Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The imaginary studio in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

The well-renowned Gothic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is more than a regular ghost story because it is a complex symbolic representation of human cultural crises. Indeed Frankenstein is part of the cultural and social iconography. Initially, the inspiration came from old ghost stories that helped to build the mythology of horror and fear of Frankenstein’s Creature. In reality, this book is not a mere ghost story centred around the conflict between evil and good, and it is not an actual gothic novel either.

Mary Shelley And Her Environment

Mary Shelley was the daughter of the well-renowned intellectuals Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. After her mother’s death and her father remarried, Mary had difficulty bonding with her new stepmother and maintaining a good relationship with her father. At the age of 16, Mary fled with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Two weeks after birth, Mary’s daughter died, and this tragic event mainly affected the writing of Frankenstein. However, this novel is not autobiographic because it is influenced by that period’s philosophical, political and scientific theories. Among various scientific experiments, the one that significantly impacted the creation of the novel Frankenstein was Galvani’s revivification of dead tissues in 1791. His experimentation was based on animal electricity produced in the brain and transmitted to other organs via the nerves. Mary studied the books she found in her father’s and husband’s libraries.

The Scientific Perspective In Frankenstein

The text Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is affected by the masculinity of scientific thought as a dominant factor in the scientific life of that period, besides the responsibility of the scientists towards their experiments and the consequences. Victor, the scientist responsible for the Creature’s creation, acts without any compassion and humanity towards his creation, just considering it as a purely scientific experiment where the absence of women is evident. The deaths of some characters are violent and happen because of the actions of men as a metaphor for the masculine destructive power against the feminine nature, which is damaged and destroyed. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley seems to prefer the domestication and democratisation of science and society. Indeed, the Creature, Elizabeth and Justine convey the omission of human and tamed references in the scientific methodology. The exclusion of women in the experiment has failed.  

Victor And The Creature

Victor is the scientist who is the father of the Creature, and he fails in his scientific experiment and, as a paternal figure, not having any human empathy towards his creation. He does not educate or love his child. The Creature is abandoned, and he is vulnerable and uneducated; hence, he is forced to learn all the skills necessary for survival, and with time, he understands his needs. The nameless Creature lives in isolation and experiences rejection by humans, who hate him, seeing him as a monster and a demon. In his records, the Creature describes his longing to be loved and seen as a loving being. He devotes himself to reading after discovering books; among them, Paradise Lost by John Milton is the most significant text. He identifies himself with Milton’s Satan in the description: “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.” The Creature is like an isolated evil struggling in his tragedy. Also, Victor is in solitude, which he seeks being his only consolation: “deep, dark, deathlike solitude“. He feels guilty for the deaths of his loved ones and their actual murderer. 

The Overwhelming Enthusiasm For Science And Discovery 

Both Walton and Frankenstein share the same thrill and enthusiasm for discovery and new frontiers of knowledge. They are avid readers and bookish without any limit. The novel begins with describing his intellectual obsession to discover the North Pole, “the land of mist and snow“, made by Walton in his letters to his sister Margaret. Homer, Milton and Shakespeare are some of his favourite authors, and he also devoted himself to studying mathematics, medicine and physical science. During his long expedition, he feels the loneliness of the explorer. From his childhood, Victor Frankenstein starts his studies by reading many natural philosophy books. He remains profoundly impressed and fascinated by science. He became acquainted with natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and mathematics. Initially, Victor is determined to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.” Hence he devoted his life to science, for which he was conscious of possessing a natural talent.

The Rejected Monster In Frankenstein By Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s message in her novel Frankenstein is that the creative act does not end with the creation but is a continuous act since the Creature is a living entity conscious of his being a forsaken entity. His tragedy comes when he fails in his attempts to build relationships with humans who refuse him. Victor’s abandonment of his Creature is evident when he does not want to complete his female companion because he fears the two Creatures could reproduce, forming a family. When Victor destroys the female Creature, other tragedies succeed, such as the deaths of Elizabeth and Cherval. Nevertheless, even though Victor’s purpose is to destroy his Creature, the monster does not want to kill Victor because he considers him “his natural lord and king”. The Creature considers himself the fallen angel, driven from joy for no misdeed, and his refuges are the desert mountains and the dreary glaciers. 

