There are few writers in world literature whose heroes have become common names and are used in the every day life of people from different cultures. Among the limited number of such lucky creators is Mary Shelley who has written at quite a young age in 1818 her everlasting “Frankenstein”. Despite this fact the novel is extremely persuasive and intriguing, having the full range of features which show a mature author’s experience. The publishing of the story immortalises her. The fame which the book brings transcends borders and time.
They are the best verification of the monster’s suggestion after the death of the ambitious doctor: “and when I shall be no more the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish”. This modest supposition proves not to be true. At least his ominous silhouette remains in the mind overloaded with information. All our readers’ attention being absorbed, we do not notice how we transfer the name of Dr Frankenstein over to the fruit of his scientific work. Actually the monster he creates so diligently is left unnamed and is mistakenly called after his creator.
It is quite common to find the name “Frankenstein” associated with clumsy and ugly creations of other authors or in everyday conversations. It has taken on its own life and very often is utilised to mean any fictional human-like monster. It is important to note the first “meeting” with the word “Frankenstein” in each person’s life. This is completely possible to be through Roald Dahl’s story “James and the Giant Peach”. The author employs the famous name in a rhymed conversation between the two aunts of the little boy.
They abuse each other using insulting expressions. One of them contains the imagery “you would make a lovely Frankenstein”. This is the way we usually associate the title of Shelley’s book. There may be some exceptions not to include the impressive name but to invoke some similarity with the appearance of the character. In the popular TV comedy, “The Adams Family” for example, the butler “Lurch” is obviously modelled on this creature but the producers do not repeat the widespread error of calling him “Frankenstein”.
The topicality of Mary Shelley’s book comes not only with the mentioning of its title in any context. It has deeper relations with a lot of features of contemporary life as it raises issues of complex politics of human desire. We can discover the author’s insight in tackling the burning problems from our lives: accountability – especially in the medical, farming and militarily industries; social alienation – including criminals and prisoners, refugees, orphans or adopted children dilemmas; the nature of life itself.
The choice of subtitle is not accidental. “The Modern Prometheus” relates to the infusion of life (fire) into a non-living thing. The charitable action of the chained Titan from Greek mythology has provided a lot of motivation in all the arts. Taking inspiration from Byron’s suggestion of writing ghost stories, Mary Shelley explores an area which relates to all scientists dreams: the achievement of artificial life. This is the overriding purpose of the efforts of her main hero whose name gives the title to the novel.
In his childhood Victor Frankenstein had been amazed by electricity. He had seen its effect on a “beautiful oak” struck by a dazzling stroke of lightning. Later the young doctor shares this experience with his friend – Arctic explorer Robert Walton. It is clear that the new phenomenon deeply excites the inventive imagination of the experimenter, just like Mary Shelley herself endures before the science. Obviously both competition in her circle of friends and her growing interest in the unveiling of nature’s secrets have fired the imagination of the talented woman.
She has been aware of the contemporary physician Dr Erasmus Darwin’s and the chemist Sir Humphry Davy’s researches, and probably has been excited by feelings similar to those we have today when cloning or Genetic Modification of food is argued about. If we think over the threatening cost of breaking the food chain, a series of dangerous pictures can form in front of our eyes. Unfortunately, under the cover of caring for humans and creating more food we are stepping into the unknown where there may be lurking serious and unpredictable risks.
The writer comes to the idea for the development of an extraordinary character in order to show where arrogant medical and biological approaches could lead. In her vision for the future she is very close to the plots used in films about military projects. The spreading of diseases from hidden hospital laboratories is akin to the escaping of the monster from Frankenstein’s workshop. The contemporary world is even under greater threat from the production and storage of nuclear weapons. Experimentation with them, and even their very existence, reminds us of Shelley’s warning of what could happen in case of failure.
The artificial hero, to whom she gives intelligence, is probably the first in the search for similar images in world literature. In the modern times her example is repeated in the construction of electronic humanlike machines. All languages are enriched by the word “robot” introduced by Karel Capek in his “RUR” play. The abbreviation for Rosumove Universalne Roboty could be translated as “sensible universal work”. For the last word Capek uses an old lexeme which is not in contemporary Czech but exists in other Slavonic languages.