Many people have heard of the iconic story of Frankenstein, but only few actually know it. This can be seen in the common mistake that not the creature, but the creator is called Frankenstein. This is also not the horror story many people expect it to be. Instead, this is the sad story of an intelligent man who, because of his looks, is thrown out of society and lead to such misery he seeks to take revenge on the man who made him ‘the monster’ he is.
Instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder, if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man when he contemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness; and, instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union.Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred.
In 1816, this story was penned down after a nightmare by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. She was only 18 at the time, second wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary’s mother was a pioneering feminist and died only a month after giving birth to her daughter. Mary was therefore raised by her father, philosopher William Godwin. A year after the death of Mary’s mother, Godwin published Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, intended as a compassionate tribute to his wife. But because her affairs and illegitimate child were revealed in this work, they were received with shock. However, Mary always cherished her mother’s memory. Mary enjoyed a rich and informal education, having access to her fathers library, educational outings and talking to her fathers visitors such as the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and former vice-president of the US Aaron Burr. She grew up to be “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.”
In 1814 she began a relationship with the then married Percy after having secret meetings at her mother’s grave. Together with Mary’s stepsister they left for France, leaving Percy’s pregnant wife behind. They traveled to Switzerland, but due to money trouble they had to return home, via the Rhine, and at the Dutch port Maassluis they left for Kent. Mary returned to England being pregnant. They were penniless and Mary’s father refused to have anything to do with her. The baby died after being born prematurely. Shortly after Percy’s first wife committed suicide in 1816, he married Mary to make his case for getting the custody of his two children from his first wife stronger. However, he was ruled unfit for custody. In 1818 Mary left England to go live in Italy, where sadly her second and third child died, before she gave birth to their fourth and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. Her fifth pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, in which she lost so much blood she almost died. She only survived due to the quick thinking of her husband. However, the couple did not fare well, and Mary was heavily depressed. She and Percy shared a believe of non-exclusive marriage, and she saw him very little during these rough times. After her husband drowned in a sailing accident in 1822, Mary and her son returned to England. In 1851 she died at the age of 53, probably because of a brain tumor.
Mary and Percy spent the summer of 1816 near Geneva, with Lord Byron. He suggested that both she and Percy should write a horror story. Frankenstein was the result of this. This story was published in 1818. Apart from putting a lot of effort in getting her husband’s work published, she wrote a fair number of novels herself, such as Valperga, Perkin Warbeck, The Last Man, Lodore and Falkner. From these and some of her lesser-known works it became apparent that Mary Shelley was a political radical. Her novels often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practiced by woman in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. These views was a direct challenged to the ideas promoted by her husband and father.
This month I read Mary Shelley’s most famous work, Frankenstein, together with my boyfriend. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even though it was written 200 years ago, it is very easy to read. This is a story in a story in a story. We start by following the sailor R. Walton. He rescues Victor Frankenstein, who then tells Walton his story of the creation of his ‘monster’ and the events after that leading up to the rescue by the sailor, including the story of the creature in its own words.
Victor Frankenstein is definitely not a brave hero. He is very dedicated to his studies and work, but spends several months of the narrative ill due to shock of seeing the dead body of his friend or the sight of his creation. Deaths of loved ones could have been prevented by him speaking up, but he stays silent because he is scared people won’t believe him or say he is crazy. To be honest, at times you just want him to stop whining about how miserable he feels.
I have one secret, Elizabeth, a dreadful one; when revealed to you, it will chill your frame with horror, and then, far from being surprised at my misery, you will only wonder that I survived what I have endured.
Now, dear Victor, you are slightly exaggerating. Yes you went through some rough things, yet most of those you could have prevented yourself.
No, unlike many adaptations want you to believe, the ‘monster’ may be the hero of the story. Not often have I felt this strong a desire to give a fictional character a big hug. This man is so intelligent and easily satisfied. The mere sound of birdsong or the warmth of sunlight will make him happy for the rest of the day. He helps out a poor family by secretly collecting wood for them so they don’t have to work so hard and can spent time together. He saves a little girl from drowning. All he wants in return is some love. But he is shot and beaten instead because of the way he looks.
…once I falsely hoped to meet the beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.
What Mary Shelley does brilliantly in this story is that both the creature and the creator can be seen as hero or villain. Both do good things, both do bad things. It is up to the reader to decide for which side he/she is rooting, because both sides have valid arguments for their actions.
I highly recommend this book. The prose is fantastic, the questions raised are many, the feelings are real. Say goodbye to Hollywood’s lightning and ‘IT’S ALIVE!!’, and let this poor misunderstood creature into your heart.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. I certainly enjoyed writing it. Learning about the woman who created this story made me see it differently. Many of the places in the story are cities and countries that have been important places to her. This is a story about failed parenting, written by someone who ’caused’ her mother’s death and lost her first child (and after publication three more children). Is that what she meant to do while writing this? Or was this her feminist way of showing what happens if a man tries to get a child without a woman? Or did she just think it was a good story? If you did enjoy this post, I have written a similar one back in May on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous Sherlock Holmes.
Have a lovely day,