Who Was Mary Shelley and What Inspired Frankenstein?
Mary Shelley’s young age while writing the novel “Frankenstein” in 1816 seems not to be distinguished with serious life experience which could influence her world famous work.This first impression proves to be wrong when reading her biography.We find a lot of personal, literary and political-philosophical factors forming her mind.
The life of the tender woman is marked by grief from the very beginning. It is not impossible that she has carried some feeling of guilt because only a few days after she has been born her mother dies.
The arrival of the new daughter instead of bringing happiness to the family throws it into deep despair. It is possible to link this first tragic event in Mary Shelley’s life with the thoughts of Frankenstein before his death: “I, not in deed, but in effect, was the real murderer. “(p. 90). Later after the discovery of the body of Henry Clerval, analysing Frankenstein’s bitter conclusion, we could build our reflection into the same direction. Why not assume a subconscious guilt to have followed Mary Shelley all her life? She could think that her half-sister might not have committed suicide if their mother has been alive.
The next tragedy – finding Henrietta (P. B. Shelley’s wife) drowned – could also be associated. Psychologically it is not an exception for a wife abandoned by her husband to kill herself. A nearly direct reminder of a possible self-accusation by the writer is the first person form of the Frankenstein narrative: “I called myself the murderer of William, of Justine, and of Clerval” (P. 171). A similar collection of negative features could lead us towards the sinful heroes of Godwin’s book “Caleb Williams”, 1794, (Kindle. M. The claims of Caleb about himself are very close to those of Shelley’s hero:
“My offense has merely been a mistaken thirst for; knowledge” It seems the shadow of the dead parent has haunted Mary even without any actual memory of the funeral of her dead mother. Impressions are apparently included in the idea for the similar picture over the mantle-piece in Frankenstein’s library which has “represented Caroline Beaufort in an agony of despair, kneeling by the coffin if her dead father. ” (p. 75). It is understandable that Mary is acutely depressed after losing her first baby just one year before he beginning of the writing of “Frankenstein”.
According to the notes in her Journal (Hindle M. p. xv) it has been very difficult for her to accept this death and she has had dreams that by rubbing the baby before the fire it could come back to life again. Obviously such a vision is prominent in the whole novel, subtitled “The Modern Prometheus”, being impressed not as much by Aeschylus’s version of the legend as by Ovid’s one. The English author includes in it many of the progressive ideas of her epoch, especially those coming from science.
There is firm evidence of Mary Shelley’s substantial education and profound interest in the latest biological research. She is attracted by the contemporary work of the physician Dr. Erasmus Darwin and the chemist Sir Humphry Davy, just as Frankenstein is impressed by an early experience with electricity. The young woman has not been a stranger to active political life either, due to the direct involvement of her father in it. We could link all the conservative attacks against him with the reaction towards the monster.
Under the sway of the French Revolution, William Godwin shows explicitly his atheism, i. e. his differentiating from everyone. Inheriting and sharing her father’s unusual ideas, the daughter displays her insight in the novel about creating life in contrast with the wide spread tradition. The-influence of her history studies is transformed into Frankenstein’s over sophisticated conclusions about some important world happenings. Pondering on the interference of his laboratory work with his family relationship he generalises: “… f no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had been not enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country… ” (P. 54). Being well educated, Mary Shelley is probably aware enough of the real reasons for the events her hero lists.
The purpose of such unjustified estimation is more likely to be the author’s aim to show Frankenstein’s excessive self-confidence in his own intellectual potential power and the exaggerating of the individual significance. His forename is not chosen accidentally.
It is like a prediction of victory. Unfortunately we discover a hidden irony there. The insanity of his desires protrudes from the background of the looming mighty Alps in the numerous magnificent descriptions of the imposing mountain chain. It is not enough to underline the unison or contradictions between the characters’ actions and the grand natural pictures. The presence of the awesome Alps in the book is not only an influence from the splendid location where the novel was conceived but also we receive the impression that the mountain has even an independent role in the narrative.
The silent “actor” helps us to see clearer the contrast with the monomaniacal performance of the main hero. We understand that the might belongs only to Nature and that nobody should dare to compete with it. As such fighting takes a lot of time and effort, during the long six years Frankenstein devotes all his attention to the planned hard experiment. The researcher’s engrossment in the scientific enterprise could be an allusion to Mr. Godwin’s busy style of life. The lack of emotional contact with his daughter is presented both in the letters of Frankenstein’s father and especially in the character of the monster.
His determination to kill those dearest to Frankenstein is driven by the need to demonstrate the misery of being without friends and family. Despite the ferociously conducted duel between the main players, the author endeavours to invoke our sympathy for the appalling looking hero. Her searching, restless spirit dictates the tendency towards the unconventional and astonishing. Mary Shelley dares to be in contradiction even with the genre she uses to write the book.
It is commented on immediately in 1818 by Sir Walter Scott in his article introducing the new title in Scotland: “… he tale, though wild in incident, is written in plain and forcible English, without exhibiting that mixture of hyperbolical German with which tales of wonder are usually told, as if it were necessary that the language should be as extravagant as the fiction. ” (Scott, W. , 1818). Mary Shelley changes the face of the Gothic genre being inspired by Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” which she reads while writing “Frankenstein”. She follows the example of the great Spanish prosaic who comes to the idea of contradicting the existing knight’s literature exactly as Shelley achieves a unique Gothic novel.
Cervantes’ influence is not only on the level of motivation but also hi presenting of the main heroes. While both desire to help other people they bring them nothing but misery. The scene with the dying Frankenstein on Walton’s ship reminds us intensely of the mad speeches of Don Quixote. Both heroes try to contaminate with their ridiculous ideas the people surrounding them – Sancho Panza and other servants or the mariners who prefer to continue their journey back home. The distinguishing features of Mary Shelley’s presentation on the literary scene are widely discussed.
Her contribution to the development of English is also noticed by other critics. Just like her parents she is not afraid to think and act differently. The “excellence of language and peculiar interest” impresses the critic for The Belle Assemblee who says: “This work… has as well as originality and an easy energetic style… “. Even today’s readers, whose opinions are often based on mass-media productions, are pleasantly surprised by the delightful manner of writing. Despite the expectation of finding a story of horror and nightmares, the plot is saturated with lyrical diversions.
These appear due to the direct sensitive influences of both family and close circle of friends. Among the contemporaries Mary Shelley reads with serious excitement romantic poets. Her imagination is preoccupied by the Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” whose ideas she puts in the minds of both heroes – Dr Frankenstein and Captain Walton. Both are obsessed by the rhythm of the poem and quote from it to describe their own condition or determination. This brings additional charm to the gripping story. Reading nearly any stanza from the “Ancient Mariner” we can envisage the fascinating power of the epic over the young writer.
Its elevating sound is extremely topical just after the time of the French Revolution: * Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea! And never a saint took pity on My soul in agony. The spread out alliteration expands the boundaries of the immeasurable ocean as ajnetaphor of freedom and independence. Similar feelings have thrilled Mary Shelley while reading “Emil” by Jean Jacques Rousseau. It encourages the ideas of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity -the stimulation for the armed insurrection and the insistence on human rights through the character of the monster.
Rousseau’s ideas elaborated by Godwin in his “Political Justice” are the best explanation for the transforming of the creature into a villain due to treatment by society. A lot of other writers and their books have contributed to forming the views which Mary Shelley conveyed in her riveting novel. Whatsoever is the impact on “Frankenstein” one is undoubted – the envied talent of Mary Shelley to combine all her knowledge, intuitive capacities and innate genius for developing a real masterpiece.