When Cindy Porter was twenty five, a single mother, and living in the projects of Philadelphia she wrote a novel. Her novel was a story about a teenage boy who had grown up in poverty. The boy’s daily confrontations with the hardships of his own life proved him to be incapable of dealing with such matters as he slipped into destructive patterns at school, home, and on the streets. From the known facts about Cindy Porter, it can be assumed that the novel played off of her fears and daily experiences of living in the projects of a major city. Just as it can be seen that Cindy’s life and time influenced her writing, many ideals in Mary Shelley’s life can be connected with themes in her classic novel Frankenstein. Abandonment, Romanticism, and parenting are all themes that were a part of Mary Shelley’s life and highly influential in her writing of Frankenstein.
A theme of abandonment by women is exhibited not only in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but in her own life as well. Just after Mary Shelley’s birth, her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died of complications from the childbirth. Mary was left, disastrously, without a female role model (Bloom 15). Her great loss can be seen played out in Frankenstein through the virtual absence of strong women. In the novel Victor Frankenstein’s mother dies while he is at the University in Ingolstadt. His stepsister and fianc e, Elizabeth, is orphaned due to the death of her mother in childbirth. Justine, the
nursemaid of Victor’s brother, William Frankenstein, is wrongfully executed. Elizabeth herself is taken from the world just before her own marriage.
The monster is motherless as well. Victor in male pride takes the role of the mother and the father of his creation. The Monster’s introduction to the female comes through the peek hole of a hovel in the De Lacey house. Even with the De Lacey family however, the mother is absent. It seems rather obvious that having been denied female companionship, the monster would grow to yearn for it (Florescu 84)
The death of Mary’s mother undoubtedly contributed to the persistent theme of the absence and ill fatedness of the women in Frankenstein. There is no better example of the unconscious effects of a world without women than Victor’s dream.
” I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they become livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw grave-worms crawling in the fold of flannel.” (Shelley 116)
This paragraph is most obviously interpreted as a psychological effect of abandonment. Perhaps Mary was describing a dream that she once had herself (Wolf 59).
In the early 1800s, Romanticism was the fore-most literary movement. It marked a violent reaction to the Enlightenment expressing an extreme assertion to the value of the individual and individual experience. Intense and imaginative, Romanticism was rooted in the emotions and sentiments. It tried to step away from the Christian view of God and toward
a sublime wonder of nature. Percy Shelley, Mary’s husband was a radical romantic. Percy spent much time studying the Prometheus mythology and his romantic influence can be seen vividly in the text of Frankenstein.
The myth of Prometheus can be seen played out throughout the course of Frankenstein. In early myths, Prometheus stole fire from the Gods. The myth says that while at a meal between the mortals and the Gods at Mecone, Prometheus tricked Zeus into accepting bones over the choicest entrails. Man, therefore, was punished by the denial of fire. Prometheus goes on to defy the Gods once again by stealing back the fire. As a punishment, Prometheus was chained to a cliff and an eagle sent by Zeus picked at his liver daily (Wolf 17).
In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein can be seen most explicitly as “the modern Prometheus.” Once intoxicated by the idea of creating a true being, Victor, like Prometheus, will stop at nothing. Even the prospect of his own destruction does not stop Frankenstein from chasing his dreams. Above all, he sees his pursuit of “forbidden fire” or, in this case, artificial man as wholly virtuous and inoculated from criticism. The Promethean fever causes Victor to be dangerously out of touch with reality through the misuse of imagination and creativity. Just as Prometheus is tortured and put to an end by Zeus, Frankenstein’s eventual death is a direct result of his creation of the creature. Victor Frankenstein is often referred to as the “modern Prometheus”, as related in the subtitle, due to the obvious ties of ultimate downfall he has with the Prometheus legend (Florescu 85).
A final theme of Frankenstein, a theme of parenting, is explored with nearly every character introduced in the novel. Mary Shelley, in the development and education of the monster, discusses child development and education and how the nurturing of a loving parent is extremely important in the moral development of an individual. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examined her own fears and thoughts about pregnancy, childbirth, and child development (Coulter 1).
