Frankenstein is a masterpiece by Mary Shelley, which was written at the age of nineteen. Mary was born in 1797 as the daughter of two elite philosophers, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Goldwin. Her mother Mary was an early feminist and her father was an atheist and anarchist, which are all controversial ideas in their time period.
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Being in that environment Mary grew up with other famous writers and poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron who are two significant figures to romanticism, a movement of artists and writers known for being against aristocracy. One stormy night in summer of 1816 Mary Shelly, her husband Percy Shelly, fellow poet Lord Byron and other friends were sharing their eerie and supernatural stories in a villa in Switzerland where many celebrated horror stories like The Vampyre began. This legendary night was also the origin of Mary’s Frankenstein, a story about a scientist, Victor Frankenstein who seeks to create an extremely strong being but which then turned out to be monstrous. Her novel got a few bad critics including the Quarterly Review published in January 1818, which called it a “tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity”. This reviewer considered the book to be an immoral offensive set of ideas, which is apparent due to the words “tissue” and “absurdity”. The story of Frankenstein horrified the readers of that period since it was about a scientist gathering dead body parts and creating a living monster. Additionally the moral behind the plot of going against religion and the belief that god is the only one who creates the living shocked the readers. Although this tale was inappropriate for the majority, the language to create the atmosphere and scenery was well chosen. While her work was criticized a lot, it still remains a classic novel and influenced many other horror stories. It doesn’t just contain beautiful language but also has well thought out messages.
Mary Shelly’s plot idea of a scientist forming a supernatural creature that can live in the very cold, is hugely strong, incredibly fast and indescribably hideous is horrific and remarkable. Which is why this great character is known around the world even 200 years later. In fact the story does have horrible and disgusting images for instance when the monster kills the innocent boy, William, for mentioning Frankenstein, his creator.
“The child still struggled, and loaded me with epithets which carried despair to my heart; I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet.”
“I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph: clapping my hands, I exclaimed, `I, too, can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.”
However Mary intentionally includes them to make the plot extremely dreadful and would most likely be glad to hear that reader felt horrified by it. Nevertheless the critic isn’t using “horrible” to compliment this horror story, instead truly believes that this story is dreadful. Since he then states in his critic,” it cannot be denied that this is non-sense”. I believe that perhaps the writer of this review didn’t support the message of the story plot or he didn’t even realize that there was a moral background in it. He also called Shelly’s piece a tissue, which could be argued is a reference to the story since it involves bonding body parts and tissue is also a biological term. But it appears that the columnist want to show that the story is just a wobbly net since he emphasizes how irrational the text is in the review. “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”. This novel is very significant to the modern horror story culture, however I do think that Mary Shelly’s science fiction does not seem plausible. She makes the terrifying monster convincing, but there are many parts in the story that lack likelihood and are added conveniently to fit the plot. For instance when the creature learns English there happens to be an Arabian woman learning English from a family, which the creatures spies on. Then he rapidly learns English and by chance finds the novel Paradise Lost, which is a novel about Adam and Eve going against god’s will and draws parallel lines to the plot of Frankenstein. Another scene that was doubtful was when Victor foolishly protects himself instead of his wife after the creature tells him “I will be with you on your wedding night!” which is a warning that he will ruin his wedding night. Therefore to a small extend I agree to the Quarterly Review that Frankenstein is horrible. Even so I definitely do not agree that it is that awful as the reviewer has stated. Since the story contains sensible points like opposing extreme religious beliefs, value of nature, and that you have to take care of matters of your creation.
The morality of the plot is probably the reason why so many critics in the 19th century were against the novel. Frankenstein‘s subtitle is The Modern Prometheus, which means that Frankenstein has similar traits to the tale of Prometheus. In the tale of Prometheus, he goes against god, Zeus, and gives mankind fire. And therefore is being punished for eternity. Which is comparable to Victor Frankenstein who goes against god and creates a being, but then gets punished for it. Since the majority of the people in Europe back then were very religious, this story was scandalous. Many other reviews show negative opinions like The British Critic stating “…these volumes have neither principle, object, nor moral; the horror which abounds in them is too grotesque and bizarre ever to approach near the sublime, and when we did not hurry over the pages in disgust, we sometimes paused to laugh outright; and yet we suspect, that the diseased and wandering imagination, which has stepped out of all legitimate bounds, to frame these disjointed combinations and unnatural adventures, might be disciplined into something better.”
Also in March The Belle Assemblée said,
“This is a very bold fiction; and, did not the author, in a short Preface, make a kind of apology, we should almost pronounce it to be impious.”
In my opinion Shelly’s ethics are inserted wisely. The way she draws a line between the tale of Prometheus and Frankenstein is well done. Also she gives the reader a issue to think about whether the monster is born evil or turned that way through the story evolves, or maybe the creator is the evil one. Which is obvious when the monster says.
“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
Since Adam is created by god and is rather good, but he feels like he is the fallen angel known to be Satan and evil. It can also be argued that she shows feministic view and want to state that society is being unfair toward woman as she writes how Justine gets executed to being the suspect who killed William. The court may not believe her since she is a low class woman but when Victor is suspected to have killed Clerval he gets released. All theses important mentalities are brought up in the novel, which makes it more valuable.
The choice of words that create that beautiful description of landscapes, feelings and appearances are nearly unbelievable for such a young woman to have written. Since many talented writers surrounded her it may have influenced her. Her writing skills were most clear when she described beautiful nature the story was set in. She uses a lot pathetic fallacy throughout the story for instance
“The desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge”
Which show the creature’s bleak feelings that are compared to the dry desert and lifeless glaciers. This also tells us how significant nature is to Mary Shelly and that is also a feature of romanticism. Although the critics disapproved of Frankenstein so much they couldn’t deny her gifted writing ability as stated on the same Quarterly Review that called it a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity.
“…but it is nonsense decked out with circumstances and clothed in language highly terrific: it is, indeed,”.
She also uses narrative device by having first Walton beginning the story, who then stars writing Victors’ narrative that also uses the monster’s perspectives. This creates a more realistic feeling, and also gives the reader the opportunity to hear from different perspectives and sympathies for the other. Her flair in writing makes the novel not just a book with morals but also a piece of art. Which is another reason why it is still celebrated today.
Even though many critics said that the novel lacks morals and manners there are actually many valuable thoughts in it. Mary Shelley writes about the disapproval of god by having Victor create a monster, and she also shows the ideology how modern technology ruins society. I believe that she respected nature a lot since she puts emphasis on the imagery of nature and therefore is also showing disfavor towards the fact that we are getting more civilized through technology. During the era it was written, most of the people were truly religious and also believed that modern technology would improve the society, therefore disliked Frankenstein. As centuries went past Shelley’s idea is still present. There are more people who deny god and think we should stay close to nature however there are other conservative perspectives like the Quarterly Review. Also as time passed by “Frankenstein” has become an iconic character with millions of fans, and made into movies but most people may not know the hidden principles in it or even existence of the book.
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