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Mary Shelley Frankenstein
Contents: - Mary Shelley’s biography - Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s biography Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, was the only daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Their high expectations of her future are, perhaps, indicated by their blessing her upon her birth with both their names. She was born on 30 August 1797 in London. The labor was not difficult, but complications developed with the afterbirth. Despite expert attention, her mother sickened from placental infection and died eleven days after her birth, on 10 September. Mary was brought up with her elder sister Fanny Godwin, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and her American lover Gilbert Imlay, who was adopted by Godwin and reared as his own child until the age of eleven when he disclosed her parentage to her. The family complications were considerably advanced in 1801 with Godwin's remarriage to his neighbour, the widowed Mary Jane Clairmont, which brought two further children, Charles and Claire Clairmont, into the household. A fifth sibling was added in 1803 with the birth of William Godwin, Jr. The five children were instructed principally at home. Following Godwin's own precepts, there were little distinction made in their educations on the basis of sex, so Mary Godwin had an education of considerable breadth, one that few girls in her age could equal. Apart from formal instruction, the children were exposed almost daily to Godwin's extensive acquaintance among the London intelligentsia, ranging from the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whom Mary heard recite "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in Godwin's living room, to scientists like Humphry Davy and her father's bosom friend William Nicholson, the two foremost experimenters with galvanic electricity in the early years of the nineteenth century. These figures especially would later have a noticeable impact on the writing of Frankenstein. As heady as was this intellectual climate, there was a practical side to Mary's education in the Godwin-Clairmont household as well, for its income derived mainly from the proceeds of the Juvenile Library, their publishing venture specializing in books of instruction for younger readers. At the age of ten Mary had her first experience with publication, when the Juvenile Library printed her witty poem, Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or, The Discoveries of John Bull in a
That same year, at the age of fourteen, Mary was exposed to yet another broadening influence, when, in order to distance her from the step-mother she resented and disliked, Godwin sent her on an extended visit to the Baxter family in Dundee, Scotland. There she resided from June to November of 1812 and, again, from June 1813 to March of 1814, developing a strong attachment to the Baxter's adolescent daughter Isabel, who became her first close friend. Shortly after her return to the family home, she became reacquainted with her father's youthful admirer, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she had first met in the company of his wife Harriet in late 1812. Now, he became a frequent visitor to the Godwin household, and the two of them fell in love. In July, with Mary still in her sixteenth year, the couple eloped to the continent accompanied by Mary's step-sister Claire. It is perhaps to be expected that this couple, immersed as they were in the world of books, would turn the journal of their elopement into a travel book, which Mary wrote up and published as History of a Six Weeks' Tour in 1817, while her first novel was being prepared for the press. The conjunction of the works suggests a self -assured young writer assuming a professional identity. The young woman who returned in September of 1814 from her two-month tour, however, was not yet ready for such a role. The couple was penniless, and Shelley was forced to hide from creditors; Godwin, feeling injured by his daughter, would not even see her lover; and Mary, unmarried and barely seventeen, was pregnant. To aggravate this sense of a sudden and severe constriction of opportunity, Mary's friend Isabel Baxter was forced by her family to terminate their acquaintance. Years later, upon her return to England from Italy as Shelley's widow, Mary found herself regularly refused the notice of respectable people who would never forgive her, whatever her subsequent career, for so blatant a transgression of proper social decorum.
Over the next two years Shelley fashioned a financial stability for them (and for William Godwin, even though he would still not speak to him), and the couple developed a circle of friends. Mary was twice pregnant, losing her first child, a daughter, after three weeks, but giving birth to a son, named after her father, in January 1816. In retrospect, she would idealize these years spent near Windsor, where she sets the early chapters of her third novel, The Last Man (1826). Still, she was as yet unmarried and had yet to accomplish anything on her own. The impetus to a new chapter in her life was provided inadvertently by her step-sister. Claire, who tended to compete with Mary, in a bizarre but successful scheme set out to secure her own poet-lover, and she hit on the chief prize, Lord Byron, whose separation proceedings from his wife formed the prime scandal of the 1815 -16 winter. By the spring Byron had set off for exile on the continent, and Claire found herself pregnant.
