Most people know of Mary Shelley as the writer of Frankenstein and the wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, she was far more than that, and parts of her life were just as dramatic and tragic, if not more so, than her famous gothic novel. Mary’s parents were themselves well-known in English society and somewhat notorious. Her father, William Godwin, was a radical theorist on the French Revolution. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a pioneer of women’s rights and her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman caused considerable reaction at the time. Furthermore, she already had an illegitimate child, Fanny Imlay, and was pregnant with Mary when she married William Godwin. She was born in London in 1797. Sadly, Mary never knew her mother as she died just ten days after giving birth. Literary theorists have suggested that this sense of loss and search for identity can be found in Mary’s works, particularly in Frankenstein and the creature’s search for his creator.
Mary was just fifteen years old when she first met Percy Shelley. He was an ardent admirer of Godwin’s works and politics and a frequent visitor to the Godwin’s home along with his wife Harriet. Percy s wife, Harriet, became suspicious of Mary and Percy, thinking they were having an affair she left Percy. Her suspicious were later confirmed when she got word of the couple eloping to France. Not receiving William Godwin s blessing, Mary and Percy eloped to France on July 28, 1814. They settled in Paris briefly whilst Mary recovered from extreme fatigue and sea sickness caused by the journey. They then began a trip across France into Switzerland with just one mule for assistance. Despite the hardship of the journey and dwindling money, they both read a great deal and kept a joint journal of their experiences. Their six week tour came to an end and they were forced to return to England due to lack of money. Shelley was now pursued by moneylenders and they lived in a series of lodgings in London, trying to keep one step ahead of being arrested. It was during this holiday that one night the topic of conversation turned to the supernatural and Percy proposed that they should each write a ghost story. That night Mary suffered a waking nightmare and from this grew the story of Frankenstein. Mary spent just under a year writing this book and was only nineteen years of age on its completion.
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Upon their settlement in Rome, Mary gave birth to a young boy named William. Unfortunately, the heat caused young William to contract a fever which later developed into malaria. Sadly, the following year young William passed away. With such unthinkable losses it is not surprising that Mary lapsed into a deep depression which did not lift even when she discovered she was pregnant again. She still continued with her writing and completed her second novel Matilda. Later that year she gave birth to her second son, Percy Florence. The following year they moved to Pisa and Mary began writing Valperga. The Shelleys enjoyed a relatively trouble free time until 1822. In June of that year Mary suffered a miscarriage and in July Percy Shelley drowned at sea.
Despite this melancholy Mary found the strength to forge ahead and the following year began writing The Last Man. Their son Percy continued to thrive and Mary gained strength and comfort from him. Mary continued to write as means of supporting herself and her son. Further works of hers were published including The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, Lodore and Falkner. She also found work by contributing biographical and critical essays on famous Italian, French, and Spanish writers for a regular publication. Percy secured a place at Harrow and Mary continued working throughout his education which continued at Cambridge. Mary’s works became more diverse, writing prefaces and notes for Shelley’s Poetical Works. She also wrote three volumes on the Lives of the Most Eminent Men of France. Her traveling experiences were put to use in the writing of Rambles in Germany and Italy.
. Mary Shelley died at the age of 53 from a brain tumor in 1851. She is buried in St. Peters Churchyard, Bournemouth along with the transferred remains of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Despite suffering so many tragedies and losses during her life, she was a prolific writer and her memory will continue to live on through her most famous creation – Frankenstein.
Victor Frankenstein grew up with two parents who loved and nurtured him. He spent the first couple years of his life moving around with his parents. When his brother Earnest was born the Frankensteins moved back to Geneva where they would stay to raise their family. Caroline, Victor’s mother, adopted a young girl the same age as Victor, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Victor were very close and Victor showed unconditional love toward Elizabeth. Victor was also blessed with a second brother, William. Victor Frankenstein’s quest for knowledge is discovered during the beginnings of his education. As Victor begins reading elementary philosophy at the age of thirteen, he finds himself, “imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature” (25). Victor had the most fulfilled childhood, which is why it was so peculiar that he went off the deep end. After Victor’s mother died, his father thought it best that Victor attend school in Ingolstadt, where he would study natural philosophy and chemistry. This excitement and desire to explore natural philosophy to its end, leads Victor to depart for the university of Ingolstadt soon after his seventeenth birthday. Within just two years he, “had become as well acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy as depended on the lessons of any of the professors,”(36) and thought of quitting his education. Instead of this, Victor decided to more intensely study the concepts of life, and soon stumbled upon the secret of life itself. As Victor begins to construct a living being and apply his discovery in order to give it animation and life, he becomes absorbed in his work. At this point, he has isolated himself from society to fulfill his great expectations and depriving himself of nutrition and companionship, he states that he “seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (38). Victor’s search for knowledge concludes as he finishes his creation one dreary night in November.
