Frankenstein Essay Research Paper The Monster in

Frankenstein Essay, Research Paper

The Monster in the Mirror: Mary Shelley+s Life as Revealed by Frankenstein

One cannot begin to understand the full implications of this work without first knowing something of the author and the incessant tragedies which haunted her with bouts of chronic loneliness throughout her entire life; the effects of which provided the major themes for this novel.

Mary Shelley was born on August 30, 1797, in London, England to two literary

giants, father, William Godwin and mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Mr. Godwin

was blasphemized for his articles on atheism and for expressing opinions that were against the institution of marraige. Mary Wollstonecraft was also a radical liberal and the author of the renowned essays |Vindication of the Rights of ManX and |A Vindication of the Rights of WomenX. Mrs. Godwin died ten days after the birth of Mary from labor complications. In later years, the surviving Mary would visit her mother+s grave on frequent occasions to read her novels and her namesake+s essays and also to make love to her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, like the true gothic that she was. The death of her mother was to mark the beginning of a long life of bereavement for Shelley. By the age of 24 she was to have lost her half sister and best friend, Fanny Imlay, four of five children, her beloved husband of eight years, and her dear comrade Lord Byron. The latter two both drowned in isolated boating accidents.

Six months after the death of his wife, William Godwin would begin proposals to

numerous women in an effort to find a maternal figure to help raise Wollstonecraft+s

three year old illegitimate daughter, Fanny Imlay and the newborn Mary. He felt

himself an inadequate father and exclaimed to Coleridge:

When Fanny interrupts my reading with a request to hold her on my knee and tell her a fanciful tale, I confess I must curb my temper and when the wild cries of baby Mary fill the house, threatening to shatter the glass in windows, I succumb to unreasoning panic (Neuman 6).

As a last resort he married, three years later, Mary Jane Clairmont who turned out to

be quite a tyrant in the Godwin household and favored her own two children, Charles

and Claire, over Mary and Fanny. She took complete control and made every

financial decision but William Godwin must take responsibility for allowing this

domestic dictatorship to continue. Mary Jane was not affectionate to any but her own

children and turned her unnatural children into the |household drudges(Neuman 8).X

At this point Mary began retreating to her mother+s grave for solace and by eight years

old she is described by writer Eileen Bigland as being |a solitary and withdrawn child

(Bigland 27).X

At age sixteen Mary became acquainted with her father+s friend Percy Shelley,

a poet and admirer of Godwin+s work. Though Shelley was already married and the

father of one child, Mary and he began a passionate affair that was to ultimately result in the suicide of his impregnated and deserted wife, Harriet Shelley, the disowning of Mary by Godwin upon her outright refusal to abandon her relationship with Percy, and this decision led also to the illegitimate couple+s being ostracized from the strict moral

based English society at home and in the colonies abroad in Switzerland and North

America. Their scandalous affair and the resulting tragedy of Percy+s former wife+s

self-annihilation would haunt the Shelleys and blacken their reputation for the rest of their lives and even beyond their graves. It was a lonely life for Mary, who found it hard to make friends with her amoral characterization by gossip mongers of which there never was a shortage in her native society. She had no mother to console her through hard times and an indifferent father in her formative years and so she probably turned to writing not only because of the family expectations imposed upon her by her literary heritage but also as a form of therapy.

Mary began writing Frankenstein, her first novel, at age nineteen. What began

as a short story was published as a novel in 1818. The idea for Frankenstein came

about one stormy, November, night as the author and her husband, among a few

others, visited Lord Byron at his house in Villa Diodati, located on Lake Geneva in

Switzerland. They were all confined indoors for several days by the severe weather

conditions and so for entertainment someone suggested they scare eachother by

relating ghost stories. Mary at first could not think of one but after a long night of

writer+s block she retired to bed and had a horrific dream and thus Frankenstein was originated not as as well drafted novel but as a short story with dynamics arising from an adolescent subconscious. Perhaps the fact that this mother of the gothic and science-fiction novel was not entirely premeditated is what makes it so difficult to interpret. There are many different approaches to analyzing this text but it is safest to relate the material in terms of Mary Shelley+s life experiences as the situations and themes in her novels are extremely true to the circumstances in her life. As critic Elizabeth Nitchie points out :

Not gifted in invention, [Mary Shelley] turned to actuality for character and incident…. The realities of her existence furnish recurrent themes; loneliess, bereavement, the father-daughter relationship which parallels her own to Godwin+s. Her writing is highly autobiographical and self revealing.(Nitchie, p.xiii-xiv)

It is not obviously self revealing though, Mary employs the elements of literature to tell her life story.

The novel opens with Walton assuring his sister that |no disaster has

accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with

such evil forebodings (Shelley p.7).X This tone gives the reader a sense of his perilous

undertaking. Similar to Frankenstein+s goal of rendering man immune to anything but

a violent end, Walton explains that he too is enticed to |conquer all fear of danger or

death (Shelley 7).X Walton thinks that by finding a passage near the pole to reach

nearby countries at a faster pace than is possible in his fictional present; that he will

benefit mankind in some way. He seeks glory in the discovery and domination of new

territory. Mary Shelley was a pioneer in her own right because she was one of the few

female authors to become a literary success in her day. She was a woman competing

in a man+s domain. Frankenstein was published anonymously and though the public

recognized the author as a Godwinian pupil and some critics guessed the novel might

be the work of Percy Shelley; nearly everyone assumed the author was male. For

example, nineteenth century critic John Croker+s response to Frankenstein was this:

The author has powers both of conception and language, which employed in a happier direction might, perhaps give him a name among those whose writings amuse or amend their fellow creatures but we take the liberty of assuring him and hope that he may be in a temper to listen to us that the style which he has adopted in the present publications merely tends to defeat his own purpose…(Hunter 190) (bold type mine)

Perhaps Mary felt an affinity with Walton in his exploration of the arctic and

Frankenstein with his discoveries of the secrets of the origin of life as they all three

boldly went where no man, or woman in Shelley+s case, had gone before. In the same

way her fictional creations sought glory as pioneers in the fields of natural science and

alchemy, Mary Shelley looked for renown as a female author among a society where

only male writers were respected as having literary talent. How lonely all three must

have felt to be on top of the world but without anyone to share their success with or

else comfort them in thier failed ambitions. These sentiments are expressed by Walton as he exclaims to Margaret :

XI have one want which I have never yet been able to saisfy and the absence of the object of which I feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, thee willbe none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment , no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection (Shelley 10).|

This loneliness is further emphasized by the various geographic settings of Frankenstein; which are frequently desolate and occupied by only one or two characters at a time. The scenes convey a sense of isolation and danger brought about by the reverential power of the natural elements which dominate the territories unexplored and untamed by humankind.

Within the literary fabric of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley chronicles the reactions

she had to the traumatic episodes of her life. She weaves her autobiography under

the guise of symbolism; employed in the novel+s elements of setting, tone, theme, plot

and characterization.


Frankenstein |fell from the height of his pride (where he defied the gods by

creating life) to the state of a desperate man cut off from those he loved, doomed to

insanity and death (Neuman 120).X In the same spirit, the adolescent Mary Shelley

boldly defied patriarchal authority by entering into an unconventional relationship and

impulsively eloping with Percy Shelley, who already had a wife and child. Like

Frankenstein, she committed an obscene act which estranged her from her family and

her native English fellows and consequently she led a lonely life. .

The various geographic settings of Frankenstein are frequently desolate and

occupied by only one or two characters, the scenes convey a sense of isolation and

danger brought about by the reverential power of the natural elements which

dominate the territories unexplored and untamed by humankind.


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