Claire, needing to establish the paternity of the expected child, confided in Mary, who, in turn, convinced Shelley of the importance of this claim. So came about the famous summer of 1816 on the shore of Lake Geneva. Mary has left her own account of this period in the Introduction she supplied to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. What she does not quite get around to saying in that dignified memoir is that Claire did, indeed, establish Byron's care for his future child, though with the unexpected and rather unpleasant proviso that he never again see the mother; that Shelley made the acquaintance of, and then developed a particularly intense intellectual friendship with, the foremost poet of the age; and that, amidst all these heady events and with almost no one but herself noticing, she quietly became a writer and set out on her remarkable career. Upon her return to England in September of 1816, Mary quickly began to develop the novel she had started in the summer. Its progress was twice interrupted by family catastrophe, first the suicide of her half-sister Fanny in October, then the discovery in December of the body of Harriet Shelley, who, being with child, had herself committed suicide the month before. Two weeks after they were notified of Harriet's suicide, on 30 December 1816, Mary Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley were married. This event brought about an immediate reconciliation with Godwin, but was attended as well by a lawsuit in the Court of Chancery brought by Harriet's family with the intention of depriving the father of custody of his two children from the marriage. The success of this suit convinced Shelley and Mary that they would suffer continual persecution if they remained in England. On the first day of 1818 Frankenstein was published anonymously, followed shortly after by Shelley's book-length narrative poem, The Revolt of Islam. On 12 March Mary and Shelley, with their two children Clara and William, along with Claire and her daughter Allegra, departed from England to make a new home in Italy. The four years they spent in Italy saw the establishment of Percy Bysshe Shelley as one of the foremost poets in the English language. It likewise furthered the career of Mary Shelley as "The Author of Frankenstein, " the rubric under which she continued her anonymous publication with a second novel immersed in medieval Italian history, Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823). After Percy Bysshe Shelley's death by drowning in 1822, Mary Shelley found herself without sufficient financial means to remain in Italy and, with some
She never equalled the popular success of Frankenstein, but she published a number of other novels after Valperga: The Last Man (1826), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). In addition to her novels, she produced a large volume of miscellaneous prose: short stories, biographies, and travel writings, including the retrospective Rambles in Italy and Germany of 1844. She likewise supervised the publication of her husband's Posthumous Poems, which appeared in 1824, his Poetical Works (1839), and his prose (1839 and 1840). Her only surviving child was Percy Florence Shelley, who was born in 1819 and who acceded to the baronetcy upon the death of Shelley's father, Sir Timothy, in 1844. Mary Shelley herself died in her home in Chester Square,
Frankenstein - History of the writing of the novel - Literary sources of Frankenstein - Main characters
History of the writing of the novel Mary Shelley spent the greater part of the summer of 1816, when she was nineteen, at the Chapuis in Geneva, Switzerland. The entourage included her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, Byron's physician. Mary considered the area to be sacred to enlightenment. The weather went from being beautiful and radiant to melodramatically tempestuous. Torrential rains and incredible lightning storms plagued the area, similar to the summer that Mary was born. This incredible meteorological change was due to the eruption of the volcano, Tambora, in Indonesia. The weather, as well as the company and the Genevan district, contributed to the genesis of Frankenstein. All contributing events that summer intensified on the night of June 16 th. Mary and Percy could not return to Chapuis, due to an incredible storm, and spent the night at the Villa Diodati with Byron and Polidori. The group read aloud a collection of German ghost stories, The Fantasmagoriana. In one of the stories, a group of travelers relate to one another supernatural experiences that they had experienced. This inspired Byron to challenge the group to write a ghost story. Shelley wrote an forgettable story, Byron wrote a story fragment, and Polidori began the "The Vampyre", the first modern vampire tale. Unfortunately, Mary was uninspired and did not start writing anything. The following evening the group continued their late night activities and at midnight Byron recited the poem, Christabel by Samuel T. Coleridge. Percy became overwrought during the reading and perceived Mary as the villainess of the poem. He ran out of the room and apparently created quite a scene. This incident undoubtedly affected Mary, leading to feelings of guilt that contributed to the story ideas she later developed. For the next couple of days Mary was unable to begin her story. The poets dropped theirs but Mary persisted in her creative endeavour. She felt that her ambitions and her value were at stake and attempted to turn the pressure and frustration into creative energy. On June 22 nd, Byron and Shelley were scheduled to take a boat trip around the lake.
discovered and whether scientists could galvanize a corpse of manufactured humanoid". When Mary went to bed, she had a "waking" nightmare: I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside 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. . . The next morning Mary realized she had found her story and began writing the lines that open Chapter IV of Frankenstein - "It was on a dreary night in November"- She completed the novel in May of 1817 and is was published January 1, 1818.
