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Transcript of Frankie
Life and Times of Mary Shelley
Frankenstein: has a very complex character change throughout the story, mainly because the story covers his entire life. Because of the inverted time sequence (the bulk of the novel is a flashback and a flashback-within-a flashback), his character in the book is not in the same sequence as in real life. Through the course of his own life, he evolves from being a happy and loving child with a love of knowledge, to a science-obsessed youth, to a broken and “wiser-for-the-wear” man. The various sorrows he endures through his life, and his decade-long sense of guilt for having created such a murderous being, wear on him until he is a prematurely aged and sickly man.
Most important to mention is his change in philosophy over his development. After all the havoc he unintentionally recked on himself, he decides that it is better to enjoy life than to go after fame, glory, and knowledge. After all that he learns, he feels that ignorance is bliss. In essence, Victor carries the moral of the story.
The Creature: also has a very important development in the story. Chronologically, he
begins life as a tabula rasa (clean slate). He is a grown being, similar to human although
horribly deformed. He has no history, no family, nothing to help determine who he
would become. He only develops a personality through the observation of others and
books, he has no “God-given” tendencies because he was not created by God. He only
has the POTENTIAL for everything. He first loneliness and rejection (first by his own
creator, and then by the inhabitants of the town he finds himself in) makes him feel sadness.
He eventually observes the goodness in the cottagers, and he becomes good. But
when they—and everyone else—spurn him, his rage and sorrow become unchecked and
he begins his revenge. The people he encounters and their meanness toward him teach
him meanness (he mentions that he learns about murder in history books). He literally
becomes what society makes him. The creature is Shelley’s warning to the reader.
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstoncraft in 1797 to William Godwin and Mary Wollstoncraft—both very prominent and liberal writers. Her mother had written A Vindication on the Rights of Woman, which was a very popular feminist work. Mary spent much of her teen years writing stories in Scotland until she returned to London at age sixteen. She met and fell in love with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and became pregnant. The two continued their affair until his estranged wife committed suicide, at which point they married. They lost all three of their children, and in 1822 Percy drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in Italy. At the age of twenty-four, she was an impoverished widow, and she supported herself with her writing.
Frankenstein was published in 1818 when she was only 20 years old. It is considered a huge feminist feat because it was written by the female child of a world-renowned early feminist. However, there are very few female characters, and other than Safie (the wife of one of “the cottagers”) they are not particularly strong female roles.
was a Renaissance philosopher and scientist whose works reflect a strong interest in the occult and ancient, mystical “sciences” of the near East. His writing blends European interpretations of Plato’s philosophy with Jewish Kabalistic beliefs. His famous work “De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum” (the vanity and uncertainty of the arts and sciences), published in 1527, is a treatise on the occult, as a hidden, knowledge that existed in Renaissance Europe and was known to a select few. It is a collection of thoughts on Renaissance magic including such diverse topics as astrology and the effect of planetary motion on human events, occult virtues, the natural tendency of certain “elements” to work harmoniously together and others to oppose one another, spells, methods of predicting the future, numerology, the divine Trinity, the Kabalistic Names of God and the orders of evil spirits.
In terms of “real science,” his ideas have all but been discredited by later thinkers and by the processes of observation and experimentation.
Character Analysis of “Static Characters”:
The Enlightenment Period
How the novel came into being
The Novel . . .
1789: the start of the French revolution (an
attempt of the French people to rid
themselves of their absolute monarchy).
British liberals were excited that the common
people were standing up to their oppressors,
but they quickly became disillusioned when the
revolution became very bloody and its leaders
became tyrants themselves.
1793 through 1794: the French Reign of Terror under
Robespierre. British liberals lost all hope for true justice
and equality in that year.
1804: Napoleon is crowned Emperor.
During this whole time, Romantic writers were turning towards nature as an escape from the
harsh realities of their world. Nature was someplace where human tyranny did not reign.
The Romantics were, for the most part, disheartened liberals.
They sought solitude in nature, believing that the key to all emotional healing could be found in nature. Nature imagery is the most predominant feature of Romantic literature. “The weather was fine: it was about the middle of August...The weight upon my spirit was sensibly lightened as I plunged into the precipices that overhung me on every side—the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around, spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence—and I ceased to fear, or to bend before any less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements...”.
The idea of the disenfranchised man was also very common. Such men, who found themselves unable to live in society, were often revered and/or sympathized with. Frankenstein and his creature are both disenfranchised men—the creature because his form keeps him from any human company, and Frankenstein because he eventually feels that he cannot enjoy the company of his fellow men after unleashing a monster among them.
Many Romantics (like Coleridge and both Shelleys) dealt with the supernatural. One common Romantic trait was making ordinary, everyday things seem wonderful and awe-inspiring. However, some went a step further and dealt with non-natural things. Frankenstein’s creature (and his education/life) is not a common thing. It could not possibly be a real thing. Up until the Romantic era, writers wrote fiction that read as though it could possibly be real—and was often taken for truth. Frankenstein cannot be misconstrued as real.
It was an offshoot of Romantic literature.
Gothic literature was the predecessor of modern horror movies in both theme and style.
Gothic literature put a spin on the Romantic idea of nature worship and nature imagery. Along with nature having the power of healing, Gothic writers gave nature the power of destruction. Frankenstein is full of the harsh reality of nature. Many storms arise in the book, including storms the night the creature comes to life and the night when Frankenstein destroys the corpse of the second creature in the Irish Sea.
The most common feature of Gothic literature is the indication of mood through the weather. When bad things are going to happen in a Gothic novel, the reader knows it because there is inevitably a storm outside. This is still true in many books and films.
