Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is a classic novel that explores the themes of life, death, creation, and responsibility. The story follows Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who becomes obsessed with discovering the secret of life and creating a new being from dead body parts. However, when he succeeds in his experiment, he is horrified by the appearance of his creature and abandons it. The creature, left alone and rejected by everyone, seeks revenge on his creator and causes havoc and tragedy for Victor and his loved ones.
The novel is told in a frame narrative, where Robert Walton, a captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, writes letters to his sister about his encounter with Victor Frankenstein, who tells him his story in detail. The novel also includes the creature’s own account of his life and sufferings, as well as his request for Victor to make him a female companion. The novel thus presents multiple perspectives on the events and characters, and invites the reader to sympathize with both Victor and the creature.
The first edition of Frankenstein was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when Shelley was 20 years old. Her name first appeared in the second edition, which was published in Paris in 1821.
One of the main themes of the novel is the danger of playing God and meddling with nature. Victor’s ambition to create life leads him to neglect his family, friends, and moral values. He does not consider the consequences of his actions or the rights and feelings of his creature. He also fails to take responsibility for his creation and to provide him with guidance and affection. The creature, on the other hand, is not inherently evil, but becomes so because of his loneliness and rejection. He longs for human contact and love, but is met with fear and hatred everywhere he goes. He also suffers from an identity crisis, as he does not know who he is or where he belongs. He eventually turns to violence and revenge as a way of expressing his anger and despair.
Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, after having a competition with her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori to see who could write the best horror story. She was inspired by a dream she had after discussing galvanism and the possibility of reanimating dead matter.
Another theme of the novel is the role of education and knowledge in shaping one’s character and destiny. Victor’s pursuit of knowledge leads him to discover the secret of life, but also to lose sight of his humanity and happiness. He becomes isolated from society and consumed by guilt and remorse. The creature’s education, on the other hand, makes him more aware of his situation and his feelings. He learns to read and speak from observing a family of cottagers, and he reads books that teach him about history, philosophy, and literature. He becomes more intelligent and eloquent, but also more miserable and bitter. He realizes that he is different from other beings and that he has no place in the world.
Shelley travelled through Europe in 1815, and visited places that influenced her story, such as Frankenstein Castle in Germany, where an alchemist had experimented with human bodies, and Geneva, Switzerland, where much of the novel takes place.
The novel also explores the influence of nature and nurture on one’s personality and behavior. Victor’s creature is born innocent and good, but becomes corrupted by his environment and experiences. He is influenced by both the beauty and the cruelty of nature, as well as by the kindness and the injustice of humans. He tries to be good and virtuous, but is driven to evil by his circumstances and emotions. Victor’s creature is thus a product of both nature and nurture, and a reflection of both his creator and his society.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a masterpiece of Gothic literature that combines horror, romance, science fiction, and moral philosophy. The novel challenges the reader to question their assumptions about life, death, creation, and responsibility, as well as to empathize with both the creator and the creature. The novel also raises relevant issues about the ethical implications of scientific progress and the social consequences of alienation and discrimination.
© Colin Lawson Books