Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) Type of Work: Conceptual horror novel Setting Switzerland; late 1700s Principal Characters Robert Walton, an explorer attempting to sail to the North Pole Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a “monster” Clerval, Frankenstein’s friend The Monster, Frankenstein’s angry, frustrated, and lonely creation Story Overveiw His ship surrounded by ice, Robert Walton watched with his crew as a huge, misshapen “traveller” on a dog sled disappeared across the ice. The next morning, as the fog lifted and the ice broke up, they found another man, nearly frozen, on a slab of floating ice.
By giving him hot soup and rubbing his body with brandy, the crew restored him to health. A few days later he was able to speak. This stranger, Victor Frankenstein, seemed upset to hear that an earlier sled had been sighted.
Then he began to tell his story: Victor had been born the only child of a good Genevese family. During a journey with her husband abroad, his mother found a peasant and his wife with five hungry babies. All were dark-complected, save one, a very fair little girl. His mother decided at that moment to adopt the child. Victor and his adopted sister, Elizabeth came to love one another, though they were very diverse in character. Elizabeth”busied herself with following the aerial creations of poets,” while, for Victor, “it was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn .
.the physical secrets of the world.” After the death of his mother when he was seventeen, Victor departed for the University of Inglostadt. There, young Frankenstein grew intensely interested in the phenomena of the human body: “Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?” He investigated the processes of death and decay, and soon became obsessed with the idea of creating life itself. After days and nights of laboring, “I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.” Frankenstein set out to create a superior living being, hoping to eventually uncover the formula for eternal life.
In his brilliant and terrible research ‘ Frankenstein doggedly collected body parts from charnel-houses and cemeteries. Finally, “on a dreary night of November ..I beheld the accomplishment of my toils”: an eight-foot monster. Applying electricity to the “lifeless matter” before him, Victor saw “the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” The scientist was appalled.
“Breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” He had created a freak. Exhausted, Frankenstein fell asleep, seeking a “few moments of forgetfulness.” But, as he tossed in bed, a cold draft woke Victor, and “I beheld the wretch .. his eyes .
. fixed on me.” He shrieked in horror, scaring the monster away, then escaped downstairs.A long depressive illness followed this episode. Victor slowly began to recover. But soon he received terrible news from his father: William, the youngest son, had been strangled, and his murderer remained at large. “Come dearest Victor; you alone can console Elizabeth,” his father pled. The scientist returned to Geneva during a terrible storm.
As he plodded along, he “perceived in the gloom a figure,” and knew instinctively that it was “the filthy demon to whom I had given life.” Then a horrible thought struck him: this monster might be his brother’s murderer.But when Victor arrived at his mournful home, he was told that William’s killer had already been unmasked.
Justine, the family’s long-time servant, had been found in possession of a locket that held a picture of their mother, taken from William during the murder. The poor girl seemed to confirm her own guilt “by her extreme confusion of manner”; and, though Victor believed Justine was innocent, he hesitated to come forward because he felt the story of his monster was too fantastic to be taken seriously. Justine was hanged, and Victor, “seized by remorse and a sense of guilt,” took a solitary journey to Mont Blanc.
During a hike up a mountain path he saw a strange, agile figure – his own monstrous creation – advancing towards him “with superhuman speed.”, Be gone, vile insect,” he commanded.But the monster countered: ” . . . You, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature .
.. How dare you sport thus with life?” Creature and creator argued back and forth until the monster convinced Victor to hear his account. Life for the intelligent and sensitive being had been difficult.
“I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time. . . ” he explained.
He wandered, surviving on berries and stream water, until he found a fire left by vagrants, and learned to keep warm.When food grew scarce he approached a village; but because of his hideous features, 1. some [of the villagers] fled, some attacked me, until grievously bruised by stones .
. I escaped to the open country.” He finally made his home in an abandoned hovel adjoining a cottage. In the cottage lived an old, impoverished, blind man, with his son and daughter. The creature learned the rudiments of verbal language by listening to their conversations. After some months, the monster gathered his courage and chatted with the blind man as he was alone, relating his situation. But just as the monster was about to ask his human friend for refuge, the son returned home and “with supernatural force tore me from his father.” The disheartened, confused monster fled from the cottage.
Despised by all who saw him, he wandered the countryside until one day he came upon a young boy – Victor’s brother – who “loaded me with epithets which carried despair to my heart.” In bitter rage, the monster killed the boy, then took the locket that hung around the child’s neck and hid it on Justine’s clothing as she slept. After relating this tale, the monster made a frightful demand: “You must create a female for me. .
. ” “I do refuse it,” Victor declared.Making a mate for this monster could give rise to a hostile superhuman race. However, promising that lie and his mate would retreat in peace to the wilds of South America, the monster’s pleas and threats finally i-noved Victor: “I consent to your demand..
” Still, back in his laboratory, Victor could not collect the courage for his work: “I feared the vengeance of the disappointed fiend, yet I was unable to overcome my repugnance to the task which was enjoined me.” Perplexed, Victor traveled to Britain with the intent of marrying his foster sister, Elizabeth. But first he retired to a remote area of Scotland, where he planned to finish his work in solitude.
Even there he could sense the monster near, waiting for the “birth” of his mate. But shortly before the female’s completion, Victor destroyed her in disgust. Watching at a window, the lonely, enraged brute forced his way into the house.But this time Victor was adamant; he would not again enter into such a work. “Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict ..
. I shall be with you on your wedding night,” the vengeful monster intoned. Despite these words, Victor determined that his marriage to Elizabeth would take place. Following the wedding, Victor stood watch downstairs, waiting for the appearance of his rejected creature. just as Victor be an to believe that by some fortunate chance the monster would not come, a shrill and dreadful scream broke the stillness. Victor rushed to the nuptial chamber.
But alas, he was too late. All he bebeld was Elizabeth’s”bloodless arms and relaxed form flung by the murderer on its bridal bier.” His story completed, the chilled and weakened Victor Frankenstein died there on the ice-bound ship, unavenged. That night the monster visited Walton in the dead man’s cabin. Standing over his creator’s body, the beast first asked the dead scientist’s pardon, but then blamed Frankenstein for his sorrow – and for destroying his unfinished mate: My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy .
.. But when I discovered that he, the author at once of my existence and of its unspeakable torments, dared to hope for happiness .
.envy and bitter indignation filled me with an insatiable thirst for vengeance .. I desired love and friendship. Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all ..human kind sinned against me? Then, predicting his own imminent death by fire, the monster bid Walton farewell, sprang from the window, and vanished across the Arctic ice fields.
Commentary Mary Shelley wrote this novel on a dare at the age of nineteen. While she and her husband (the renowned poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) were vacationing with Lord Byron and others in the Alps – where much of the story takes place they started to exchange ghost stories. Intimidated at first by the fame of some of her companions, some of England’s greatest writers, Mary finally offered up her contribution, Frankenstein: the Moden Prometheus.The work was a breakthrough, spawning the birth of two literary genres: science-fiction and horror fiction.
This novel – and resultant motion pictures, which have usually degenerated into simple horror plots – has had a recent resurgence in popularity due to the efforts of “feminist critics,” who have penetrated its deeper themes. Along with her exposition of the dangers and ethical dilemmas involved in experimenting with life, and her homily against judging by appearances, perhaps one of Shelley’s most important contributions in Frankenstein is her brilliant portrayal of the male desire – conscious or unconscious to circumvent the role of woman in giving life. With a new focus on these deeper issues during the last half century, Frankenstein has achieved renewed status as a multidimensional literary classic.