“As I Was Perpetually Haunted by These Ideas”: Fuseli’s "The Nightmare" and Its Influence on Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein" and "Mathilda"
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Armstrong, John
The Art of Preserving Health
Darwin, Erasmus
The Botanic Garden: A Poem in Two Parts
Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus
Fuseli, Henry
The Nightmare (1781)
The Nightmare (1791)
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Wollstonecraft, Mary


Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781, Detroit Institute of Arts), inspired in part by Anna Landolt’s rejection of the artist, connected sexual desire and frustration with the occult and the loss of will and potency. Fuseli expressed similar views in The Mandrake: A Charm (1785), The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches (ca. 1794-96), and Brunhild Watching Gunther Suspended from the Ceiling on their Wedding Night (1807, inspired by the Nibelungenlied). Since Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, Fuseli’s intimate friend, it is not surprising that she was able to demonstrate a profound understanding of Fuseli’s interpretations in her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) and her unpublished novella Mathilda (written 1819). In these works, Mary Shelley’s analyses of birth and parenthood; domination, especially relating to incest; and the link between orgasmic release and destruction demonstrate Fuseli’s influence while revising his misogynistic viewpoint to direct blame at non-nurturant parents and generative authorities.

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