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The Modern Prometheus – Archetypal Image of Human Existence

Mary Shelley’s mother was dead of purpural fever by the time Mary was just 9 days old. As a little girl, Mary could only read texts and listen to recollections about the fascinating warmth of this beautiful and brilliant woman who had herself suffered loss, depression and privation in her life. Mary became quietly and deeply devoted to her mother’s memory. Her feelings of loss and anger towards her stepmother would lead to rebellion.


Before the age of 20, Mary Shelley had run away. While estranged from her family she wrote Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus. She retells the Promethean myth, a mythical tale of recurrent human suffering. Prometheus was tortured and hounded throughout his existence, as was the creature in Frankenstein. Mary had her own reasons for telling this story - she felt that those around her, and she herself, could easily reflect such profound suffering.


Frankenstein is an uncanny tale of re-creation, love, betrayal and science... written by a brilliant young woman. The relationship between Mary and her Creature is a tender one. She describes how a creature... a man... is created, then betrayed and abandoned by his maker. The empathy for one who is born innocent, and must find a way through a cruel world, is felt on every page. As the novel nears completion Mary’s suffering would increase... the death of her little son and the suicide of her sister on top of privation and estrangement from her family.


Inside the bottle are three white cotton strips torn from an old bed sheet. Written on the threadbare cotton are the first words the creature speaks to his creator:
It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half-frightened, as it were instinctively, finding myself so desolate. Before I had quitted your apartment, on a sensation of cold, I had covered myself with some clothes; but these were insufficient to secure me from the dews of night. I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.


The glass bottle-locket references 19th century mourning lockets. A plain steel pen nib brings Mary the writer back to life. Encased in a little bronze frame is a fragment of 19th century glass lantern slide. Used as a projection to teach science to early audiences, it depicts the beginnings of creation...of life on early form of sea life. It is possible that such presentations helped to inspire Mary in her dark tale of creation.


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