Mary Shelley’s Life And Its Influence On Her Novel Frankenstein

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Many authors use their own life experiences to shape their work. Whether that be representing themselves through their characters, using settings they have personally been, or influencing their writing with other literary works they are familiar with. Mary Shelley is not exempt from this. Through her Romantic novel, Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus, Shelley tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist craving the power to create life, and the creature, Frankenstein’s creation whom he regrets and outcasts. Shelley uses her background and the culture of the Romanticism to influence this work. Shelley was born in 1797 to two notable literary figures. Her father, William Godwin, was a prominent philosopher and political writer, while her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a famed feminist and author of The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Shelley was destined for to accomplish great things in the literary world. Although, shortly after Shelly’s birth, her mother died, leaving her father to care for her and her half-sister Fanny Imlay. Soon after this, Godwin remarried, changing the family dynamic further. Godwin’s new wife, Mary Jane Clairmont, never got along with Shelley. Tensions between the two built when Clairmont sent her daughter to receive education, while she saw it unnecessary to do the same with Shelley. Because of this Shelley had to educate herself using her father’s extensive library. Also, Romantic greats WIlliam Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are just some of the noteworthy figures to be guests at Shelley’s house. She would often be found reading or creative writing, publishing her first poem, “Mounseer Nongtongpaw”, in 1807. During the summer of 1812, Shelley visited Scotland where she found true peace for the first time.

In 1814 she began her relationship with poet Percy Shelley, who was still married to his first wife. Soon the two fled England, an action which severed Shelley’s relationship with her father for some time. Traveling throughout Europe, the couple experienced the loss of their daughter just a few days after her birth. Eventually, they visited Switzerland with authors Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori. Inspired by a reading of the Fantasmagoriana, a collection of German ghost stories, they decided to try their hands on supernatural stories themselves. It was here that Mary Shelley wrote what would become chapter IV of Frankenstein. It took her longer than the other three authors, but finally she had a horrific vision that inspired her tale. She described having this dream in the introduction of Frankenstein: “When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – 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, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. ” This is how the story that inspired countless future authors began. It is common for authors to represent themselves with the characters they write about, for Mary Shelley this character is the creature. The similarities begin with the creation. The creature was born without the love of a mother and with a father that feared his own creation and fled at the sight of him. For Mary Shelley, she too began life without a mother and later in life her father practically disowned her when she ran off with Percy Shelley. Next, the creature was forced to educate himself by watching others and reading books he found. The creature soon learns about life and eventually is able to speak with as much elegance as his own creator, who taught him nothing but pain. This was inspired by Mary Shelley’s lack of formal education. Shelley also had to teach herself many things using the books she was able find in her father’s library.

