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Paradise Through the Eyes of Frankenstein

“Paradise has been lost.” Frank Henenlotter’s 1990 film, a campy retooling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by the name of Frankenhooker (Wolf 344), tells the tale of a mad scientist who, in order to bring his wife back to life, decapitates, dismembers, and reassembles 42nd street hookers into the form of what he believes to be perfect woman (“Frankenhooker”). When his reanimated creature turns out to be much too contumacious to handle, he rapidly begins to lose his formerly steadfast grip on life. Unable to exculpate himself, he utters the aforementioned phrase. Those who have not had the opportunity to indulge themselves in the source material for Frankenstein most likely let the speaking of those four words pass without a second thought to what Henenlotter is paying an homage to. It is, however, very obvious to the knowledgeable few just how much meaning the quote holds. In the 1660s, a well-known poet by the name of John Milton came to the decision of how his name would hold merit for years to come. Milton wanted to do for the English epic what Homer, Virgil, and Dante had done for Greek, Latin, and Italian versions, respectively (“Paradise Lost”). With that in mind, John Milton wrote “Paradise Lost,” basing it off of the Genesis account of man’s creation and fall (Burris). When it comes to Shelley’s Frankenstein, Milton’s pre-Romanticism poetic work (Lynch) that used “things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme” (Milton I. 16) holds much merit when deciphering the true knowledge within Shelley’s timeless classic. For it is the intricate, but at the same time very parallel, characters in both works that make the lessons that they teach all that more significant.

The idea of a “noble savage” has been popular in literature for hundreds of years. This is especially true in the case of Romanticism, the era in which Mary Shelley took to the task of writing her much-revered Frankenstein novel (“Noble savage”). It just so happens that Shelley’s “favorite poetic work” (Gerson 170), “Paradise Lost,” takes full advantage of that character convention in its retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. Seeing the first of many similarities between Victor Frankenstein’s monster and the cast out Adam does not require much intuitiveness. Of the three literature translations that the creature of Frankenstein stumbles upon while seeking solace in a cottage, “Paradise Lost” just so happens to be one (Shelley 175-76). After having indulged himself in the other two enlightening works, Lives and Sorrows of Young Werter (176-77), the monster begins his journey through “Paradise Lost.” The monster readily admits to the epic poem “exciting different and far deeper emotions… moving every feeling of wonder and awe” (178). The creature goes on to find the similarities and in his mind, differences between himself and the story’s Adam.

Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from, beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. (178)

By the time the monster makes this statement, forces beyond its control have already tainted it. The obvious breakdown, though, does not impede on its ability to draw intricate links between himself and Adam. Both the creature and Adam are the product of a creator that made it and him unique: Victor Frankenstein and God respectively (178). Mary Shelley contributes to the character links not only with the story’s dialogue, but also by inserting the three line prose, “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mold me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?” (Milton X. 743-45) into the novel’s epigraph (Shelley 20). While no character in the novel speaks the snippet from “Paradise Lost” nor mentions it, it is not difficult to imagine these words — originally coming from the mouth of Adam — coming from the mouth of the creature.

Even in today’s enlightened world, great controversy still comes hand-in-hand with the idea of “playing God” (Rice-Oxley). In Frankenstein, scientist Victor Frankenstein does just that by becoming the creator of his very own creature. “Paradise Lost” sees much of the same happen on a much larger scale. In the epic, God is the creator of everything in the universe, including heaven, angels, and hell (“Paradise Lost”). The favorite of his creations, though, is man (Milton II. 350), which Satan yearns to corrupt. The correlation of the two stories allows for the drawing of comparisons between God and Victor. Both characters lose a creation of theirs to evil. God created Satan, just as Victor crafts the creature from corpses found in “vaults and charnel houses.” (Shelley 78). From its inception, the creature is looked down upon by Frankenstein (86), who soon sends it away for being a “vile insect!” (139). While Victor is solely to blame for the fate of himself and those around him based on his groundless actions, God losing grip on Satan is the fault of the latter individual’s vainglory. Satan leaves heaven not because of being banished but because he feels that his high position in the angel hierarchy makes him too important to bow to the Son (Milton I. 36-9). Once their creations have left, God and Victor Frankenstein both feel their wraths. The creature decides the best way to destroy Victor’s life is to fill him with guilt. The murders of William, Justine, and Clerval leave Victor “laying for two months on the point of death” (Shelley 240), and soon blaming himself for the death of his former acquaintances. Satan takes a different approach to hurt his creator. Not only does he turn many of God’s own angels against Him (“Sparknotes”), but Satan also manages to hit God even harder by using the serpent form to “pervert Eve” (Milton IX. 3) and have Adam eat from the forbidden tree (143). God is able to take losses such as these because his omnipotence allows him to punish (“Sparknotes”), but the creature’s revenge against his creator leads Victor to nothing short of madness (Shelley 240). While God only has his paradise tarnished, Victor has his destroyed.

“Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.” (Shelley 178). The creature speaks these words to Victor Frankenstein, bringing to light the reality that Shelley attributes the creature to more than the actions of a singular “Paradise Lost” character. The fallen angel in question is Satan, who became the ruler of Hell after falling from God’s kingdom. Victor’s first word to the monster, that being “Devil!” (139), echoes the sentiment that Satan is in part of the creature’s character. Another similarity can be found in the evil tendences of both. The creature tells Victor that he came to the decision that “Evil thenceforth would be my good” (288). This quote obviously derives from Satan’s “all Good to me is lost;/ Evil be thou my Good” (Milton IV 109-110) dialogue from “Paradise Lost.” Their paths to malevolence are different; but at the core they have a deep similarity. While Milton’s Satan becomes corrupted thanks to his foolish pride, and as a result feels the need to form a forceful opposition, the creature becomes truly corrupted thanks to the rejection brought on by the family in the cottage (Small 39). He tells Victor during their first real conversation that he “learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were, high and unsullied descent united with riches… without either, he was considered… a vagabond and slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few!” (Shelley 166). Thanks to mankind falling, Victor makes the creature the way he is. The big connection between Satan and the monster is that since Satan is the cause of men falling, which stems from “Paradise Lost,” the creature may just be a spawn of Satan. This explanation of the novel, one that Shelley may or may not have had in mind at the time of Frankenstein’s conception, brings many other character ties into play.

It goes without saying that the works of Milton, especially Paradise Lost, were fresh in Mary Shelley’s mind at the time of Frankenstein’s writing (Small 57). The character traits and conventions that Victor Frankenstein and his creature display parallel those of the God, Satan, and Adam of “Paradise Lost” in more ways than one. It is important for those who wade through these two epics to not just read what is in front of them but also to interpret and learn from the actions of the characters. After all, it is of every person’s desire to achieve his or her own paradise, whether that be in the present or the afterlife. If one ever does get that opportunity, surely the last thing he or she wants to wind up saying down the road is, “Paradise has been lost.”

Works Cited

Primary Source

Shelley, Mary. The Essential Frankenstein. New York: Plume, 1993

Secondary Sources

Burris, Skylar H. “Uxoriousness, Genesis, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.” Literature Classics. 1999. 31 May 2004. < http://www.literatureclassics.com/ancientpaths/effiminate.html >

Gerson, Noel B. Daughter of Earth and Water. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1973.

“Frankenhooker.” TV Guide. 31 May 2004. < http://www.tvguide.com/movies/database/ShowMovie.asp?MI=3D34100 >

Lynch, Jack. “Paradise Lost.” 31 May 2004. < http://www.english.upenn.edu/~jlynch/Frank/Contexts/pl.html >

Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” Renascence Editions. Dec. 1997. 31 May 2004. < http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/lost/lost.html >

“Noble Savage.” Wikipedia Enclyclopedia. 15 Mar 2004. 31 May 2004. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage >

“Paradise Lost.” Bookrags. 31 May 2004. < http://www.bookrags.com/guides/paradiselost/ >

Rice-Oxley, Mark. “Britain opens stem-cell bank.” Christian Science Monitor. 21 May 2004. 31 May 2004 < http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0521/p01s04-woeu.html >

Small, Christopher. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.

“Sparknotes Paradise Lost.” Sparknotes. 31 May 2004. < http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/paradiselost/summary.html >

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