Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
‘Monster’? ‘Wretch’? ‘Creature’? ‘Demon’? ‘It’?
… There are many synonyms for the character that Victor Frankenstein creates in the mysterious tale of Frankenstein, which was written by the British author Mary Shelley. The recipe is simple: A plot that includes one scientific man, one (much alive!) monster created out of dead parts and many unfortunate and violent events. Are you intrigued yet?
Frankenstein is Mary Shelley’s most well-known literary work, but she has also written several other novels, e.g. Mathilda (1819) and The Last Man (1826). Frankenstein was written in 1818 and presents a mix of Gothic and Romantic elements. The narrative style is first of all presented as a mail correspondence and later on as a diary written by the main character Victor Frankenstein, who creates the famous monster whom we are desperate to meet. Victor slaves for science and works in a laboratory, and in the process one would suggest that he gradually becomes insane. He is obsessed with the idea of creating a living creature out of the parts of different humans.
Naturally, he succeeds and creates Frankenstein. One might wonder why this angle was chosen by the author. The novel was written at a time when science grew into people’s consciousness. With the Enlightenment, new philosophical thinkers shared their visions and ideas. Naturally, science had answers that denied everything that Christianity stood for, especially concerning the creation of man. Is the story of Frankenstein an indirect comment on important topics of that time? Already from the 1790s there had been a huge interest in scientific discoveries, e.g. experimental work focusing on electricity, chemical composition and voltaic batteries. It is very likely that these inventions to a large extent inspired Mary Shelley to write her novel.
With her novel Mary Shelley shows us readers that there are no creatures that are entirely evil or entirely good, because human beings have both good and evil qualities. It is more a question of balance and which character trait is dominant at a certain time. No one is completely evil or completely good:
“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures”.
Mary Shelley’s well-written novel with beautiful lyrical passages, metaphors and symbolism make it easy for us to be confused, but this is only a positive element. There is always something left unsaid, so it’s up to us (you, dear reader) to let our minds wander and let the imagination speak for itself:
“Sometimes, indeed, I dreamt that I wandered in flowery meadows and pleasant vales with the friends of my youth, but I awoke and found myself in a dungeon. Melancholy followed […] for they had called me mad, and during many months, as I understood, a solitary cell had been my habitation”.
The structure of the story with the end presenting the beginning makes it easier for the reader to be intrigued from the first page. It is simply stated that there is a monster and as we turn the pages, the story unfolds itself.