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Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

1818

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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  • Intro

    I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

     

    For many, the name ‘Frankenstein’ conjures up ghoulish images of a green-skinned, square-headed monster. Yet the novel that gave rise to this enduring cultural image is much more complex, and much more striking, than this. First published in 1818 when its author Mary Shelley was just 21 years old, it had its origins in a holiday on the shores of Lake Geneva. Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley were guests of the poet Lord Byron: one rainy night, Byron suggested that the company should amuse themselves by making up ghost stories. Frankenstein was the result.

     

    Subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’, Frankenstein draws on contemporary ideas about the nature of human life and the potential of science. It also emphasises humanity’s ultimate responsibility for its creations. The novel’s complex narrative structure means that while we witness Victor Frankenstein’s agony at the results of his horrific experiment, we also see the pains of the monster at being abandoned by its creator.

     

    Some critics have drawn parallels between the monster’s tortuous origins and those of Mary Shelley herself: her mother, the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, died shortly after her birth. Others argue that this is to deny Mary Shelley’s status as an artist in her own right, and have seen Frankenstein as the product of an exceptional creative mind.

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