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Volume I, first edition
|Genre||Horror, Gothic, Romance|
|Published||1818 (Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones)|
Volume I, first edition
|Genre||Horror, Gothic, Romance|
|Published||1818 (Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones)|
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley about eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a grotesque creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the second edition, published in France in 1823.
Shelley had travelled through Europe in 1814, journeying along the river Rhine in Germany with a stop in Gernsheim which is just 17 km (10 mi) away from Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before an alchemist was engaged in experiments. Later, she traveled in the region of Geneva (Switzerland)—where much of the story takes place—and the topics of galvanism and other similar occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions, particularly her lover and future husband, Percy Shelley. Mary, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for days, Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the story within the novel.
Frankenstein is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement and is also considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story, because unlike in previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. It has had a considerable influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films, and plays.
Since publication of the novel, the name "Frankenstein" is often used to refer to the monster itself, as is done in the stage adaptation by Peggy Webling. This usage is sometimes considered erroneous, but usage commentators regard the monster sense of "Frankenstein" as well-established and an acceptable usage. In the novel, the monster is identified via words such as "creature", "monster", "fiend", "wretch", "vile insect", "daemon", "being", and "it". Speaking to Victor Frankenstein, the monster refers to himself as "the Adam of your labours", and elsewhere as someone who "would have" been "your Adam", but is instead "your fallen angel."
Frankenstein is written in the form of a frame story that starts with Captain Robert Walton writing letters to his sister. It takes place during an unspecified time in the 18th Century, as the letters' dates are shown as "17—".
The novel Frankenstein is written in epistolary form, documenting a correspondence between Captain Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret Walton Saville. Walton is a failed writer who sets out to explore the North Pole and expand his scientific knowledge in hopes of achieving fame. During the voyage the crew spots a dog sled mastered by a gigantic figure. A few hours later, the crew rescues a nearly frozen and emaciated man named Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein has been in pursuit of the gigantic man observed by Walton's crew. Frankenstein starts to recover from his exertion; he sees in Walton the same over-ambitiousness and recounts a story of his life's miseries to Walton as a warning.
Victor begins by telling of his childhood. Born into a wealthy Geneva family, Victor and his brothers, Ernest and William, are encouraged to seek a greater understanding of the world through science. As a young boy, Victor is obsessed with studying outdated theories that focus on simulating natural wonders. When Victor is four years old, his parents adopt an orphan, Elizabeth Lavenza, with whom Victor later falls in love.
Witnessing a lightning strike on an oak tree inspires Victor to harness its power for his experiments. Weeks before he leaves for the University of Ingolstadt in Germany, his mother dies of scarlet fever, creating further impetus towards his experiments. At university, he excels at chemistry and other sciences, soon developing a secret technique to reanimate dead tissue, which eventually leads to his creation of the Monster.
Because of the difficulty in replicating the minute parts of the human body, Victor is forced to make the Creature roughly eight feet tall. As a result, the beautiful creation of his dreams is instead hideous, with yellow eyes and skin that barely conceals the muscle tissue and blood vessels underneath. Repulsed by his work, Victor flees. Saddened by the rejection, the Creature disappears.
Victor falls ill from the experience and is nursed back to health by his childhood friend, Henry Clerval. After a four-month recovery, he returns home when he learns of the murder of his brother William. Justine, William's nanny, is hanged for the crime after William's locket is found in her pocket. Upon arriving in Geneva, Victor sees the Monster at the crime scene, leading him to believe the Creature is responsible. However, he doubts anyone would believe him enough to stop the hanging.
Ravaged by grief and guilt, Victor retreats into the mountains. The Monster locates him, pleading for Victor to hear his tale. Now intelligent and articulate, the Creature tells how encounters with people led to his fear of them and drives him into the woods. While living near a cottage, he grew fond of the family living there. The Creature learned to speak by listening to them and he taught himself to read after discovering a lost satchel of books. When he saw his reflection in a pool, he realised his physical appearance was hideous. Despite this, he approached the family in hopes of becoming their friend, but they were frightened and fled their home. The Creature then burned the cottage in a fit of rage.
The Monster then demands that Victor create a female companion like himself. He argues that as a living being, he has a right to happiness. The Creature promises he and his mate will vanish into the South American wilderness, never to reappear, if Victor grants his request.
