Finding Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s Presence in Frankenstein.

Paul Fischer
Humanities III
9/08


Finding Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s Presence in Frankenstein.



    Two hundred years ago, the chains of sexism weighed so heavily on women that Mary Shelley, a progressive writer, created a terrible monster to signify these bonds. Rather than attempt to point out the inherent inequality on society, she displayed in full graphic detail the horrendous effect of sexual prejudice on her own life. She created a world and a fantasy where Shelley’s own character was made male, but haunted by a monster. This is the premise and goal of Frankenstein, to measure the effect of sexual bias on an individual. Specifically, Frankenstein is haunted by the Monster, representing Mary Shelley’s own existence chained by the sexist demands of her society. This interpretation of the novel is supported by numerous inferences that can be made from the text, namely the intense similarity of Frankenstein to Shelly, of the Monster’s pestilence to the bonds of Shelley’s society, and the effect of the monster on Frankenstein.
    Frankenstein, haunted by the images of the monster, falls sick until Clerval, a childhood friend, comes to his rescue and nurses him to health (81-99). In this we see the literal physical comparison of Shelley and Frankenstein. Shelley believed that she was sick, haunted by her childhood, represented by the monster, and Clerval represented her answer to the sickness. Furthermore, Frankenstein’s mother dies early in his life; Mary Shelley never knew her mother. Indeed, certain passages read like a Shelley’s attempt to theorize what her mother might have been like, and to deal with her loss, writing, “My mother was dead, but we still had duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest, and learn to think ourselves fortunate.” (58) The passage, which is riddled with rhetorical questions to communicate Frankenstein’s loss, is one of many that extensively details the physical and environmental similarities of Mary Shelley to the character she created, Frankenstein. Comparisons between the two have no reason to stop there, however, as Shelley makes sure the connection is present by completing the circuit and providing us with a close view of her personal emotions through the story.
    A snapshot of Mary Shelley’s life might include high philosophy and manic depression. The effect of combining eccentricity and free living in Shelley’s immediate family as her bachelor father struggled to provide parenting to the girl is also seen in Frankenstein, who lost his mother at a young age and was finally sent to school (56). Perhaps Mary Shelley, like da Vinci and Mona Lisa, is creating an opposite sex mirror of herself in Frankenstein. Yet while Frankenstein was not bound by the chains of sexist Victorian society the way Shelley was, he certainly finds himself bound by his own eccentric invention. Just as Shelley’s cognizance of her husband’s activities pains her, so is Frankenstein’s considerable intelligence painful to him. He realizes the massive trouble that he has started with his experiment and has reason to be afraid as the monster he created kills his family.
    Mary Shelley was helpless in her attempts to reason or think through the conventions of her time; she had no choice but to accept the degradation. Frankenstein has the power in his own society, envied by all his peers, yet the monster is the unpredictable source of his continued pain. “The monster whom I had created, the miserable daemon … I was possessed by a maddening rage when I thought of him.” (280) Surely this is similar to how Mary Shelley felt as she was put down by her society and ignored by all the male figures in her life.
    Mary Shelley’s father and mother were both famous writers. Although of completely different genres, both were adamantly progressive. She grew up in an environment of laissez-faire and was perhaps didn’t understand the purpose of marriage until she herself fell in love with a young admirer of her father.  When the young student turned out to be less than faithful, Mary Shelley responded with considerable wrath. Unfortunately she was squashed by her inability to effectively take any action against her husband. During her long stay in the Alps, the inequality of her situation is evident in her writing. It caused her to think about what sort of person she might have been if she had been a man, and what a burden her sexist society placed on her. Victor was Mary Shelley incarnated in her writing as a man, the monster his burden.
    The monster also parallels the bonds of Shelley’s society by limiting Victor Frankenstein’s career. Mary Shelley surely felt the pain of having her writing rejected merely for her sexuality. She makes a statement because Victor’s infatuation with the monster reflects the obsession that some women held with there place in the family as the “angel” of the house. She believes that though women tried very hard, even obsessed over making their families perfect, the fruit of their labors was little more than a monster. Frankenstein works for weeks on the monster, his “cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement.” (73). Yet when his labors were complete, he “dreaded to behold the monster.” (83) Rather than creating a functional superhuman, with superior mental and physical capability, Frankenstein is presented by a horrendous mistake, the desecration that his peers warned him of. Rather than owning up and accepting his wretched lot, he attempts to run away from the monster.
   The obsession and dedication that women were required to have in Victorian society surfaces in Shelley’s Victor but the monster proves that the efforts are truly fruitless. When the two are combined, a powerful moral lesson is delivered by Mary Shelley. Victor’s desertion of the monster is obviously a reference to the midlife crisis that many people go through. Mary Shelley is warning is warning the frustrated women of the pain of laissez-faire, a principle she was raised by, but the reasoning became confused as she found the man she loved would not love her alone. Victor’s marriage, his profession and his life are destroyed when he attempts to simply leave the monster. The point is that one can’t walk away from their problems, but must indeed spend as much time and effort unraveling the trouble as they did creating it.
    The reader is left to wonder what in the world might have happened if the monster had been embraced by Frankenstein. While Victor would certainly have to raise his head above the jeers of his fellow scientists, he might have also provided important technology for science in the study of biology and medicine. Instead, he inspires a vendetta executed by a godless killing machine. If he’d the same obsession about taming the monster as he’d had in creating it, Frankenstein would not have had such a grisly timbre. Projecting her own relationships and life into her story, Mary Shelley has provided us with a masterful insight on how even that which we love and cherish can quickly turn against us when obsession turns to disgust.

Skip to toolbar