(When Frankenstein is about to encounter his creature in the mountains):
“I quitted my seat and walked on, although the darkness and storm increased every minute and the thunder burst with a terrific crash over my head. It was echoed from Saleve, the Juras, and the Alps of Savory; vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes, illuminating the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire...I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me; I stood fixed, gazing intently...A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; it’s gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity...”.
Victor Frankenstein’s “Science”
Modern readers are often puzzled by Victor’s approach to discovering the “elixir of life” in that
he does not seem to perform scientific experiments as much as read books. Prior to the eighteenth century, what we call “science” and what we call “philosophy” were essentially the samevdisciplines. The study of nature and the desire to know how nature functions eventually came to be called “natural philosophy,” but the quest for such knowledge was still more what we
would consider philosophical than scientific.
Mary Shelley indicates that Victor is a student of this “natural philosophy” when she indicates
who some of Victor’s early influences were. While admitting that many of these men’s theories
had been discredited, Victor still admits that it was they who largely set him on the course he
was eventally to take.
was another Renaissance philosopher and scientist who introduced a new concept of disease and the use of chemicals rather than herbs to treat diseases. Paracelsus asserted that diseases were caused by external agents attacking the body, contrary to the then-traditional idea of disease as an internal upset of the balance of the body’s humors (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm). To cure the disease, one needed to attack this external agent. Alchemy became the means by which the chemical remedies were prepared.
Thus, Paracelsus changed the emphasis of the alchemy from chasing the mythological “Elixir of Life” or “Philosopher’s Stone,” to making medicines. Some of Paracelsus’s ideas, however, bordered on the occult. He was said to have been taught the secret of the universal solvent in Constantinople. He was believed to have had such tutors as gypsies and sorcerers, and affected miraculous cures of several maladies.
was still another Renaissance philosopher and scientist who advocated the search into the natural causes of things apart from the church’s position that God was the cause of all effects. For example, in one of his most famous works Albertus wrote: “The aim of natural science is not simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are
at work in nature.”
This was a radical idea for the time, as most scholars believed that the scriptures were the sole source of all knowledge. Not only did Albertus advocate what we would call today the scientific approach to studying the real world, but he did so in such a way that his ideas were accepted by the Church.
In a work on plants Albertus wrote, “In studying nature, we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass,” thus placing the emphasis on understanding how nature worked rather than on trying to understand God.
Not everyone held Albertus in high esteem, however. Roger Bacon, who was a contemporary, and in many ways a rival of Albertus, was highly critical. He wrote that Albertus, “... is a man of infinite patience and has amassed great information, but his works have four faults. The first is boundless, puerile vanity; the second in ineffable falsity; the third is superfluity of bulk; and the fourth is his ignorance of the most useful and the most beautiful parts of philosophy.”
Roger Bacon was, however, an even stronger advocate of experimental science than was Albertus but did not feel compelled to reconcile his scientific theories
with Church doctrine. He was also able to demonstrate a number of factual and reasoning errors in Albertus’s work.
Round Characters: characters that are fully developed and multidimensional.
Flat Characters: characters that are based solely on one trait or characteristic.
Dynamic Characters: characters that develop through the course of the story.
Static Characters: characters that do NOT develop through the course of the story.
Foil: a character who is the opposite of another character used to shed light upon
the character of the latter.
Catalyst: a character (or event) that
starts a chain of events. A catalyst is
the first domino to fall and hit the
Meet the Cast
Frankenstein Family, Elizabeth, and Justine are used as the reason for Victor’s revenge.
They exist only to be killed by the monster (or killed by society), thus giving Victor the
motivation he needs to rid the world of the monster. Also, Mrs. Frankenstein’s death is
what makes Victor wish to create, and ultimately restore, life to inanimate objects.
Henry Clerval is used as another reason for Victor’s revenge. He is also a foil for Victor
by showing how scientific and, often, un-Romantic Victor is. Henry is Shelley’s way of
showing how life could be for Victor if he was not given to his passion for science.
Robert Walton is Shelley’s device that allows Victor to tell his story. Just as Victor uses
him to be the scribe of his story, Shelley uses him to be the reason the story is told.
M. Waldman: is purely a catalyst for Victor to return to natural philosophy and continue
The Cottagers: are the means through which the creature learns how to speak (so he
can tell his story) and how to “socialize.” They are the singlemost important factor in
making the creature long for human company, and then for his feeling of utter despair
that drives him to murder
Literary Allusion is a writer’s comparison of his or her characters to characters in other well-known works of literature. The value of allusion lies in its ability to garner much information in only a title or a character name. By alluding to a work with which everyone is familiar, all of the connotations of the one work are transferred to the new one.
Shelley uses many literary allusions in Frankenstein, referring mostly to Milton’s Paradise Lost and the biblical account of Adam and Eve.
The story of Adam and Eve, especially Milton’s version, is one that is very well known in Western culture. It is one of the fundamental stories of Western culture. By using that particular story, Shelley was hoping to get as many people as possible to bring the back story of Paradise Lost to Frankenstein. Shelley wanted the idea of the proud and inquisitive creature being cast out, as well as the idea that being cast out was a horrible thing. “But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it...as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe, that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to
Another obvious literary allusion in Frankenstein is its subtitle: “The Modern Prometheus.” Prometheus was a Greek god who
was in charge of giving out gifts to the various creatures on Earth. He gave out speed and instinct and such. By the time
he got to mankind, he was out of gifts. He decided to go against his orders and gave man fire (symbolic of knowledge). The
other gods were angered by his disobedience (partly because now man was too godlike). Prometheus’s punishment was that
he was chained to a rock. Every day a vulture came and devoured his liver. Every night the liver grew back to be
devoured the next day. In several obvious ways, this ancient Greek story is very closely connected to Frankenstein.