The Dominance Of The Creature

Towards the novel’s end, there is a mutual dependence between Victor and his Creature, who will eliminate the people close to Victor. Moreover, the Creature and Victor will perish almost simultaneously, and the father-child bond is intense until the end of their existence. Their interdependence prevails when they both feel entirely isolated and long for revenge compulsively. The tragicity of the last moments of the life of Victor and the Creature is due to Victor’s awareness of his remorse for the sufferance he caused. The Creature falls into despair at the death of Victor, apart from his sorrow, because of his desertion. There is an imbalance between the scientific success and paternal failure of Victor. Even though Victor as a scientist, created something new as the Creature, he failed in his purpose because his experiment missed human empathy towards the creation and missing to accomplish his education and nurture. 

The Epistolary Structure Of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 

The epistolary structure of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a peculiar and multi-layered form in that the author chose to express a narrative inside other narratives. The first letters belong to Robert Walton, an explorer travelling towards the North Pole. Hereafter, the narrative moves to Victor Frankenstein and the Creature afterwards. It is up to the readers to understand the plot and conclusions of this unusual novel. It is like Mary wanted to conceal her authorship behind three male narrators, being in doubt about the rightfulness of her literary authority. Nevertheless, it is also a unique way to offer the readers the freedom to understand the three main characters’ different points of view by themselves. In this way, there will never be a unique interpretation of the events, and in the end, the novel keeps an objective perspective. The readers are not passive but involved in questioning the proposed narratives.

The Creature’s Narrative And His Fondness of Reading

The narrative of the Creature represents the literary centre of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. His narration includes different themes, such as the responsibility of scientific experiments, his desertion and his interaction with the surroundings. The Creature is very fond of reading, even though Victor did neglect his education as a failed father. Walton understands the Creature’s uneasiness. The first narrator is Walton, who becomes an intermediate between Victor and the Creature. His friendship with Victor would have a short life even if it started because of their shared ambitions and aspirations. Like the Creature, Walton finds himself lonely, and he would like to have a friend. The Creature learnt to read books about ancient civilisations, the Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives and the Sorrows of Werter, like Walton and Victor, identifying himself as Satan and seeking revenge. 

The Inspiration From Ghost Stories

Ghost stories inspired Mary Shelley when she read them during her stay in Villa Diodati in Switzerland in June 1816. Everything started with a ghost story contest with which Lord Byron involved his friends Percey Shelley and Dr John Polidori. Moreover, a conversation between Lord Byron and Percey Shelley about the principle of life gave her inspiration. The result of the combination between Mary’s extensive imagination and the German ghost stories with some scientific theories gave birth to Frankenstein. Moreover, the death of Victor symbolises the punishment for his revolutionary experiment. Meanwhile, the Creature’s destruction denotes that the result of this forbidden experiment is destined to perish.

Some Details About Mary Shelley 

Mary Shelley’s childhood pastime was to scribble and write stories during recreation. Her dreams, as she describes it, were more fantastic and agreeable than her writings. She lived in the Scottish countryside and on the “blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay near Dundee“. Mary used to write beneath trees in the ground belonging to her family house or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains. After she got married, she started to write again under the pressure of her husband to reach a literary reputation. Mary Shelley dedicated her spare time to reading and studying. In the summer of 1816, Mary, with her family, visited Switzerland, becoming neighbours of Lord Byron. During the rainy summer, she had the chance to read some German ghost stories translated into French. Mary thought about a horror story to rival those created by the others, such as her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and Dr John Polidori. Mary Shelley thought that “invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself.” She attended many conversations between her husband and Lord Byron regarding philosophical doctrines. Mary’s attention was mainly focused on the possibility of the reanimation of a corpse because galvanism might have allowed such things: “the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together and endued with vital warmth.” Starting from this moment, Mary’s imagination possessed and guided her. She imagined a pale student of “unhallowed arts” kneeling beside his creation. Nevertheless, his success would frighten him, rushing away from his handicraft. This ghastly image possessed her mind; her pursuit was to describe the spectre that hunted her nights. 

The Neutrality Of Frankenstein By Mary Shelley 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley maintains its neutrality regarding political, scientific and philosophical points of view. The book does not contain radical statements, and it is up to the readers to get their interpretations and opinions. An impressive and meaningful remark in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is the final farewell of Victor to Walton: “Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.” This novel keeps her ambiguous and neutral approach regarding revolutionary ideas embracing politics and science, avoiding categorisations. Mary Shelley’s masterpiece became an essential literary script culturally, historically, and socially. Indeed, Frankenstein is a unique novel that stands out from all the others.

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