A strand of vermicelli: Dr Darwin's part in the creation of Frankenstein's monster

Christopher U.M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although much has been written about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the part played by Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) has been almost entirely neglected. This is odd as, apart from some ghost stories, Dr Darwin is the one influence mentioned in both the 1816 and 1831 prefaces to the book. The present contribution aims to redress that omission. It aims to show that Darwin's ideas about spontaneous generation, his anti-establishment ideas, and his literary genius played a significant role in forming the 'dark and shapeless substance' surging in Mary Shelley's mind during the summer of 1816 and from which her tale of Gothic horror emerged. It is, however, ultimately ironic that Frankenstein, which warns against a too enthusiastic use of scientific knowledge, should have been partly inspired by one of the most optimistically forward-looking of all late eighteenth-century thinkers. © 2007 Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-53
Number of pages9
JournalInterdisciplinary Science Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • Mary Shelley
  • Frankenstein
  • Erasmus Darwin
  • spontaneous generation
  • gothic horror


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