Skip Navigation Bar
 
Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

The Spark of Life

A wood engraving of a tree stump that was struck by lightning. The Blasted Stump, 1984. Barry Moser (b.1940). Photographic reproductions of wood engravings from 'Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus'. Courtesy of Pennyroyal Press, 1984.
The Blasted Stump, 1984. Barry Moser (b.1940). Photographic reproductions of wood engravings from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Courtesy of Pennyroyal Press, 1984.

I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak . . . and so soon as the dazzling light vanished the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. . . . I eagerly inquired of my father the nature and origin of thunder and lightning. He replied, "Electricity."

Victor Frankenstein to Robert Walton
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818

In Mary Shelley's day, many people regarded the new science of electricity with both wonder and astonishment. In Frankenstein, Shelley used both the new sciences of chemistry and electricity and the older Renaissance tradition of the alchemists' search for the elixir of life to conjure up the Promethean possibility of reanimating the bodies of the dead.