   A reference to Dante Alighieri's epic 14th-century poem The Divine Comedy - an allegory of medieval Christian philosophy, represented by Dante's own imagined journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven in the poem's three parts.  This passage refers to the first and most famous, Dante's Inferno, which draws on both Biblical scripture and classical myth to vividly depict the monstrous wardens of Hell and the graphic torments visited on its inmates.  Besides the complex political and religious subtext it contains, Dante's work has long functioned in popular culture mainly as a ready source of macabre imagery.


Online edition of Dante Alighieri's 'Divine Comedy' as translated by Rev. HF Cary, M.A., (1805)

Page 41. " Like one who, on a lonely road, Doth walk in fear and dread "

   A slightly misquoted passage from Part VI of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (See note to page 10), in which the isolated seafarer is surrounded by the supernaturally reanimated corpses of his shipmates. 

Online edition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', (D. Appleton & Co., 1866)

Page 41. " the same as that of the Dutch school-master in The Vicar of Wakefield "

   A reference to the passage in a popular sentimental novel of late 18th-century England in which the titular Vicar's son George is denied a teaching post by the principal of a university.   A further example of Clerval's oddly British taste in literature (See note to page 21).

Online edition of Oliver Goldsmith's 'The Vicar of Wakefield', (1766)

Page 46. " for the same reason that Ariosto gives concerning the beauty of Angelica "

   Frankenstein compares Justine's beauty to that of the lovely princess Angelica, who is desired by many noble knights in Ariosto's chivalric romance Orlando Furioso, including the 'furiously' lovesick Orlando himself (See note to page 21).  The comparison is more apt than he knows - at one point in Ariosto's epic the innocent maiden finds herself offered up to a hideous monster as a sacrifice, in place of the selfish villagers who have enraged it.

Online edition of Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso' as translated and abridged by John Hoole (1791)