Mary Shelley And Frankenstein Essay, Research Paper
Frankenstein, possibly Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s most well-known work, is
considered by some to be the greatest Gothic Romance Novel. Due to her marriage to
Percy Bysshe Shelley and close friendship with other prolific Romantic authors and poets,
namely Lord Byron, Shelley’s works permeate with Romantic themes and references. Also
present in Frankenstein are obvious allusions to The Metamorphoses by Ovid and Paradise
Lost by Milton. Shelley had been studying these two novels during her stay at Lord
Byron’s villa, and at the time she was composing Frankenstein. The use of these references
and themes prove that Mary Shelley was a product of her environment and time.
Robert Walton, the arctic explorer whose letters create the framework for this epistlary
novel, opens the reader to the concept of the “Romantic Quest,” the journey for the
unknown. “I am already far north of London,” he writes to his sister, “… [and] I feel a
cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks…which fills me with delight…This breeze,
which has travelled from regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of
those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my day dreams become more fervent
and vivid” (Shelley 15). These sentiments will be later echoed by Dr. Frankenstein when
he experiments with the unknown to create his creature/monster. The quest of the
Romantic can take many forms, from Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to
Byron’s “Childe Harold,” both of which are poems alluded to during the course of the
novel, along with ann abundance of allusions to William Wordsworth’s poetry.
Walton ends his second letter by describing his feelings on the eve of his voyage. He
says that he hopes to have his inspiration inspired similar to the best of the Romantic poets
because he feels that there is still a “love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous,
intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even
to the wild sea and unvisited regionns I am about to explore.” This statement is the very
essence of one of the many facets of Romanticism; it contains a yearnning to search for the
unknown, coupled with a lure of dangerous oceans and unexplored regionns, plus a
passionate response to a new challenge, and finally, it mentions the now-famous albatross
from Colleridge’s “Ancient Mariner.” This inspiration of Walton will again be reminiscent
of Victor Frankenstein when he desires to create life, because this “god-like” desire
contains a concept so lofty and mighty as to awe one. “No one can concieve the variety of
feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiaasm of success. Life
and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a
torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and
source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.”
Walton expresses in his letters his bouts of solitude; he is extremely lonely because he
has nno friend with whom he can share his Romantic visions nor with whom he can share
his enthusiastic response to life. This loneliness will also be felt by Frankenstein when he
leaves his home and enrolls at the University of Ingolstadt. He will find no other collegues
who are interested in his Romantic pursuits. Solitude is, therefore, one of the strong
characteristics of the Romantic inclination; numerous odes were written to-and about-
solitude, including the forementioned “Ancient Mariner,” a recurring reference in the
Other ideas for Shelley’s novel arose in the summer of 1816 when she stayed at Lord
Byron’s villa in Geneva, Switzerland. Utilizing sources that she had been reading and
studying, Shelley incorporated two in particular, one being The Metamorphoses by Ovid.
It is belived that Mary studied Ovid in April and May of 1815. The major element that
Ovid supplied to the theme of Frankenstein was his presentation of the Prometheus
legend. This is acknowledged in the subtitle: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
The creation of the monster is similiar to this passage from Ovid:
Whether with particles of heav’nly fire,
The God of Nature did his soul inspire;
Or earth, but new divied from the sky,
And, pliant, still retain’d th’ethereal energy;
Which wise Prometheus temer’d into paste,
And, mix’t with living streams, the godlike image cast…
From such rude principles our form began;
And earth was metamorphos’d into man.
Lines from Frankenstein that reflect the above passage are, “I collected the instruments of
life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my
feet,” and, “…that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.
The second important literary influence was Paradise Lost by Milton. The influence of
Milton can be seen directly from the epigraph of the 1818 edition of Frankenstein.
Did I request thee, Make from my clay
to mould me man?
Did I solicit thee,
from darkness to promote me?
The spirit of Paradise Lost permeates Frankenstein throughout the novel. The monster
states, “The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man
had friends and associate in his desolation; I am alone.” Three parallel themes from the
two works arise from these quotes: the molding of a living being from clay, the growth of
malice and the desire for revenge, and the isolation of a hostile being and the consequent
increase of his hostility.
It is easy to establish Mary Shelley’s knowledge of Paradise Lost. The work was
admired in the Godwin household. Mary and Percy read it in 1815 and again in November
1816. Her journal states that Shelley read it aloud while she was writing Frankenstein.
She even incorporated Paradise Lost into the novel by having it be one of the three works
that the moster studied. The monster found a correlation between his condition and an
aspect of the novel and stated, “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any
other human being… I was wretched, helpless and alone. Many times I considered Satan
the fitter emblem of my condition.” Other echoes of Paradise Lost are Frankenstein hopes
to be the source of a new species, but ironicalle his creature evolves into a self-
acknowledged Satan who swears eternal revenge and was upon his creator and all the
human race. The moster refllects that hell is an internal condition which is produced and
incensed through loneliness. His only salvation is the creation of a mate, his Eve. Also, in
the latter part of hte book, Frankenstein refers to the monster in terms used in Paradise
Lost; the fiend, the demon, the devil, annd adversary. Both master and creature are torn
by their internal conflicts from misapplied knowledge and their sense of isolation.