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I busied myself to think of a story – a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. In the Authors introduction to the standard novels edition (1831), Mary Shelley conveys her aim of the novel, Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley proclaims her novel “my ghost story” p.8. The proposal of a ghost story relates to supernatural literature, which creates horror with paranormal and occult themes, but Frankenstein in fact has no ghosts. There are no ‘bumps in the night’ and only the minimum amount of blood with emphasis on telling rather than showing in a story of scientific developments beyond our control. To evoke horror Shelley’s novel complies with literature of the gothic genre with its tale of macabre in wild picturesque landscapes but without the ghouls and spirits. Shelley has the ability to horrify us without such paranormal torments but through psychological torments. It is Mary Shelley’s method and success of creating horror in the novel that this essay aims to discuss.
Shelley’s era saw rise to momentous discoveries and advances in science that many feared may lead to disaster. The scientific work of Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) coupled with the ideals of philosopher John Locke (1632 – 1704) saw increased ambition and power in the 17th Century. Parallels can be easily drawn between such ambitious scientists and philosophers, and Mary Shelley’s fictional character of Victor Frankenstein. Clearly a large influence to the myth of creation the novel endures is aided by the development of electricity. Shelley uses these advances in technology to make her novel appear more realistic and therefore horrifying.
She has replaced the heavenly fire of the Prometheus myth with the spark of newly discovered electricity. Although neglected in the novel, Kenneth Branagh’s 1994, film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein draws parallels with Luigi Galvani (1737 -1798), by featuring his work of discovering a frogs legs could twitch in an electric field. The use of electricity plus the amniotic fluid, which Victor uses in his creation, mixes the idea of science with the mythical origins surrounding the birth of human life. As Mr Waldman presents and influences the work of Victor Frankenstein, the likes of Newton and Galvini coupled with discussions between Mary Shelley, husband Percy and Lord Byron at Lake Geneva in 1816 have indeed influenced Shelley’s role in creating the horror surrounding Frankenstein.
When considering horror, we must consider what actually evokes the horror. Shelley’s use of language when Victor is developing his “workshop of filthy creation” p.52 is disturbing, although not much graphic content is written, it is more what is not said and left out that is horrific. The theme of control is central to this idea of horror. When considering the horrendous incidents of September the 11th 2001 in American, and the horrific images of planes hitting tower blocks, are response is stomach churning but the real horror is the lack of control, nobody knows when and how the attacks are going to happen and this is similar in Frankenstein. Victor is scared of the monster as he has no control over him and this permeates through to the reader. There is surely an eye opening benefit of being horrified in some aspects. We can test our courage and survival and prepare for the future and in this case we are providing with the dangerous premonitions of playing god.
Due to Mary Shelley’s experiences of death and pregnancy the novel seems to suggest her own mental torments about creation, and the horror of birth and development. Shelley lost most of her children, only one survived. Shelley may be using her novel as a way of voicing her disgust and unhappiness at how childbirth can appear. “I kept my workshop of filthy creation” p.52, may be referring to the womb, the disgust and pain a mother can feel at such unhappiness. The creation seems to depict mothers’ worst fears, being capable to accept and have endless love for a child and not reject in the horrific manner that Victor does.
The description of the monster is very much similar to that of a newborn baby. Once again the 1994 film adaptation of the novel depicts the monster’s first steps similarly to that of a newborn Deer, struggling to find his feet, clutching on to his creator for dear life. As the novel reaches horrific climax in Chapter Five, Victor is awoke from a dream to find “one hand was stretched out” p.56, as his creation asks for help, like a child would to a mother. The way in which this interaction takes place is horrific in that a monster-like creature standing beside his bed awakens Victor, but the manner in which Victor rejects his monster is equally horrific. The creation has no motive for death yet and he is surely asking for help and is abandoned less than a few hours after birth. The novel could be read as a version of what occurs when a man plays god and upsets nature. Trying to create a child without woman is not natural and the horrific incidents which follow act as a warning not to mess with the origins of human life.