Frankenstein By Mary Shelley: Reflection Of Mary Shelley’s Life In The Novel
Mary Shelley’s 1818 Gothic novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus is a portrayal of her own societal views displayed by Victor’s relentless search for knowledge. Victor Frankenstein leads his own conquest in search of the Godlike power to create life. His obsession alienates him and leaves him in desolation. In this essay, I wish to identify and display Shelley’s views of society which leads her character, Victor, to be used as a warning for how destructive the ruthless pursuit of knowledge can be.
Throughout her life, Mary Shelley was surrounded by death and loneliness, her mother died days after giving birth, her father was emotionally distant but access to his extensive library allowed her to become well educated, her first child with her husband Percy Shelley died prematurely, her half-sister committed suicide, Percy’s previous wife drowned herself and their one-year-old daughter Clara died of dysentery. Following the completion of her Novel Frankenstein, their three-year-old son died of malaria, Percy drowned himself then when Lord Byron died, and in 1824 she was completely alone. Mary’s tragic fate left her isolated and lonesome just as Victor, the character she created, was. She may have to project her own feelings into the character and while she was in pursuit of knowledge of self, Victor’s is more ‘removed’ even though its origin is in love. Victor is drawn deeply, “Of what a strange nature is a knowledge! It clings to the mind … like a lichen on the rock” (p. 123). In 1815 after her first child had perished, Mary wrote in her journal on March 16, “Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived.” She wished that she could have to power to undo the death of her child, if only it was irreversible, she believed she would be happy. The longing for someone who has passed leaves one secluded and unhappy with any other company. Victor is discontented with his accomplishment once the monster is created. He is unsuccessful in befriending the creature leaving him isolated without his previous friends and family and his own creation does not even accept his companionship.
Mary alludes to multiply myths throughout the course of her novel. She uses an extract from the 1660’s poem ‘Paradise Lost” by John Milton which tells the story of how Satan was banished from heaven for wanting to be all-powerful like God and leading a rebellion against him. “All my speculations and hopes are as nothing; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell,” Victor recalls this extract when he comes to the realization that, though he gained the almighty knowledge to create life, the tragic fate that he now awakes to leaves him alone and banished from heaven as Satan was. Frankenstein was given the secondary title of The Modern Prometheus. In Greek Mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who stole the knowledge of fire from the Gods to give to man which he was punished for. In resemblance to this, Victor discovered the secrets of life itself and attempted to present it to all of mankind but God punished him by taking away all that was precious to him such as his bride, family, and his creation.
When victor created his ‘son’ he wished to love and care for him but as punishment, he turned to disgust towards his creation. Mary uses this comparison to threaten the consequences of defying the laws of nature.
Frankenstein paved the way for science fiction novels, often thought of as the first of its kind and the scientific achievement shown can now be seen in modern-day bioengineering, biomedicine, or biotechnology (Van der Laan, J. M, 2010). The time in which Mary Shelley wrote her novel was one of the great scientific discoveries in the way of bringing the dead back to life. In the preface of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary mentions ‘galvanism’ as a stimulus for her work. Scientist, Luigi Galvani made the discovery of the power that could be harnessed from electricity in order to revive a no longer living creature. While dissecting a frog he realized that when he struck it with a current, a shock ran through making the leg twitch. An extract from the preface of the 1831 edition reads: ‘Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered communicated’. Evidence supports that Mary and Percy Shelley had believed that death was reversible. Percy wrote about their son William’s illness stating ‘By the skill of the physician he was once reanimated after the process of death had actually commenced, and he lived four days after that time.’ Although this was seen excited and useful discovery in the way of saving lives, Mary warns though that with the wrong intentions or a crazed mind behind the wheel, all can go terribly wrong.
Walton is in contact with Victor through letters while he voyages to the North Pole in conquest to exceed prior human expeditions. An incident leaving him wedged between sheets of ice brings him to the realization that he has reached his limit. Any further going in his pursuit for the North Pole would surely lead to his death. Walton learns from Victor’s tragic fate how destructive the pursuit for knowledge is and draws back from his dangerous expedition. We hear directly from Walton rather than a retell by Victor because Shelley shows us a man we cannot trust while he’s losing his humanity.
Frankenstein serves as Mary Shelley’s warning for society on the detrimental effect the dangerous quest for knowledge can be. Victor serves as a fine example of how this hunt can be destructive not only to the person themselves but the whole of society. Throughout history, to the present day, there have always been somewhat selfish people who strive towards their personal conquests with no concern for the consequences it may have on humanity.
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