New Historian


Frankenstein's Monster

<![CDATA[Like the monster it depicts, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's 'Frankenstein' is a novel which mixes elements from a variety of different sources. Alongside being a timeless horror story, it reflects both Gothic and Romantic influences, embodying many of the literary trends of the early nineteenth century. A holiday to the Swiss Alps ruined by persistent rain led to the novel's creation. Mary Shelley (using her maiden name, Godwin, at the time) and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley were forced to remain in their lodgings as a result of the bad weather. Lord Byron, a friend of the couple and a fellow resident in the Alps, challenged the couple to each write a ghost story. Inspired by the bleak natural surroundings, Mary Shelley's story went on to become a bestseller. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born on 30th August, 1797, in London. Both of her parents were highly respected writers in the eighteenth century. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was the author of a 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women', a key work in the history of feminism that encouraged women to think and act with independence. Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin, was a well respected radical thinker who associated with the likes of Thomas Paine and William Blake. Consequently, from a young age, Mary Shelley had been acquainted with some of the most influential figures in English literature. 'Frankenstein' takes the form of a series of letters from Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole but trapped between ice sheets, to his sister in England. Walton describes meeting Victor Frankenstein, a Swiss scientist who had been crossing the ice caps on a dog driven sledge. Details of Frankenstein's past, and in particular his experiments, are revealed. At some point several years previously he had been consumed by a desire to discover the meaning of life. Eventually realising he had found what he was looking for, Frankenstein began creating a creature from body parts stolen from a graveyard. Frankenstein brought life to the creature, and immediately became consumed by the folly of his actions. A series of traumatic encounters with the monster are then depicted. Frankenstein's creation ultimately kills many of the people closest to the doctor including his brother and wife. Eventually, Frankenstein chases the fleeing monster through the northern glaciers, bringing him into contact with Walton. A variety of themes define the novel, reflective of the time in which it was written. Firstly, is mankind's relentless pursuit of new knowledge. At a time when the industrial revolution was drastically altering the United Kingdom, both Walton and Frankenstein embody the reckless pursuit of progress. For Frankenstein in particular, the pursuit of knowledge without a consideration of the consequences has devastating effects. Other defining themes are nature and architecture, with the novel sitting between Gothic and Romantic traditions and relying on settings as much as narrative to develop the story. As with the romantic poets and writers who were so prominent in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the book is fixated on nature, with settings, locations and the seasons both reflecting and determining the character's moods. Similarly, Frankenstein's monster is symbolic of the unnatural, of the perversion of nature by mankind. 'Frankenstein' may have been born as a way to pass time on a rainy day, but Mary Shelley's novel has become one of the defining stories of the horror genre, reflecting its context, as well as universal fears and themes. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: André Koehne

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