- Context of the writing
- Gothic and romantic influences
- ”Frankenstein” as the sublimation of Mary Shelley’s own sexual life ?
“Frankenstein” is a novel written by Mary Shelley published in 1818 by a small London publishing house, Lackington, Hughes, Harding. Mary Shelley was nineteen when she wrote the novel. “Frankenstein” is a gothic novel with romantic overtones whose creature became more famous than its author.
“Frankenstein” is written in an epistolary form. It starts with Captain Walton sailing through the artic cold and spotting a giant figure, then finding a frail man which he rescues. This man is Victor Frankenstein. He tells his story : born in Geneva from a wealthy family, he goes to the University of Ingolstadt where he becomes soon fascinated with Paracelsus and other alchemists. He ends up reconstituting a creature from dead bodies. But the result is not what he expected : the monster is eight feet tall, ugly, with translucid skin which can’t hide his muscles and veins. Frankenstein flees in despair, leaving the sad and rejected monster on his own. Rejected by humanity, fleeing from place to place, the monster will soon have no choice but to kill people. He kills Victor’s younger brother William. Justine, his nanny, is hanged for this crime. Victor flees too with despair, and ends up meeting the monster. The monster tells him of his own sad story, of the circumstances which led to his life of crime. The monster was taught to speak and read by a nice family who then rejected him, which led the monster to burn their cottage and flee. The monster then asks Frankenstein to create a female companion for him. Victor accepts, then goes to England, and then to Scotland. His friend Clerval is killed and then his to-be wife Elizabeth on their wedding night. Victor then pursues the monster as far as the North Pole. This is where Captain Walton finds him. Frankenstein dies. And the grief-stricken monster then disappears in the icy seas.Retour en haut de page
Context of the writing
On 5th April 1815, Mount Tambora’s volcano erupts. To this day it is the largest volcanic eruption ever recorded, apparently four times the energy of Mount Krakatoa’s eruption in 1883. The explosion was heard 2,600 km away, and Sir Stamford Raffles remembers that military detachments were sent as everyone in the region thought some kind of outpost was being attacked, mistaking the volcanic explosion for the sound of cannon.
This led to the “year without summer”. Mary Shelley and her lover visit Lord Byron at his villa near Lake Geneva. The summer was cold and rainy. They all stay indoors and talk, talk about literature, gothic tales etc. Prompted by one of the discussions, Mary Shelley then writes “Frankenstein”. First a short novel, her lover convinces her to turn it into something longer. Was he right ? Les Éditions de Londres are not sure. But anyway… Mary Shelley described that summer as that moment “when I first stepped out from childhood into life”.Retour en haut de page
Gothic and romantic influences
“Frankenstein”, in spite of its originality, is a clear cut example of a gothic novel, still filled with classical references (Milton, Prometheus…) but written in a style not filled with originality. If we consider the gothic genre to be born out of English Romanticism, then “Frankenstein” is a gothic romantic novel.Retour en haut de page
”Frankenstein” as the sublimation of Mary Shelley’s own sexual life ?
A traditional Freudian interpretation of this novel, combined with what we know of Mary Shelley’s intimate life, lead us to this hypothesis. First, Mary Shelley was educated by a progressive and liberal father. Her mother had died when she was a baby. Deprived of female role model, she then became naturally fascinated by other father figures such as her future husband Percy Shelley. She then travels with him to Europe, and comes back pregnant with a premature born baby, who dies, whilst her lover has an affair with Mary’s half-sister, Claire. One year later, she invents the character of Victor Frankenstein, apparently modelled on many of Percy’s traits. And she invents the monster, both a representation of the fear of the male sexual power, the post trauma of the loss of her baby and an act of revenge following the actions of her lover, who would become her husband, for what had happened with her baby and the affair which Percy had with her half-sister. The story is the unconscious manifestation of her perception of the duality of sex in the early Nineteenth century : both unavoidable, powerful and ugly at the same time, sex is destructive and ends with death.
© 2013- Les Éditions de Londres