Fearing for his family, Victor reluctantly agrees. Clerval accompanies him to England, but they separate in Scotland. Victor suspects that the Monster is following him. Working on the female creature on the Orkney Islands, he is plagued by premonitions of disaster, particularly the idea that creating a mate for the Creature might lead to the breeding of a race that could plague mankind. He destroys the female creature after he sees the Monster watching through a window. The Monster confronts him, vowing to be with Victor and Elizabeth on their upcoming wedding night. The Monster then kills Clerval, leaving the corpse to be found where Victor lands in Ireland. Victor is imprisoned for Clerval's murder and suffers another mental breakdown in prison. After being acquitted, he returns home with his father.
In Geneva, Victor marries Elizabeth and prepares to fight the Monster. Wrongly believing the Creature threatened his life, Victor asks Elizabeth to stay in her room while he looks for "the fiend". While Victor searches the house and grounds, the Creature murders Elizabeth. From the window, Victor sees the Monster, who taunts Victor with Elizabeth's corpse. Grief-stricken by the deaths of William, Justine, Clerval, and Elizabeth, Victor's father dies. Seeking revenge, Victor pursues the Monster to the North Pole; however, he does not kill his creation.
At the end of Victor's narrative, Captain Walton resumes the telling of the story. A few days after the creature vanishes, the ship becomes entombed in ice and Walton's crew insists on returning south once they are freed. In spite of a passionate speech from Frankenstein, encouraging the crew to push further north, Walton realises that he must relent to his men's demands and agrees to head for home. Frankenstein dies shortly thereafter.
Walton discovers the creature on his ship, mourning over Frankenstein's body. Walton hears the creature's misguided reasons for his vengeance and expressions of remorse. Frankenstein's death has not brought him peace. Rather, his crimes have increased his misery and alienation, and his words are almost exactly identical to Victor's own in describing himself. He vows to kill himself on his own funeral pyre so that no others will ever know of his existence. Walton watches as he drifts away on an ice raft that is soon lost in darkness, never to be seen again.
How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?
During the rainy summer of 1816, the "Year Without a Summer", the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Mary Shelley, aged 18, and her lover (and later husband) Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was consistently too cold and dreary that summer to enjoy the outdoor holiday activities they had planned, so the group retired indoors until dawn.
Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company amused themselves by reading German ghost stories translated into French from the book Fantasmagoriana, then Byron proposed that they "each write a ghost story". Unable to think of a story, young Mary Godwin became anxious: "Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative." During one evening in the middle of summer, the discussions turned to the nature of the principle of life. "Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated", Mary noted, "galvanism had given token of such things". It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the grim terrors of her "waking dream".
I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.
In September 2011 the astronomer Donald Olson, after a visit to the Lake Geneva villa the previous year, and inspecting data about the motion of the moon and stars, concluded that her waking dream took place "between 2am and 3am" 16 June 1816, several days after the initial idea by Lord Byron that they each write a ghost story.
She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley's encouragement, she expanded this tale into a full-fledged novel. She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment "when I first stepped out from childhood into life". Shelley wrote the first four chapters in the weeks following the suicide of her half-sister Fanny. Byron managed to write just a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while travelling the Balkans, and from this John Polidori created The Vampyre (1819), the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre. Thus, two legendary horror tales originated from this one circumstance.
The group talked about Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment ideas as well. Shelley believed the Enlightenment idea that society could progress and grow if political leaders used their powers responsibly; however, she also believed the Romantic ideal that misused power could destroy society (Bennett 36–42).
Mary's and Percy Bysshe Shelley's manuscripts for the first three-volume edition in 1818 (written 1816–1817), as well as Mary Shelley's fair copy for her publisher, are now housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The Bodleian acquired the papers in 2004, and they belong now to the Abinger Collection. On 1 October 2008, the Bodleian published a new edition of Frankenstein which contains comparisons of Mary Shelley's original text with Percy Shelley's additions and interventions alongside. The new edition is edited by Charles E. Robinson: The Original Frankenstein (ISBN 978-1851243969).
Shelley completed her writing in May 1817, and Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was first published on 1 January 1818 by the small London publishing house of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones. It was issued anonymously, with a preface written for Mary by Percy Bysshe Shelley and with a dedication to philosopher William Godwin, her father. It was published in an edition of just 500 copies in three volumes, the standard "triple-decker" format for 19th-century first editions.
The second edition of Frankenstein was published on 11 August 1822 in two volumes (by G. and W. B. Whittaker) following the success of the stage play Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein by Richard Brinsley Peake; this edition credited Mary Shelley as the author.