The creature brought to life by Victor is quickly abandoned by its creator, and forced to discover its identity and knowledge without assistance. The monster’s quest for knowledge begins the instant he is brought into the world, and speaking of this point in his life, the monster states: “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept” (87). Here, the monster is as innocent and naive as a newborn baby, and without a parental figure to guide and take care of it, is limited to an experiential learning process.
During the monster’s quest for knowledge, he encounters the hostility that all humans seemed to show towards him, and at this point, the monster begins to learn about his difference from society. Finding a hovel connected to a cottage in which he could inhabit without human interference, the monster views a family’s everyday life for an extended period of time. The experiences that he endures here are the cornerstone and essence of his education. During this time in his life, the family he is watching, the De Lacey’s, begins to teach a foreign visitor how to speak the English language. This, combined with the discovery of several books, allows the monster an opportunity to learn how to read and talk, and desiring knowledge, he “bent every faculty towards that purpose” (103). With the monster’s newfound knowledge, came understanding, as he stated that “the words induced me to turn towards myself” (104). “What was I?”(105)
The monster’s hate towards his irresponsible creator begins to form immediately following his education. Besides Victor’s rejection of him, the event which determines his quest for vengeance against Victor is a final, failed attempt to fit into society. During this incident, the monster decides to confront a blind resident of the De Lacey cottage at a time when he is isolated. Getting his chance, he befriends the man who can not judge him with sight, only to have the other residents return to curse and beat him out. After this incident he says, “Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?”(121) The feelings of rejection that the monster encounters transform into feelings of “rage and revenge” (121). With papers discovered in his jacket, he deciphers the location of Victor’s residence and decides to seek out his “unfeeling, heartless creator” (124). Thinking of Victor he expresses, “The nearer I approached your habitation, the more deeply did I feel the spirit of revenge enkindled in my heart” (125). In the end, with his quest for vengeance complete, the monster explains that he only wanted to love his creator but that his adoration turned to murderous hate in his creator’s rejection of him.
Victor Frankenstein was born in Geneva as the eldest son in a distinguished family. As described by himself in the novel, he has a very pleasant childhood mostly thanks to two kind and indulgent parents and Elizabeth. Even as a child he has a violent temper, vehement passions and a thirst for knowledge. His first interest is poetry but after some time his attention focuses on science. This interest quickly turns into an obsession: he is completely dedicated to learning the secrets of heaven and earth. His obsession is marked by radical changes in his character and health. He changes from a gentle, kind and healthy man to a selfish, sickly being who even loses contact with his beloved family for several years. Later, Victor says that he had been “misled by passion”(196) and that he was under “the evil influence of the Angel of Destruction, which asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father’s door”(32).
It is only after the creation of the monster that Victor starts thinking about the consequences of his actions. The obsession had apparently blinded him from doing that before. He does not, however, take responsibility for what has happened. Actually, he seems quite eager to forget all about it, but of course the monster will not let him forget.
After the monster has told him his story, Victor does feel some compassion. He even feels responsible for his creation. However, the responsibility for his fellow human beings eventually takes over, as Victor decides not to comply with the monster’s request after all. This sense of compassion for the monster completely disappears when Elizabeth is killed. The only thing that Victor can feel after that point is hate. His sole purpose in life, which used to be creating life from lifeless matter, now becomes avenging his family and friends by killing that newly created life: the monster.
Towards the end of his life, some of that violent hatred has disappeared but he does remain as passionate as ever. This results in some conflicting actions and comments made by Victor. On the one hand, him telling the story of his life can be seen as a very positive deed. By doing this, he ensures that the story is passed on to and serves as a warning for future generations. From this it might be concluded that he knows now that what he has done is wrong and that he finally takes responsibility for his actions.
