One of my favourite writers in the field of the Gothic Fiction,Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later known as Mary Shelley was born this August in 1797. I had planned to do this piece on the 30th as that would have been the anniversary of her birth but felt it would not fit well with the Weekend Funny Challenge.
As such I decided to keep it and my thoughts on her most famous work for today. She was born to William Godwin, a journalist, philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, educator and feminist philosopher who died soon after her birth, and was raised and educated by her father who encouraged her to write from early age. Mary Shelley became an essayist, biographer, short story writer, and novelist, famous for her novel Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, from 1818. Similar to her mother, Shelley led a complicated private life and suffered much ostracism due to her affair with the married man Percy Bysshe Shelley, which was later to become her husband.
Her most famous work, Frankenstein, was supposedly written over a long weekend when she and a number of friends, writers and poets, entertained themselves by preparing various pieces designed to give the reader a chill and delve into that which sends the human hind-brain into fight or flight mode. In that she was most successful, touching on areas that held much unrest and fear in her time. Taken superficially her novel reads like a classic Horror or Gothic novel, entertaining enough with the struggle between its two antagonists. Looking further however we can see just why this piece has survived the test of time as the battle being waged is not just between Victor Frankenstein and his creation but also that of science with the tenets of the church in the quest to understand life and death itself.
As we read this work and follow the struggle of young Frankenstein in his determination to defeat death, after being horribly scarred by the tragic loss of his mother, we trace the doctors journey that brings him to directly challenge the ideas of his generation and the role science played in his society. We see his triumph rapidly followed by fear at just what he had created. It speaks to the ideas of his time that upon seeing such a derailment of ‘gods plan’ human nature at once recognises the unnatural state of such a thing.
His journey from there is that of a man seeking to redress a wrong in the eyes of god and his punishment is to live with the consequences of this act which is the loss of those closest too him. His path is one that seeks redemption not in the eyes of man or the creature he built but in the eyes of god and he bears these losses as penance for his crime.It is a fascinating insight into the Faith vs Reason debate that raged throughout Europe at that time.
Yet in my opinion his struggle was not the one that called to me. His creation and the unrelenting quest to find a place in a world that not only had no other like himself but who felt his existence to be the ultimate blasphemy seems to me to be such a heartrending journey. Struggling to find humanity within himself his tortured journey and his unrelenting quest for answers and acceptance showcases the terrible struggle being waged by those who are damaged and alone in this world. His maker, for all his losses and isolation still could draw comfort from the fact that he knew without question his place in the universe and even as he pondered the damnation of his soul for his ‘meddling’ [as he saw it] there was no question of the existence of that soul within him.
Reaching out to be rejected again and again this creature eventually looses faith with this world and its people which highlights the plight of those who are forgotten by society. When we see him seeking to claim recompense from his maker for casting him adrift in a universe that has no place for one such as he we can recognise the sense of isolation that those outside society must feel.
If not protected by its laws, if not cared for by its people then what does one owe to that society in terms of those strictures. Frankenstein and a number of novels written during this period, most notably Bram Stokers Dracula, deal with the idea of the natural and unnatural as well as their place in our philosophies, be it of reason and of faith. It is a debate that is still hotly disputed today, perhaps even more so as the rate of scientific knowledge and the technology that comes with it increases at an almost exponential rate. While my reading habits are notoriously eclectic I have always enjoyed Gothic fiction, not just for its spine tingling story telling but also the way it gives us glimpses into the fears of an age be it then or now. If you haven’t had a chance to read this novel [watching the movie is NOT the same thing] then take the time to do so as it is a fascinating read.