In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, why does the author include references to Paradise Lost and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

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The novel Frankenstein is an shockingly complex work--especially considering that the author, Mary Shelley, was only 18 years old when she began writing it. Published in 1818, this gothic novel calls into question man's never-ending quest for knowledge, the idea of nature versus nurture, and ultimately asks the question, "who is the true monster of the story?"

The name "Frankenstein" itself was taken by Shelley during her trip through Europe in 1814. She came across Frankenstein Castle in Germany, where an alchemist allegedly performed experiments. It is no coincidence that the science Victor Frankenstein studies in Shelley's novel is alchemy. 

Shelley engaged in a horror story writing competition with Percy Shelley (a poet and her future husband), Lord Byron (a poet), and John Polidori (creator of the vampire genre). It comes as no surprise that someone who surrounded herself with so many prolific writers would also become an incredible author. 

The novel itself falls into three significant categories: gothic fiction, romantic fiction, and science fiction. It is considered one of the most famous gothic novels of all time, and is considered one of the first science fiction novels. Frankenstein also helped to create and shape the horror genre.

Although Frankenstein was originally intended to be a short story, Percy Shelley encouraged Mary to extend it to become a full novel. It is likely through the act of extension that Mary Shelley was able to include references to works such as "Paradise Lost" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

The monster himself actually reads Paradise Lost while he is hiding away in the DeLacey's house, which he describes in chapter 15. The reading of this book likely helped him to understand the evil in the world, and contributed to his knowledge of the unfairness of his situation and his desire to seek vengeance on Frankenstein in the same way that Satan and his conspirators seek vengeance on God.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is referenced in letter 2 when Walton claims that he will not kill any albatross. This relates to the poem, where a man kills an albatross and is haunted thereafter because of that action.

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Shelley used this allusion to the three works to illustrate the themes that she is trying to bring forward. Instead of just saying "this is a story about a scientist creating a monster" she brings Paradise Lost, for example, to demonstrate that the themes are closely connected. In Paradise Lost, for example, the figure of Adam shares two things with the Monster 1. They did not ask to be created   b. They either fell from or never got to enjoy Grace.

"Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay 
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee 
From darkness to promote me?" 

"Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed." 

In the case of the Ancient Mariner,  the character of Walton might be the closest one to the story, as he is an explorer, and the allusion here would be:

I am going to unexplored regions, to 'the land of mist and snow,' but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the Ancient Mariner"

In all, Shelley is using the technique of allusion, or quoting another story, to nest inside the main story and explain both the topics and the background of the characters.


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