On 31 October 1831, the first "popular" edition in one volume appeared, published by Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley. This edition was heavily revised by Mary Shelley, partially because of pressure to make the story more conservative, and included a new, longer preface by her, presenting a somewhat embellished version of the genesis of the story. This edition tends to be the one most widely read now, although editions containing the original 1818 text are still published. Many scholars prefer the 1818 text, arguing that it preserves the spirit of Shelley's original publication (see Anne K. Mellor's "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach" in the W.W. Norton Critical edition).
Part of Frankenstein's rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which gives it a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as "monster", "creature", "daemon", "devil", "fiend", "wretch" and "it". When Frankenstein converses with the monster in Chapter 10, he addresses it as "vile insect", "abhorred monster", "fiend", "wretched devil" and "abhorred devil".
The creature has often been mistakenly called "Frankenstein". In 1908 one author said "It is strange to note how well-nigh universally the term "Frankenstein" is misused, even by intelligent people, as describing some hideous monster". Edith Wharton's The Reef (1916) describes an unruly child as an "infant Frankenstein." David Lindsay's "The Bridal Ornament", published in The Rover, 12 June 1844, mentioned "the maker of poor Frankenstein." After the release of James Whale's popular 1931 film Frankenstein, the public at large began speaking of the monster itself as "Frankenstein". A reference to this occurs in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and in several subsequent films in the series, as well as in film titles such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley maintained that she derived the name Frankenstein from a dream-vision. Despite her public claims of originality, however, a number of other sources have been suggested as Shelley's actual inspiration. Literally, in German, the name Frankenstein means "Stone of the Franks". The name is associated with various places in Germany, such as Castle Frankenstein (Burg Frankenstein) in Darmstadt, Hesse, or Castle Frankenstein in Frankenstein, Palatinate. There is also a castle called Frankenstein in Bad Salzungen, Thuringia, and a municipality called Frankenstein in Saxony. Until 1945, Ząbkowice Śląskie, now a city in Silesia, Poland, was known as Frankenstein in Schlesien, which was the location of the 1606 gravediggers affair—yet another suggested inspiration for the writer. Finally, the name is carried by the noble House of Franckenstein from Franconia.
Radu Florescu argues that Mary and Percy Shelley visited Castle Frankenstein, near Darmstadt, in 1814 during their return to England from their elopement to Switzerland. It was at this castle that a notorious alchemist, Konrad Dippel, experimented with human bodies, and Florescu reasons that Mary suppressed mention of her visit in order to maintain her public claim of originality. A literary essay by A. J. Day supports Florescu's position that Mary Shelley knew of and visited Castle Frankenstein before writing her debut novel. Day includes details of an alleged description of the Frankenstein castle that exists in Mary Shelley's 'lost' journals. According to Jörg Heléne, the 'lost journals', as well as Florescu's claims, cannot be verified.
A possible interpretation of the name Victor derives from Paradise Lost by John Milton, a great influence on Shelley (a quotation from Paradise Lost is on the opening page of Frankenstein and Shelley even allows the monster himself to read it). Milton frequently refers to God as "the Victor" in Paradise Lost, and Shelley sees Victor as playing God by creating life. In addition to this, Shelley's portrayal of the monster owes much to the character of Satan in Paradise Lost; indeed, the monster says, after reading the epic poem, that he empathises with Satan's role in the story.
There are many similarities between Victor and Percy Shelley, Mary's husband. Victor was a pen name of Percy Shelley's, as in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. There is speculation that one of Mary Shelley's models for Victor Frankenstein was Percy, who at Eton had "experimented with electricity and magnetism as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions", and whose rooms at Oxford were filled with scientific equipment.
Percy Shelley was the first-born son of a wealthy country squire with strong political connections and a descendant of Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring, and Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel. Victor's family is one of the most distinguished of that republic and his ancestors were counsellors and syndics.
Percy had a sister named Elizabeth. Victor had an adopted sister, named Elizabeth.
On 22 February 1815, Mary Shelley delivered a two-month premature baby and the baby died two weeks later. Percy did not care about the condition of this premature infant and left with Claire, Mary's stepsister, for a lurid affair. When Victor saw the creature come to life he fled the apartment, though the newborn creature approached him, as a child would a parent. The question of Victor's responsibility to the creature is one of the main themes of the book.