In 1816, when the 19 year old Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, she had already birthed two children, and lost one. Thoughts of child-rearing and child-birth already occupied her mind. After the death of her first child, Clara, Mary wrote a letter to her friend Hogg. In the letter she expresses loneliness, heartache, and grief. Mary no doubt wanted to be a good mother and is shattered by the death. She mentions that her husband, Percy, is not an involved father and pleads that Hogg come to help her. In Frankenstein, Mary expresses the anxieties of pregnancy. She relates questions such as; What if my child is born deformed? Could I still love it or would I wish it were dead? Will my child kill me in childbirth? All of these questions are addressed though her character Victor Frankenstein (Coulter 2).
In the story, Victor is raised a very spoiled child. He grows up only thinking of himself and what outcome would be the best for himself. Victor is self-taught. No one ever offers him any guidance as to what is ideally right and wrong. Therefore, Victor Frankenstein possesses a dangerously one-sided view of reality. He only knows science and other basic things found in books. Never does Victor learn morals or the social skills characteristic of a socially mature adult. As Victor becomes obsessed with the idea of
creating a monster he only thinks of the intended, positive results. This blindness to anything but his own reputation is a direct result of overindulgence as a child (Coulter 4).
For approximately nine months, Victor Frankenstein labored on the creation of his “child”. Finally, he witnessed the “birth” in his laboratory on a dreary night. Instead of reaching out to his child however, Victor rushed out of the room disgusted by the abnormality of his creation. When the creature followed, as young children often do, Victor runs away in horror and completely abandons his child. This incident came to Frankenstein entirely unforeseen. While creating his child, Victor never even considered whether the creature would want to exist. His was also sloppy with the appearance of his monster, making it gigantic and ugly, never thinking about the creatures future encounters with human beings. Therefore, scared and regretful, when the monster is “born”, Frankenstein relates
“I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I has so thoughtlessly bestowed.” (Shelley 57)
Starting at the creature’s birth, Frankenstein thought of it as demonical and abused it. Victor represents a classic case of an abused and neglected child growing up to be an abuser.
The creature’s childhood is condensed into the first few months of life. Just after its creation, it is deserted by its “father”. The creature was forced to learn about life solely through its own experiences. He doesn’t understand that what killing really is or even that killing is a bad thing at first. It isn’t until he is secretly living with the De Lacey’s that the monster has positive emotions. The De Lacey’s provide the creature with an example of a loving, kind, and virtuous family. They stimulate his emotions and inspire him to do good deeds for others. In addition, the DeLacey’s introduce the creature to spoken and written language. The creature even manages to acquire a small library including such books as; Paradise Lost, Lives of the Noble Romans, and The Sorrows of Werther. From Paradise Lost
the creature is introduced to the idea of God and the difference between good and evil. From Lives of the Noble Romans the creature learns that wealth and social standing are most highly prized in society. Finally, from The Sorrows of Werther the creature learns that suicide is an option if one is desperately unhappy (Coulter 6).
Though knowledge is typically thought of as a positive advancement, for the creature it brought on dejection. Once the creature left the state of nature and learned the language and laws of society, he gained a self-consciousness of his own isolation from humanity. After being rejected by Victor Frankenstein, his father, the DeLacey family, and society, the creature abandons all good and lives in vengeance against Frankenstein (Cazacu 131). He murders those close to Frankenstein and eventually leads Victor on a journey that will destroy both of them. Even though the creature received a moral and intellectual education, the lack of a nurturing and loving parent as well as companionship and acceptance led him to reject morality and instead destroy. Victor never realizes that his lack of parental love and guidance is what led to the creature’s murderous path. If Victor had only been a loving parent, the creature could have probably overcome all other obstacles and remained moral (Coulter 7).
Mary Shelley spent the summer of 1816 , when she was nineteen, in Geneva, Switzerland vacationing with her husband, Percy Shelley, and friends Claire Clairmont and Lord Byron. Due to torrential rains and lighting storms plaguing the area, Mary and Percy could not return home when planned and stayed at Lord Byron’s villa. The group read aloud a collection of German ghost stories, and Lord Byron suggested that they each write his own. Six days later Mary went to bed still without inspiration for her story. That night she had a horrid nightmare,
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away hope that this thing would subside into dead matter he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains ”
Clearly, Mary’s dream was her inspiration for her novel Frankenstein, but the true merit of the story is found not in the plot, but in the themes she was able to incorporate. She let her life influence her writing. Mary’s past, present, and fears of the future are all illustrated graphically in Frankenstein. The personal touch helps to give Mary depth as a young writer and surely is a sizable reason for the novel’s success (Cazacu 24).