From your reading of the novel, which character do you think is the real monster, and why? Mary Shelley was born in London on 30 August 1797, the only child of two notable intellects. Her father was the philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was a pioneering feminist, who had died only eight days after Mary’s birth. When Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein, she said that her desire was to ‘curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.’ This indicates to the reader that the novel should be placed in the gothic genre. Typical gothic genres place emphasis on aspects on fear and terror, the presence of the supernatural and the use of highly stereotypical characters.
Although Frankenstein is essentially a gothic novel, it also has significant connections with the Romantic Movement. This link was almost inevitable considering Shelley’s background. Her father, Godwin, had a huge impact on English Romantic poetry, and another notable Romantic, Lord Byron, was a life-long friend of the family. Also her husband, Percy Shelley, was one of the key Romantic poets. There are specific themes in Frankenstein that show relevance to Romanticism.
There is a concern with social reform, a preoccupation with the role of the poet and the workings of the imagination, and an interest in nature. The Romantic Movement is often associated with the French revolution, which was seen by Godwin, and other Romantics, as the beginnings of a new age and justice for all. It was a time of social unrest and political activity. Shelley’s Frankenstein is certainly concerned with the corruption of social institutions. The creation of the man, also suggests that she has little faith in the innocence of the human race, much like other Romantics at this time.
The novel was also written at a time of big changes in society and advances in science. Technological developments, which led to the Industrial revolution, had large impacts on people’s lives. These scientific developments undermined traditional beliefs, and this was portrayed by Shelly in this novel. Frankenstein has become one of our most enduring cultural myths and has even provided us with a crucial metaphor for our modern world. Most dictionaries now define a ‘Frankenstein’ as an agency that proves uncontrollable, a creation that slips from under the control of, and ultimately destroys, its creator.
The novel was written in the nineteenth century to ‘thrill the heart’. It has been reworked and rewritten in many stage productions and films. Many first time readers of the novel will already have a set of expectations for the text that they are preparing to read. They intend to be impressed by a spectacular electrical slide-show when the monster is made, and frightened by a clumsy monster with bolts in its neck. The popular tendency is to think that the creature is called Frankenstein, but you may be surprised to find that Victor Frankenstein is actually the inventor of the creature, and in fact the creature is nameless. The assumption that the monster is called Frankenstein conflicts with the text that we read.
In the novel there are various contrasts: good and evil; creator and creature, monstrous and human. The theme that I intend to discuss is that of villain and victim. This contrast relates to the original question, ‘who is the real monster?’ The term villain can be related to the part of the monster. A dictionary definition of a monster states; an inhumanly wicked or cruel person; a misshapen animal. This definition seems to suggest that the exterior of a being reflects the interior. The creature in this novel has the notorious reputation of being the ‘monster’, but can this be justified. I intend to look at the three main characters, Walton, Victor Frankenstein and the creature, comment on their thoughts and actions throughout the novel, and hopefully be able to determine ‘who is the real monster?’
Robert Walton is introduced to the novel when we read the four letters that he sends his sister, Margaret Saville. At this stage the text is written in an epistolary narrative. In the first letter, Walton describes his early life, and the main events that have led him to start his expedition. This letter shows how Walton is similar to Frankenstein. Like Victor, Walton rejects a life of ease, for a life of adventure and a quest for knowledge.