A final similarity between Shelley’s life and the creature’s can be seen after the creature has fled his birthplace. The creature travels through many places and experiencing emotions of pain, hunger, and love. This could be influenced by Mary Shelley’s travels through Europe with Percy. The two struggled financially and could sometimes barely feed themselves. Along this journey Shelley experienced the birth and death of her daughter, an event that showed her how cruel life could truly be. Although the creature is often referred to as a monster throughout the novel, he is perhaps more human than the man that brought him into this world. Shelley was also heavily inspired by the literary works that she was exposed to. At a young age Shelley had access to a plethora of literature due to her father’s library. The pieces that most influenced her were placed in the novel itself. Those works include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Werter, Plutarch’s Lives, and the most influential: John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Each of these works teaches the creature lessons about life and creation. The Sorrows of Werter is a sentimental novel and helps the creature learn about empathy. Lives is about the great figures of the ancient world and teaches the creature about what characteristics are valued by society and what it mean to have these characteristics. Paradise Lost tells the story of Adam and Eve as well as Satan’s plot to overthrow God. The creature identifies with Satan in this story because he too was casted out alone by his creator. It is here that the creature realizes that he is a monster, quoting, “Evil thenceforth became my good” from the book while on his killing spree. Mary Shelley read each of these works but the one with the most profound influence was Paradise Lost. According to Wm. Moeck in “The Monster Reads Milton: Paradise Lost”: “When Mary [Shelley] first read Paradise Lost in the fall of 1815, she and Percy Bysshe Shelley were living in sin, and Milton’s epic poem about the Fall of Adam and Eve had not yet figured in the background of the novel she began writing the following year. ” Shelley saw herself and Percy as Adam and Eve at the time due to their relationship out of wedlock and the fact that Percy was married when the relationship began, both sinful acts. Shelley was also influenced by the many significant authors she had met throughout her life. To start her mother and father influenced her greatly. Although her mother died before they met, her message of feminism passed to Shelley. Shelley entered the literary world at a disadvantage because she was a woman in a male dominated world. Yet even with this Shelley persevered and ended up writing one of the greatest Romantic pieces of literature. Her father was a prominent author himself and influenced Shelley because it was because of him that she was surrounded by literature her whole life. Also, Shelley’s father’s company published her first poem which began her career as an author. Other noteworthy authors that Shelley had came into contact with include Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. These authors wrote some of the most important literature of the Romantic Movement. Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as well as Kubla Khan, whereas Wordsworth wrote Lyrical Ballads which is generally considered to have marked the beginning of the Romantic Movement. As a Romantic author herself, meeting these greats in literature at a young age likely inspired Shelley to pursue the path of Romanticism.

The final authors that had a meaningful impact on Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein are Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori. These are the authors with which Shelley spent time with in Switzerland. It was because of Lord Byron’s challenge to write supernatural stories that Frankenstein came to be. Also, because of the authors’ reputations Shelley was inspired to write a story that was more captivating than the others, which led to her taking her time to come up with the piece. Other events in Mary Shelley’s life that helped to inspire Frankenstein include deaths of people around her. Many people in Shelley’s life came to unexpected ends. These people include her mother, Percy’s first wife, Harriet, and Shelley’s half sister, Fanny, and her first daughter. Shelley’s mother died shortly after giving birth, Fanny and Harriet both committed suicide, and died a few days after her birth. According to Brian W. Aldiss in “Mary Shelley: Overview”: “Death and insecurity surrounded [Shelley]. ” It is because of the fact that she has faced death her whole life that she is able to write about it so well in Frankenstein when the creature is getting his revenge. Frankenstein is considered one of the great Romantic pieces. Aspects of Romanticism that can be seen in Frankenstein are emphasis on nature, emotions, and elements of the supernatural. First, characters throughout Frankenstein find peace and serenity when they experience nature. For example, after Victor creates the creature, he is depressed and falls ill. However, Victor is able to recover by travelling to the forests he played in as a child. Shelley expresses this: ‘It was during an access of this kind that I suddenly left my home, and bending my steps towards the near Alpine valleys, sought in the magnificence, the eternity of such scenes, to forget myself and my ephemeral, because human, sorrows’. This emphasis on nature falls into the ideas of the Romantic Movement. Shelley also expresses emotion through character in Frankenstein. An example of this is after Justine dies the creature displays his thoughts: “Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows deprives the soul both of hope and fear”.

Through the creature’s analysis of human emotions, Shelley is able to continue to demonstrate Romantic values in her work. Finally, Shelly shows element of the supernatural. The creation of life by anyone other than God is a supernatural element. The creature is a prime example of this as his very nature is against what is seen as natural. Shelley remains one of the greatest Romantic authors to exist. First critics of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were generally unfavorable, with the Quarterly Review stating: ‘Our taste and our judgement alike revolt at this kind of writing, and the greater the ability with which it may be executed the worse it is – it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their taste have been deplorably vitiated’ Even with the harsh beginning the piece has inspired works of art for two centuries. Shelley’s life heavily influenced this work and allowed it to become the great literary work that it is. It expresses the ideas of Romanticism in a darker light than previously seen in the movement and is one of, if not the, greatest Romantic piece of literature ever.


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