Arguably, the most famous piece of Gothic literature surely would be “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus”. The highly acclaimed masterpiece was conceived by British novelist Mary Shelley in the summer of 1818 when she was aged just 19 years old. “Frankenstein” tells the story of a “monster’s” life via a contemporary issue of advancing science in a secular society. There are many ideas and reasons behind the novel as to what possessed a teenage Romantic, a movement of people who believed in natural beauty, into producing such a chilling tale.
The first one, obviously, being the importance an element of parental guidance is. Shelley never had a parental icon in her life because her mother died during childbirth (due to septicaemia), and she never really found a bond with her stepmother. Therefore, she delved into writing, literature and studying works of philosophers – self teaching in other words. This is a main factor we understand as the novel progresses. Another idea why Shelley wrote this novel is because she was pregnant at the time of its making, and she understood the importance of nurture and affection for an offspring (due to not having one herself).
Shelley married a fellow Romantic, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who has also been dubbed “the ‘finest’ lyric poet in all the English language”, and this seems to have influenced her into writing the novel too. It was Bysshe Shelley who brought the young novelist to join the Romantic Movement, which audaciously revolted against the scientific rationalization of nature. This is another idea stated in the book. Romantics also emphasized the importance of trepidation, horror and awe which is noticeable quite frequently in the novel.
The final obvious idea for the book came from Mary Shelley’s, her husband’s and a companion, Lord Byron’s conversation which was based on the topic of galvanization and reanimation of dead corpses. The novel begins, set in the late 1700’s, with a series of letters from scientifically ambitious explorer, Robert Walton. In these letters he ensures his sister of his well being and increasing confidence for the task at hand – being the first man to reach the North Pole. Upon his voyage he encounters a man whose “limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering”.
Later this man is revealed to be the real protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein, a Genevois, then recounts the tale of his life. He was also a scientific prodigy, obsessed with creating life. Fused with all his knowledge of studying natural philosophers and a burning desire to be at the forefront of mankind, he set out to create life. Intended to be beautiful by reanimating decomposed corpses, the “monster” was born by being shocked into life with electricity. This links to the idea of the novel being titled “The Modern Prometheus”.
Prometheus was a Titan, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to “people” he had fashioned from clay. This parallels Victor’s actions in that he took on the role of God by attempting to create life itself. The “wretch” is instantly rejected by Frankenstein who then seeks revenge by becoming a savage murderer. The creature accidentally kills Frankenstein’s brother, William, and frames Justine, a fellow adoptee of the Frankenstein’s, by placing the locket which William was holding in Justine’s pocket. The locket contained a photo of William’s mother.
Frankenstein reencounters his creation but still refuses to empathise with the nameless creature by declining his plead for a companion. The creation then kills Victor’s close friend, Henry Clerval. The murder of whom Frankenstein is then accused of before his wife and sister, Elizabeth, is brutally murdered. Frankenstein’s father later dies from the grief of so many losses which stirs his determination to destroy his creation, leading to his inevitable death near to the North Pole. This is how the book is seen as a warning about not to interfere in areas which should be left untouched by science.
Despite many brutal killings by the creature seen in the book, who initiated his rage? Therefore, I will consider who the greater monster is in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. My personal definition of a monster, before reading the novel, was a stereotypical, large, deformed atrocity with vulgar, violent mannerisms and a thirst for evil. Oxford dictionary defines the term “monster” as; ‘a large or frightening creature, anything huge’, and, coincidentally enough, ‘a cruel or wicked person’. All three of these definitions are seen in the novel.