Literary sources of Frankenstein is considered to be the greatest Gothic Romantic Novel. It is also generally thought of as the first science fiction novel. The idea for the novel arose in the summer of 1816 when Mary Shelley was staying at Lord Byron's villa in Geneva Switzerland. Not only did Mary incorporate experiences from that summer into her novel, she also utilized the sources that she had been reading and studying. Two in particular were the Metamorphoses by Ovid and Paradise Lost by Milton. It is believed that Mary studied Ovid in April and May of 1815. The major element that Ovid supplied to theme of Frankenstein, was his presentation of the Prometheus legend. This is acknowledged in the subtitle: Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. The second important literary influence was Paradise Lost by Milton. The influence of Milton's Paradise Lost can be seen directly from the epigraph of the 1818 edition of Frankenstein. "Did I request thee, Maker 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. On page 240 the monster says; "The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone" Three parallel themes from the two works arise from these quotes: - the moulding of a living being from clay - the growth of malice and the desire for revenge - the isolation of the 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 monster 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 as the fitter emblem of my condition (pg. 135 -136) Other echoes of Paradise Lost are as follows: Frankenstein hopes to be the source of a new species, but ironically his creature evolves into a self-acknowleged Satan who swears eternal revenge and war upon his creator and all the human race. The monster reflects that hell is an internal condition which is produced and increased through loneliness. His only salvation is the creation of a mate, his Eve. In the later part of the book, Frankenstein refers to the monster in terms used in Paradise Lost; the fiend, the demon, the devil, and adversary. Both master and creature are torn by their internal conflicts from misapplied knowledge and their sense of isolation.
Main characters Victor Frankenstein As a young child, it could be said that Victor Frankenstein is indulged and spoilt by his parents, and later on by his adopted sister, Elizabeth and his friend, Henry Clerval. In the first chapter, as Frankenstein is recounting his story to the mariner, Walton, we learn that he was born into a wealthy family from Geneva, and lived in Italy for the first part of his life. His mother was the daughter of his father’s friend, and, therefore much younger than he. We are told that she was caring and dutiful, that she, "possessed a mind of an uncommon mould" (page 32), and had nursed and kept her own father during his illness until his death. Frankenstein’s parents are very much in love, and he was an only child for the first five years. Victor’s first recollections are of his, "mother’s tender caresses", and his, "father’s smile of benevolent pleasure" (page 33). They regard him as being, "bestowed on them by heaven", and recognise that his future, "was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery". He also tells Walton that his mother and father felt that they, "owed" something to him because they had given him life. At the age of seven, having moved to Geneva with his family, he meets Henry Clerval with whom he becomes great friends, although it is interesting to note that he chooses not to mix with the other local children. At the beginning of chapter two, Victor describes his childhood thus: No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. (page 37) But even though he was growing up in what could be perceived as an idyllic family, he comments to Walton that, "My temper was sometimes violent and my passions vehement" (page 37). He was also prone to, "become sullen" (page 37), but Elizabeth seems always to have been ready to soothe and comfort him, to, "subdue", him, "to a semblance of her own gentleness. " (page 37) , and whilst Clerval is enthusiastically learning all he could
We can see that Victor is very much left to his own devices without much direction from his parents, when he retells the events when, at the age of thirteen he found a book by Cornelius Agrippa which sparked his interest in alchemy. Even he recognises that his father should have given him more guidance when he tells how his father, "looked carelessly at the title page" (page 38), and merely dismissed the work as, "sad trash. " (page 38). He states that, if instead, his father had taken the time to explain that alchemy had been disproved, then, "It is even possible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. " (page 38 -39). It seems that his father is not interested enough in what his son is studying, and takes little notice of what he is doing. Frankenstein says of himself, "I was to a great degree, self taught" (page 39), and that, My father was not scientific, and I was left to struggle with a child’s blindness added to a student’s thirst for knowledge. (page 39). So without any supervision, he engrosses himself in his studies, concentrating on the more altruistic side of alchemy - the secret of eternal life. Frankenstein’s first experience of real sadness comes when he is seventeen and his mother dies having contracted scarlet fever whilst nursing Elizabeth back to health. We are told that, "her countenance expressed affection even in death. ". , and he describes death as, "that most irrepairable evil; ". This event appears to make him even more determined to find a cure for this "evil". There is now only Elizabeth to give a feminine balance to his life, but he leaves for university with Clerval, having agreed to his mother’s deathbed wish that he and Elizabeth would one day marry. At university in Ingolstadt he is persuaded that alchemy has been superseded by natural philosophy, and his aptitude for science impresses both students and tutors alike. However, having decided to try and create life by scientific methods, he isolates himself from any friendly support and advice he may have received from Clerval, and the professional opinions of his tutors. He is, of course, away from his family, and so
