On Friday, August 29, 1823, Mary Shelley went to the theatre to see Presumption, or, The Fate of Frankenstein, by Richard Brinsley Peake. To Leigh Hunt, she wrote:
'[A]t the end of the 1st Act. The stage represents a room with a staircase heading to F workshop - he goes to it and you see his light at a small window, through which a frightened servant peeps, who runs off in terror when F. exclaims “It lives . . .” I was much amused, & it appeared to excite a breathelss [sic] eagerness in the audience - . . . & all stayed till it was over. '(L I 378)
The scene Mary Shelley singles out here would become the sine qua non of countless cinematic versions of Frankenstein and one of the most cherished clichés of the horror-film genre: the crucial animation scene, in which both Frankenstein and the audience perceive the first motions of the creature. The theatrical “It lives,” of course, would become the cinematic “It's alive!,” an exclamation caught between horror and exultation.
Readers who arrive at Shelley’s novel by way of the cinematic Frankenstein – which, today, includes nearly everyone – are inevitably surprised by the quietness and dimness of the creature’s animation. There are no lightning bolts, no thunder, no celebratory ejaculation; it occurs silently, to the accompaniment of a sputtering candle and pattering rain, observed only by Victor Frankenstein: “It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (F i iv 34).