Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born on 30 August, 1797 to Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist, and William Godwin, a political writer. Mary's mother died 15 days after she was born, and Mary herself had a child prematurely that died when she was 16.
Her father taught her to be fascinated but terrified by technology. And even though her mother died too early for Mary to remember, Mary (who was also a vegetarian) was taught by her mother posthumously by writings, to respect nature. This was the feeling of many other writers and poets during the Romantic period. Other bibliogensises other than her father (Political Justice) and her mother (A Vindication on the Rights of Women) include Milton's Paradise Lost, Rousseau, and Phantasmagoriana.
In 1816, Mary Shelley came to Lord Byron's summer house in Geneva with her husband, Percy. B Shelley, a contemporary of Byron, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont. Due to the inclement weather of the summer, most of it was spent inside the villa. One night, someone suggested that they place a bet, a contest of sorts: they would see who could write the most thrilling, horrifying tale. John Polidori, Clairmont, Byron, Shelley, and Mary were all present that night, but none of the stories compared to Mary's tale, written when she was a mere teenager.
In fact, she was having quite a problem writing the book, until one night she had a horrifying dream. From the 1831 edition of Frankenstein:
"...the pale student of unhallowed arts standing before the thing he had put together, I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion..."
Upon her dream vision, Mary would begin to write the original and best Gothic tale. Not only was it horrifying, but it had a lot to say. Like many classic novels, Frankenstein: Or, A Modern Prometheus as it came to be titled, went through a process of transmorgification. From the outline of a ghost story (1816) written only for friends, through a first edition in 1818, edited by her husband Shelley, to the final product of 1831, we see how Mary Shelley crafted what she called her "hideous progeny".
A Woman's Role
Life comes from two living beings (or at least that's what I hear...), and that being is delivered into the world by the female. It's always been that way, it is that way, and it probably always will be. Even though childbirth can be grueling, it's still one of the most wonderful gifts from God: the gift to bring another life into the world.
Feminists argue that in Frankenstein, this gift is stolen by Dr. Victor Frankenstein when he creates a being. By doing this, Shelley is reflecting the attitude of society towards women of the day: as inferiors.
Victor's egotistical move takes God's work into his own hands, challenging the higher authority. Society of the day saw women as powerless, and the creation in the book demonstrates this by easily seizing that power, and making life without a mother (this "motherless child" could also be a reflection of Mary herself-she never knew her mother).
Weaving the Romantic tenet of nature into her story, Shelley often combines the forces of nature and the being of women, using metaphor and personification to demonstrate her thoughts. It was beautiful outside his laboratory, but Victor became too engulfed in his work to recognise its beauty and serenity.
His dream after the creation of he and Elizabeth (his adoptive sister and lover)'s nonexistent child is an eerie perspicacity to what will never be.
The creature is an objectification of Victor's ego-made into an object separate from himself. Similarly, Shelley reveals herself in the creation of the novel. This unresolved Oedipal complex may have rang true for both Shelley and Frankenstein- the death of the mother fixates their dream of reviving the dead.
Besides Victor and Shelley, there are other struggles within the novel for identity.
The creature itself presents the largest example. He is rightfully confused, he has no parents, no past, no family, no anything. So when initially the creature leaves, this could be a physical representation of what is happening in his mind. At first, he is childlike, even psychosomatic, in his thinking. Eventually, he matures and learns the language of the DeLacey family, whom he observes after he flees from Frankenstein.
Rejected by them and everyone else around him because of his appearance, the creature begins to realise that he is ugly and hated. "Where they ought to see a kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster," he says. So he himself becomes a monster. In his rage, he turns to Victor again. The creature returns to Victor, asking him one last favour. He wants a female counterpart, one as ugly and miserable as he-to be his companion. All the creature needs is someone to understand, and he realises that humans are too cruel to accept someone like him. "I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth," he remarks, justifying his cause.
Victor, at first, refuses, but then accepts. However, in the middle of working on "her", he destorys the second creature, not wishing to do any more ill. The creature, outraged, declares "I will be with you on your wedding night!" Those words haunt Victor until, indeed, the creature bursts through the window on he and Elizabeth's honeymoon, and proceeds to strangle Elizabeth.
Abandoned, full of rage, and alone, the creature does not stop his search for himself. He follows Victor all the way to his icy grave-just yearning to know why he is alive, why he is being. In a very sad instance, he never finds this out, and disappears.
"My life is a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguish nothing"
Why Should I Read This Book?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley may seem a strange choice in curriculum to some. What good can anyone get out of reading a story about a mad scientist who creates life out of death? Well, actually, a lot. Even if you know the story of Frankenstein, you probably still have no idea what it's about. Mary Shelley's Gothic masterpiece is a beautiful commentary in the form of an entrancing novel about God, human nature, and love.
Frankenstein opens with the mentally and physically tattered Dr. Victor Frankenstein laying aboard a ship in the arctic, telling his torrid tale to the captain of the ship. He is a broken and dying man, all because of one thing: he tried to take the work of God into his own hands. Victor pieces a "human" creature out of cadavers and brings it to life with electric currents. This one action causes him more grief than good throughout the novel. Ultimately, the creation kills his wife, Elizabeth, and his brother William, and causes him to play a deadly game of revenge, ending when the creature follows him to the icy arctic where he lay dying. His egocentrism cost him his life.
After the creature (unnamed in the novel) is brought to life, he ventures out on his own. He observes the aforementioned family in the woods nearby, leaning their language, doing them favours (unknown to them), and loving them. However, when he eventually meets them face to face, they reject him and run him off-all because of his incondite and ugly appearance. They know not of his kind nature, just that he looked like a monster. They show one of the most ugly facets of human nature: prejudice.
So, before you moan about having to read this novel, remember these points. Frankenstein is highly entertaining, using eloquent diction to weave intricate and frightening visual descriptions, thought-provoking conversations, and lessons of love. Frankenstein will not only open your mind and imagination, it will teach you the dangers of egomania, hatred, and prejudice.
brought to you in part by noding your homework. The last bit (Why do I....) got a 93 (A) in Senior English as an essay.