An example of his selfishness is apparent in the way he deals with the monster’s threats. It is obvious that the monster wants to hurt him. Victor believes therefore that it is only him that the monster wants to kill. It seems obvious, however, that the best way to hurt Victor is to hurt the people whom Victor loves. This is exactly what the monster does by killing Victor’s friends and family. Victor, on the other hand, does not seem to realize this. If he had realized, he would have been more protective about his wife Elizabeth, for example. Essentially, there are two ways for Victor to escape from the revenge of the monster. One way is to kill the monster. Victor has tried this but the monster escapes him. The other way is to sacrifice his life for the life of his friends and family, in other words: to kill himself. By doing that, Victor would have taken away the means of revenge of the monster. That this tactic would have worked is proven by the final pages of the book. This drastic way of making the monster stop killing actually never crosses Victor’s mind. He is not afraid to die however. When he is ill with fever, he even wishes he were dead: “Soon, oh, very soon, will death extinguish these throbbing and relieve me from the mighty weight of anguish that bears me to the dust; and, in executing the award of justice, I shall also sink to rest”(162).
Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein orphaned at a very young age, Elizabeth lives with a Milanese peasant family before being adopted by the Frankensteins. She is brought to Geneva where they raise her as if she were their own. From the moment she enters the house, Elizabeth was meant to become Victors wife. Victor has always thought of Elizabeth as his “No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me — my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only.”(23), therefore their marriage is inevitable.
A clear description of Elizabeth’s appearance is given when her future adoptive parents first lay eyes on her: “this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction on her head. Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the molding of her face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could behold her without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features”(21). Every word of this description can be seen as symbolic for the good, the angelic. As can be derived from other descriptions in the novel, Elizabeth embodies the perfect middle-class young woman. She is always calm and concentrated, she is unprejudiced, she loves poetry and the beauty of the countryside and she is forever loyal to her friends and family.
Alphonse Frankenstein, Victor’s father, is a noble man and well-respected in the community. He is very protective and loyal towards his family and friends. For example, he always stood by his son when he was accused of murder, never questioning his innocence. He worships his wife Caroline as if to compensate for the sorrow she had to endure as a child.
Alphonse is patient, extremely benevolent and has great self-control. He can be regarded as a level-headed person as Victor states that his father “had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should he impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm”(38).
Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein as a young girl attends her sick father for several months. The circumstances are difficult for her but her courage pulls her through. She works hard and has numerous jobs that pay very little money. After she marries Alphonse Frankenstein and finances are no longer a concern, she becomes a guardian angel to the ones less fortunate than her. She is tender, kind and indulgent towards her children. She is, in short, the perfect mother. The description of Caroline can be compared to Elizabeth’s; both seem to be the definite image of femininity in eighteenth century middle to upper class ideology.
Henry Clerval is Victor’s only friend. It is difficult to determine exactly why they are such good friends as the relationship seems somewhat one-sided. Throughout the book Henry stands by his friend: nursing him back to health and accompanying him on his travels. Henry and Victor are opposites in many ways. It is clear that Victor admires Henry’s sensibility, enthusiastic imagination and gentility. As opposed to Victor, Henry does not have an interest in science at all. He is more interested in literature “heroic songs, books of chivalry and romance, language and nature.”(21) Although Henry too has an inquisitive mind and is anxious to gain experience and instruction, he never lets it interfere with his personal relations.
Henry has a clear insight into others. Because of this and also because of Victor’s continuous bad health, Henry must have known that there was something terribly wrong with Victor. But Henry, being a loyal friend, never asks Victor about it. It is probably clear to him that Victor does not want to talk about it. Although one has to wonder what would have happened if Victor had confided in his friend. Maybe then Henry would not have had to pay the highest price for their friendship.
The Frankenstein monster has outward appearance of the monster, who remains nameless, is described by his creator: he is created from various different body parts, he has yellow skin which “scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath,”(43) he has lustrous, flowing black hair and white teeth, he has a “shriveled complexion and straight black lips.”(43) Combine these features with the fact that he is also very tall and the image of a monster is complete.
