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Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

By , Greenville, SC
The Life of Mary Shelley

“I have found it a pleasant thing while travelling to have in the carriage the works of those who have passed through the same country… If alone, they serve as society: if with others, they suggest matter for conversation” (Schor, 1). Mary Shelley knew that books could become good company, and through the work of Frankenstein, Shelley wrote a story that became a legend until the end of time. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein based on her own life experiences, her love for knowledge and others works, and because she made a bet with her closest friends. During the time period of 1818, Shelly had already become famous through her parents’ literary works, and she followed in their footsteps by writing Frankenstein.

In the year, 1818, Mary Shelley was nineteen years old. Her life was already well known because her parents were “somewhat suspect individuals due to their radical political beliefs and writings”. (Woodbridge, 1). Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on August 30, 1797. Eleven days after Shelley’s birth, her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft died. Shelley’s father, William Godwin was left to care for Shelley and her older half-sister, Fanny Imlay. Mary Shelley grew up with an outstanding education, which was rare for women during that time period. At seventeen, Mary Shelley met and ran off with Percy Shelley, who abandoned his pregnant wife and children. Within the two years, Mary and Percy lived together, Mary Shelley had two children. In 1816, Mary and Percy were married. The Shelley’s life was difficult. Percy was constantly in debt and harassed by creditors. They also had many family problems as well. “During their first two and a half years together their first child was born prematurely and died two weeks later, Percy’s first wife committed suicide, and Mary’s half sister, Fanny Imlay, committed suicide.” (Woodbridge, 1). Even through the hardships, Mary still found time and patience to write Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley first got the idea of writing Frankenstein though a dream she had one night after talking to her friends. On June of 1816, Mary Shelley, Percy, Lord Byron, and his doctor William Polidori read aloud ghost stories to one another, and agreed that each “agreed to write a thrilling horror story…” (Schor, 10). After Mary Shelley could not think of ideas for her story, she heard her husband, Percy, and Lord Byron discussing “experiments concerning ‘the principal of life’” (Schor, 10). She awakened after a dream of “’the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together’” (Schor, 10). In her introduction of Frankenstein, Shelley “reviews the scene of the monster’s creation…” (Lowe-Evans, 28). In the introduction Mary Shelley wrote, “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; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” (Lowe-Evans, 28).
Mary Shelley also had a reoccurring dream of the baby girl she had lost eighteen months earlier. She dreamt that “…’my little baby came to life again—that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it by the fire & it lived—I awake & find no baby’” (Schor, 10). There were many questions Shelley had as she gave birth to her son William and then to her daughter Clara Everina. “As many such newly pregnant women have asked, What if my child is born deformed, in Shelley’s phrase a ‘hideous thing’? Could I still love it, or would I wish it had ever been born?” These questions sparked Shelley’s imagination and would someday become one of Victor Frankenstein’s flaws—“total failure as a parent”. (Schor 10). Throughout Frankenstein, parent-child relationships are present. Through the “destruction of the female monster to prevent her union with the Creature, strongly suggests that entry into marriage was a troublesome passage for Mary Shelley.” (Lowe-Evans, 23). Shelley was affected by the rejection from her father as a result in Shelley’s elopement with Percy. Stress increased though the Shelley relationship as Percy Shelley’s father and grandfather both refused to finance Percy’s enterprises. Like Victor Frankenstein’s Creature, Mary and Percy “would be legally handicapped, if not ‘monsters’”. (Lowe-Evans, 26). Marriage was also very hard for Mary Shelley and throughout Frankenstein, the various marriage relationships represent “an attempt to work out of write out not only Mary Shelley’s but also her culture’s discontents with the inequities implicit in the marriage bond.” (Lowe-Evans, 26).
Through the hard times of the Shelley’s life, knowledge remained a big part in their lives. When Mary Shelley was young, “she heard Coleridge recite the famous ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ which would later be referenced many times in Frankenstein…” (Woodbridge, 1). Mary Shelley was always very disciplined in her studies throughout her life. There are three narrators in Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, Walden and the monster, and they all have a passion for knowledge. Victor Frankenstein tells Walden, “ ‘You seek for knowledge and wisdom as I once did, and I ardently hope the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been’” (Woodbridge, 2). Victor Frankenstein searches for knowledge through the creation of a human being though science, and Walden searches for knowledge though his passage though the Arctic.

Mary Shelley gives many parallel characteristics throughout her story of Frankenstein. These characteristics are between her life and the life of the monster and Victor. In the story of Frankenstein, the monster does not have a name. “The absence of a name denies the monster the knowledge of who he is, his familiar origins, and a connection to successive generations.” (Woodbridge, 3). In many ways, Shelley is a good comparison to the monster. “Shelley was notorious for her name, not her appearance, while the monster has no name and is instead an outcast due to the differences in the way he appears to others” (Woodbridge, 4). In the early 1800’s prejudice against women was very high. The first addition of Frankenstein was actually published anonymously. Many reviewers “were unanimous in believing the writer was a follower of Godwin.” (Gerson, 83). Also the newspaper, the Endinburgh, “made the ironic assertion that the book had been done by Shelley.” (Gerson, 83). It was “not until the third printing, late in 1818, did the name Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley appear on the title page.” (Gerson, 83). Another parallel characteristic was the connection between Percy Shelley and Victor. Like Percy, Victor’s “interest in science, his tendency to become obsessively enthusiastic about whatever project he had currently under way, his need for periodic isolation, his powers of persuasion, his altering fits of anguish and joy” all correspond to Percy Shelley’s life.(Lowe-Evans, 79). Percy Shelley remained “an obvious model for Frankenstien’s men. These men include, Victor, Clerval, and the monster. Mary Shelley thought of Percy as not also her husband, “but her friend and mentor.” (Lowe-Evans, 80).

The letters of the sea captain also contain parallel characteristics of Mary Shelley’s life. The sea captain, Robert Walton, writes his sister Margaret Walton Saville “(whose initials, M.W.S. are those of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin”. (Schor, 12). The dates of the letters written by Robert Walton start on December 11, 17--, and end on September 12, 17--; they last exactly nine months which can be interpreted into the “enwomb the telling of the history of Frankenstein”. (Schor, 12).

Other authors influenced Shelley and her writing, one particular author was Rousseau. Rousseau was “both praised for his passionate sensibility and blamed for his inability to control the forces it unleashed” (Schor, 33). Rousseau was a huge influence on Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein. Rousseau was notorious for the crime of parental abandonment, which was a big part of Shelley’s writing. Frankenstein “seeks to justify his negligence by depicting the creature as a malignant ‘devil’, and ‘monster’.” (Schor, 34). Also, “in contrast to Frankenstein’s melodramatic outbursts, the creature’s measured eloquence reflects a Rousseauvian sensibility” (Schor, 34).

Since the early 1800’s, when Frankenstein was first published, the book has never been out of print. It is written in at least “twenty-nine different languages, and has sold many millions of copies. Mary’s story has been copied by innumerable other novelists; nine successful plays have used her theme, and Frankenstein has served as the basis of at least five major motion pictures.” (Gerson, 80). That one story gave Mary much more attention as a writer than Percy has in his entire lifetime. Mary earned more in a month than Percy did in a year. This helped her after Percy’s tragic death. She is world known and even today she is known as one of the “major novelists married to a minor poet.” (Gerson, 80).

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