The Author’s Private Life Experiences in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Category: Psychology
Last Updated: 15 May 2023
Essay type: Personal
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Frankenstein Evaluation

Never has the there been a story that plays more with its readers' psych than the story of Frankenstein. Hailed as a renowned classic, Frankenstein is one of the first great horror stories to have ever been written. Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelly and published anonymously on January 1, 1818. The story has lived in fame ever since. The book was first published anonymously partly because it was unnatural for a woman writer to write a famous piece like that, especially a famous horror story.

After it was released that Mary Shelley was the author, she even admitted to how odd it was for a girl write something of the nature in the Preface of the 1831 edition of the book, "How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?" (Shelley, 1831). The story was even thought and said to be written by her husband, Percy Shelley, because many people doubted a woman was capable of writing such a story. However, it has been concluded and generally agreed upon that Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein. Since its release, there have been many scholars who have developed theories, based on Shelley's early life, as why and how the famous novel came to be. Many scholars claim that the inspiration for Shelley's story Frankenstein is tied to the psychological impact of her own life story.

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A prominent view on Shelley's inspiration for Frankenstein was explained by Sherry Ginn, Professor at Wingate University, tying it to Erickson's stages of psychological development. In Ginn's critical review of Frankenstein, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Science, Science Fiction, or Autobiography?", she gives a detailed analysis of Shelley's early life describing how she was plagued at an early age by her mother's death and father's rejection. She specifically referenced Erickson's 5th and 6th stages which are Identity vs. Role Confusion, and Intimacy Vs. Isolation.

Ginn explains "that the fifth and sixth stages of Erikson's theory be reversed for women. That is, women are socialized to pursue intimate relationships and these relationships are more important concerns for female adolescents than is the development of an identity" (Ginn). Because Shelley experienced loneliness and rejection from people dear to her at an early age, she lived with that in her heart. This loneliness came in Frankenstein as she wrote about a creature rejected by its creator. The creature then became a monster due to his rejection. It is highly likely that Shelley was speaking about herself in the monster. Ginn is not the only scholar to tie Shelley's inspiration for Frankenstein to psychology.

Naomi Hetherington, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania also tied Shelley's story to psychological impacts from her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. In a critical review "Creator and Created in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" she first writes explains the focus of critical review stating, "modern ahistorical forms of criticism focus on subconscious or unconscious elements within the author's psyche" (Hetherington). Though Hetherington does not use Erickson's stages, she does use psychology.

She explains that Shelley's physical and psychological isolation helps to explain the extent of Frankenstein's physical and psychological isolation. Hetherington says, "Biographical and psychological critics point to ways in which the creature's sense of rejection may reflect Mary's own unsatisfactory early childhood experiences" (Hetherington). Another similarity pointed between Shelley's life and the life of Frankenstein is the loss of Shelley's son William. The first person dear to Frankenstein that dies in the story is Frankenstein's brother William. So obviously there is logic to this theory. Hetherington also focuses a lot on Shelley's rejection of Christianity and uses that as partial explanation of the story.

Frankenstein is a classic story that has become a part historical literature. Though it was written by a woman, it was highly controversial at the time because it was boarder line unbelievable that a woman could be capable of writing such a piece. Despite that, there is a general consensus that Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein. The inspiration of her story has been tied to psychological impacts from her childhood.

Sherry Ginn of Wingate university used Erickson's 5th and 6th stages of psychological development to tie Shelley's adolescence and early adulthood experiences to her expressions in Frankenstein. Another professor, Naomi Hetherington from the University of Pennsylvania, also tied the story to Shelley's life experiences. However, Hetherington did not use Erickson and she also used things like science and Shelley's rejection of Christianity to help explain the story. Both critical reviews have merit and have a lot of good reasoning as it can be seen that much of Shelley's story reflects Shelley's personal life experiences.


  1. Ginn, Sherry. "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Science, science fiction, or autobiography."
  2. Conference paper in proceeding. 2003 The 20th International Literature and Psychology Conference.[Online] http://www.clas. html [2006, Nov 23], 2003.
  3. Hetherington, Naomi. "Creator and Created in Mary ShelleysFrankenstein." The Keats-Shelley Review, vol. 11, no. 1, 1997, pp. 1-39., doi:10.1179/ksr.1997.11.1.1.

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The Author’s Private Life Experiences in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (2023, May 15). Retrieved from

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