Shelley could be seen to be saying through Frankenstein’s tale, that parents’ love alone is not enough for a child’s healthy development. Unless love is given together with discipline and guidance, the child is unable to develop into a well rounded adult who can be assimilated into the wider society, and have a balanced view of themselves and the world around them. Not only does Victor appear to be selfish and too introspective, he seems never to mature and develop self discipline, as his obsessional nature seems to show. The cosseting he has received as a child has led him to grow into adulthood with no true sense of responsibility for his actions. This is highlighted when, having created the creature, on seeing the contrast between his dream and the reality of the, "". . miserable monster. "(page 57), he flees from his apartment, and when, on returning, he realises that the creature has escaped, he remarks, "I clapped my hands for joy" (page 60). It is not until the desperate and unhappy creature has already murdered his young brother, William, and tells him his story, begging for a mate, that Frankenstein briefly feels the slightest responsibility for him. It is at this point in the novel that he thinks to himself, and did I not as his maker, owe him all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow? Shelley seems also to be showing the reader that self-education is not always a good thing. Unless supervised, the autodidact is in danger of gaining knowledge in a very narrow field, for instance, Frankenstein’s learning seems to be solely focused on science, without any education in morals, the arts, or social skills which would have helped him to mature and be a more social and
The Monster The creature’s ’childhood’ is condensed into a matter of months. His first experience of Victor, his parent and maker is one of rejection, and this sets the pattern for his life. We are told that, on being ’born’, the creature made his way to Frankenstein’s bedside, He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me (page 57) In all probability, the creature was reaching out, as a small child does to their mother, but his ugly appearance only frightened Victor into running away. With no one to love him or care for him, the creature spends his first days in the forest near Ingolstadt. Through his narrative, we learn that, at first he was like an abandoned baby, alone, and in his own words: I knew, and could distinguish nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept. (page 99) At this point in his life, he has only a basic sensory awareness, and we are told, No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt light and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rang in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me: the only object that I could distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes on that with pleasure. (page 100). Eventually he learns that drinking from the stream will quench his thirst, eating nuts and berries will sate his hunger, and he can be shaded by the trees. He has an instinctive appreciation for nature, and even tries to mimic the birdsong that give him so much pleasure, but the, "uncouth and inarticulate sounds" (page 100) that he utters, frighten him into silence. The creature discovers an abandoned fire and, just as a young unsupervised child would, he learns about its heat by putting his hand into it and feeling the pain of the burn. However, he also finds it can keep him warm, and that nuts and berries taste good when cooked in it. At this stage, he still has
This last experience teaches him to be cautious of interaction with humans, and he decides to take refuge in a hovel which is built onto the back of a forest hut, but not to make his presence there known to the inhabitants. The first thing he learns about people is their, "barbarity" (page 103). From his position in the hovel, through a crevice, he can observe the family who live in the hut. It is during this period in his life that most of his education takes place. He first appreciates the beauty of M. De Lacey, the old man, with his, "silver hair and benevolent countenance" (page 104), and that of Agatha, his daughter, who is described as a, "fair creature. " With, "gentle manners" (page 104). He sees the love and care that the family show towards each other, and watching them together, he also feels emotions which he has not experienced before. When Agatha is upset and her father comforts her, the creature recalls that he, felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before
At this moment he has begun to develop more sophisticated emotions as he becomes aware of others, and feels compassion, sharing their joy and sorrow. His emotions are no longer purely based on his own basic needs and his senses. Just as a small child learns about their relationships with others, the creature also learns, although from a distance. The creature spends many months in the hovel, and learns to speak, partly by listening to the De Laceys, and then by listening to the French instruction that they give to Safie. Whereas, in the beginning his education had been, for the most part experiential, he is now able to follow these lessons. It is once he has learned to read, that his thoughts and ideas about the world he has found himself in, start to form. He has found three books in the forest; Plutarch's 'Lives', 'The Sorrows of Werter' by Goethe, and Milton's 'Paradise Lost'. The creature learns something different about life from each book. In 'Paradise Lost', he can see similarities between himself and Adam, and is introduced to the idea of God, the Christian myth, and good and evil. He realises that wealth and social standing, are most highly prized in society, from Plutarch's 'Lives', and in Goethe's work, he reads that suicide can be an option for a desperately unhappy person. In the same way that Frankenstein is self educated, the creature is also and, like his creator, he is learning in a vacuum, with no other influences to balance his views. The creature never manages to interact positively with others or find friendship, and we can see his self esteem sink lower and lower, the more he is rejected, and becomes lonelier and more alienated from society. It is at this that eventually changes him from a kind, affectionate, and reasonable being, to a bitter murderer. He tells Frankenstein, I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder, if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts, and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man when he condemns me? Let him live with me in an
It could be suggested that his education and intellect have betrayed him. They have served only to highlight his misery. His understanding of his predicament, and how he falls short of society's norms and aspirations, can only make him more wretched. Apart from hearing his voice when trying to sing, he no real self awareness until, like a perverse Narcissus, he sees his reflection in a pool, and becomes, "fully convinced that I was in reality the monster I am" (page 110). Now he can see himself as others see him. Through reading, his knowledge of man's capacity for evil gives him a more realistic view of society, and his place in it. Like Adam and Eve and their consequent banishment from the Garden of Eden after eating from the tree of knowledge , he has developed from a 'noble savage', as unselfconscious and close to nature as an animal, to acquiring knowledge and the loss of innocence that accompanies it. He has, in effect, been cast out like Adam and Eve before him.