His appearance turns out to be the cause of all his problems. People are frightened when they see him, which keeps the monster from making contact with them. This inability of personal contact and the resulting isolation is what indirectly drives the monster to his crimes. He has tried to communicate with people on several occasions but he keeps on being rejected. He has somewhat lost hope as he takes refuge in the hovel near the De Lacey’s home. He observes them for months, learning their language and their habits. Through reading novels like Milton’s Paradise Lost he starts wondering about himself and his isolation because of his apparent uniqueness: “I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence”(112). It is obvious that he longs for some kindness, protection and company. These desires become even more evident when he reads the diary that Victor kept during his creation. From these papers, the monster learns that Victor was not at all happy with his creation. This makes him feel even more lonely and abhorred.
It is only when he is convinced of the De Lacey’s goodness that he decides to try to make contact one more time. His initial talk with the old De Lacey is very positive. This is mainly because De Lacey is blind and therefore the monster’s appearance cannot lead to any prejudiced ideas. The other family members return unexpectedly, however, and the monster is beaten out of the house. He still refuses to think evil of them and blames himself for being discovered. It is only when he finds out that the family out of fear has permanently left the cottage that the monster starts feeling negative emotions like hatred and revenge. These feelings are not directed towards the De Lacey family however, but towards his creator.
He later states that all the killings did not make him feel better. He says that he was “the slave, not the master, of an impulse which I detested, yet could not disobey,”(199) a state somewhat similar to the Victor’s obsession with science. The monster, just as Victor, reaches a point where he has no feelings left except for hatred. When he sees that his final victim namely Victor Frankenstein, is already dead, he shows remorse. He has now accepted that there will never be any being who “pardoning my [the monster’s] outward form, would love me for excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.”(199-200) With an immense self-hatred, he promises Walton that he will “consume to ashes this miserable frame”(201) so that future curious generations would not create “such another as I have been”(201).
De Lacey he is the head of the household adopted by the creature. A blind man who is kind but has been robbed of his fortunes. Felix the son of De Lacey, he is idealistic and not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. He loves his family with all his heart. Agatha the daughter of De Lacey, she is a cheerful soul who lives to aid her brother and care for her father. She retains a level of class, even though she is poor.
Safie he betrothed of Felix, she is wonderfully exotic and beautiful. She also is cheerful, and loves to sing.
A centerlized theme in Mary Shelly s Frankenstein is that society shapes and defines the Frankenstein monster into who he became. Though the being has the physical characteristics of a monster, it is only after he is repeatedly rejected by society that he adopts the personality and behavior of a monster. Thus, society plays a large role in shaping the monster’s personality and behavior. Because society expects him to act like a monster, he inevitably becomes one. The being is clearly a victim of a stereotype.
It is clear that the being has the physical characteristics of a monster. A monster is defined as a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty. The being is unnatural right from the very beginning–his “birth.” He was not carried in his mother’s womb and delivered as normal babies are. The being is merely a construction of random corpses’ bodily parts sewn together and brought to life. Naturally his appearance is utterly grotesque, thus confirming his “extreme ugliness.” Victor even remarks that “A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch” (59). Though he displays all of the normal features of a man, his are heightened to a level of deformity. He has a gigantic stature and displays superhuman speed and strength.
Just as the being’s external features are heightened, the being also exhibits heightened internal qualities of man, shown by his altruistic attitude toward humanity. The being tells Victor that his “soul glowed with love and humanity” (91). The being enjoyed helping others. He provided the cottagers with wood for their fire so Felix could devote time to other household tasks. The being risked his own life and saved a little girl from drowning. All the being wanted in return was companionship and acceptance, neither of which he received. The creation says, “Let [man] live with me in the interchange of kindness; and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance” (125). It is clear that initially the being was only monstrous in his appearance, not his actions.
However, because of the expectations held by an insensitive, hostile society, the being is forced to become a monster internally as well. The creature tries to find companionship many times, but he is only met with fear and hostility. Because the being cannot escape society’s expectations regardless of his behavior, he eventually confirms them and acts accordingly. He completes the definition of a monster as he commits wicked and cruel acts. The being has fallen into a stereotypical monster.