Paradise Lost
Sleep on
Blest pair; and O yet happiest if ye seek
No happier state, and know to know no more.
Paradise Lost, IV, 774-776

Know to know no more. As with many stories, poems, and novels, we as readers may find ourselves pondering the "moral of the tale." We may ask ourselves: what advice is the author trying to give us by telling us his/her tale? John Milton uses his version of a creation story, Paradise Lost, to deliver such a message. The influence of Milton's poem runs rampant throughout the entire corpus of Shelley's novel, through both direct reference, as well as simply sharing common threads.

One of the most telling instances of the influence of Milton upon Shelley, is in the midst of our novel, when Victor and the creature are reunited atop Mont Blanc. Within the very beginning of the conversation between the two the creature tells Victor: "I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam." (Shelley, 66) This statement becomes especially poignant when the creature tells the tale of his life after having been abandoned by Victor up until this point. We learn of his manner of self-education. Paradise Lost is among the books that he reads, and describes it as having "excited different and far deeper emotions [within him]." (Shelley, 87) The creature draws parallels between his existence and the story told in the poem, as well as contrasting his life with the poem. To be able to further understand the significance of Milton's poem, we must look at the story itself.


Adam and Eve
Paradise Lost, Book V

  When we first meet Adam and Eve they have been given a limited knowledge. They are in a blissful state of naiveté. They are nude and are not ashamed. As the first man and woman they have been given control of all the creatures of the earth. They know not of temptation, as they have been given all that they need. However, as the tale progresses we find our characters begin to submit to curiosity. In a dream Eve is whispered to by Satan the bounty of a forbidden tree. A tree which bears the fruit that they have been warned to not eat.


When visited by the angel Raphael, Adam is full of questions. He desires to know more. Raphael tells him of the creation of the Universe, and man. Adams hunger is still not satisfied and Adam asks of Earth's place in the Universe. Raphael in his wisdom advises Adam to leave such knowledge to God. We learn of Adam's earliest memories, the creation of Eve. Raphael again bears warning to Adam, telling him that love should not imply subjection. This is quite the foreshadowing, as Satan returns to Eve in the form of a serpent. In a more direct manner than before he tempts and flatters her. He argues to her that the fruit of the Tree of Life makes on as the gods. Ultimately, Eve eats the fruit.  

Adam and Raphael
Paradise Lost, Book VIII


The Forbidden Fruit
Paradise Lost, Book IX
  After having eaten the fruit, Eve convinces Adam that he should as well. Although he is abhorred by her disobedience he is dedicated to her, and eats of the fruit as well. Once the fruit has passed their lips they know of lust, and shame, and mutual distrust. Their lust for knowledge leads to their loss of innocence. Eve now must suffer pain in child bearing, and Adam now must work the land. Their sentencing continues with their banishment from the garden.  
Led from the Garden
Paradise Lost, Book XII

We now have a grasp of what about Paradise Lost effects the creature from Shelley's Frankenstein so deeply. He longs for the opportunities that Adam had been afforded to him. The creature was left helpless and alone without any love. He describes his loss of innocence as being responsible for the atrocious acts he has committed. Without even mentioning the influence Milton had upon Shelley when creating Victor's character. We can still clearly see the tremendous influence that Milton and his poem Paradise Lost had on the writing of Frankenstein through the events surrounding Frankenstein's creature.




Copyright 2002: History 257 - Mount Holyoke College
This page was created by
Rebecca Dudczak.