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The gothic novel Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley and published in 1818. At that time, it was terrifying and relevant, and in 2011 it provokes the same kind of feelings. Firstly, because of Shelley’s use of Gothic’s technique and imagery that still works effectively to today reader’s imagination. Secondly, because it is easier now for society to conceive the monster as being possibly real, thanks to progress that has been achieved in medicine and science such as cloning, organ transplant and genetic engineering.
Mary Shelly was nineteen when Frankenstein was published and it was both extraordinary and shocking for society that she was both a woman and young. Lord Byron even commented: ‘Methinks it is a wonderful work for a girl of nineteen- not nineteen, indeed, at that time’. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft – a feminist philosopher and writer who believed women should have the same education as men. Mary Shelly’s father was William Godwin, a famous philosopher, novelist and journalist. Her father provided her with a comprehensive education, uncommon for a girl in that time period. Their house received frequent visits of the most famous writers and poets of that time. She had many opportunities to listen to their discussions and opinions, in an environment that nourished her intellectuality. One of these visitors was Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet that later became Mary Shelley’s husband and her greatest influence.
Her inspiration to write Frankenstein came in 1816 when Mary and Percy Shelley visited Lord Byron in Switzerland. Although it was summer, it was often rainy and wet and they spent great part of their holiday at home. It was a favourable environment to long conversations, and one day Lord Byron came up with the idea that they all would write a ghost story. During their stay, she was an attentive listener of a recurrent theme of Byron and Shelley’s conversations: “the principle of life and whether it would be any probability of ever being discovered and communicated”. These thoughts dominated her mind, and she imagined a creature manufactured and made of dead body.
The novel narrates the story of a natural philosopher (scientist) named Victor Frankenstein who becomes obsessed about creating life. He discovers how to create artificial life by animating dead matter. When he accomplishes his most desirable aspiration, he realises his creation was repulsive and abominable and could not be called human. He regrets what he has done and abandons the creature. The creature attempts to integrate in the human society but is always rejected because of his horrendous appearance. The monster becomes furious with his creator and decides to hunt him down for revenge. It destroys Victor’s life and everything he loves – he murders Victor’s little brother, his bride, and, indirectly, his father. Dominated by revenge, guilt and responsibility, Victor decides to kill the monster. He tracks him down northward in the direction of North Pole; however Victor eventually dies of pneumonia. Filled with remorse, the monster decides to kill itself.
One of the themes present in Frankenstein is that creation of life is something divine and forbidden to be created by human beings. The novel’s subtitle is “The Modern Prometheus”. Prometheus, in the Greek Mythology, stole fire from Zeus (a Greek god) to give it to humans and was punished because of that. Victor is the modern Prometheus because he stole the knowledge of creation from ‘God’, and used it as he wished; he was later punished by his own creature.
The novel also describes some of the worst aspects of human nature: appearance being more important than one’s personality and how a blind obsession may take control over someone’s behaviour. Moreover, at 1818, it was a time of industrial revolution and changes, mainly in agriculture and technology. The novel Frankenstein is criticising the rate of these changes, which have a connection with the fast progress of technology discoveries in today’s society. In addition, the novel promotes a discussion on the morality of doing something just because it is possible and we can do it, rather than reflecting about all implications and consequences of doing. These themes were relevant in 1818 and are still relevant today.
Victor’s mother died from scarlet fever when he was still young. “It is long before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw every day, and whose existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed forever ” This event had a strong influence on him and drove his reflections about how life was created, and whether humanity would ever succeed in animating something dead. The loss of a beloved person and all feelings related to this were relevant to the audience in 1818 and still are today. Most people would consider bringing someone that they loved back to life if they could have this option.