The Modern Prometheus is the novel's subtitle (though some modern editions now drop the subtitle, mentioning it only in an introduction). Prometheus, in later versions of Greek mythology, was the Titan who created mankind at the behest of Zeus. He made a being in the image of the gods that could have a spirit breathed into it. Prometheus taught man to hunt, read, and heal their sick, but after he tricked Zeus into accepting poor-quality offerings from humans, Zeus kept fire from mankind. Prometheus being the creator, took back the fire from Zeus to give to man. When Zeus discovered this, he sentenced Prometheus to be eternally punished by fixing him to a rock of Caucasus, where each day an eagle would peck out his liver, only for the liver to regrow the next day because of his immortality as a god. He was intended to suffer alone for eternity, but eventually Heracles (Hercules) released him.
Prometheus was also a myth told in Latin but was a very different story. In this version Prometheus makes man from clay and water, again a very relevant theme to Frankenstein, as Victor rebels against the laws of nature (how life is naturally made) and as a result is punished by his creation. Prometheus, a Greek Titan who sculpted man from clay and then stole the light of fire from the gods to give to man, these acts can be attributed to the enabling of civilisation and the gift of knowledge man acquired from him. Zeus punished Prometheus; bound to stone while an eagle each day would eat away Prometheus's liver. Suffering this agonising torment Prometheus would face his punishment for eternity. “Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy: Mary Shelley, for instance, gave The Modern Prometheus as the subtitle to her novel Frankenstein.”  Mary Shelley seemingly titled the book after the conflicted principles of knowledge in the story symbolising Victor as the Modern Prometheus.
The Titan in the Greek mythology of Prometheus parallels Victor Frankenstein. Victor's work by creating man by new means reflects the same innovative work of the Titan in creating humans.
Some have claimed that for Mary Shelley, Prometheus was not a hero but rather something of a devil, whom she blamed for bringing fire to man and thereby seducing the human race to the vice of eating meat (fire brought cooking which brought hunting and killing).
Byron was particularly attached to the play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and Percy Shelley would soon write his own Prometheus Unbound (1820). The term "Modern Prometheus" was actually coined by Immanuel Kant, referring to Benjamin Franklin and his then recent experiments with electricity.
Shelley incorporated a number of different sources into her work, one of which was the Promethean myth from Ovid. The influence of John Milton's Paradise Lost, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, are also clearly evident within the novel. Frankenstein also contains multiple references to her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her major work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which discusses the lack of equal education for males and females. The inclusion of her mother's ideas in her work is also related to the theme of creation and motherhood in the novel. Mary is likely to have acquired some ideas for Frankenstein's character from Humphry Davy's book Elements of Chemical Philosophy, in which he had written that "science has ... bestowed upon man powers which may be called creative; which have enabled him to change and modify the beings around him ...". References to the French Revolution run through the novel; a possible source may lie in François-Félix Nogaret's Le Miroir des événemens actuels, ou la Belle au plus offrant (1790): a political parable about scientific progress featuring an inventor named Frankénsteïn who creates a life-sized automaton.
Within the last thirty years or so, many writers and historians have attempted to associate several then popular natural philosophers (now called physical scientists) to Shelley's work due to several notable similarities. Two of the most notable then-contemporary natural philosophers have been Giovanni Aldini and his many public attempts in London from 1801 to 1804 at human reanimation through bio-electric Galvanism (as reported by History Channel), and Johann Konrad Dippel who was supposed to have developed chemical means to extend the life span of humans. In both cases, while Shelley was obviously aware of these men and their activities, in no published or released notes written by Shelley, does Shelley herself make any mention or reference of these men or their experiments.
Initial critical reception of the book mostly was unfavourable, compounded by confused speculation as to the identity of the author. Sir Walter Scott wrote that "upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author's original genius and happy power of expression", but the Quarterly Review described it "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
Mary Shelley had contact with some of the most influential minds of her time. Shelley's father, William Godwin, was very progressive and encouraged his daughter to participate in the conversations that took place in his home with various scientific minds, many of whom were actively engaged in the study of anatomy. She was familiar with the ideas of using dead bodies for study, the newer theory of using electricity to animate the dead, and the concerns of religion and the general public regarding the morality of tampering with God's work.
Despite the reviews, Frankenstein achieved an almost immediate popular success. It became widely known especially through melodramatic theatrical adaptations—Mary Shelley saw a production of Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein, a play by Richard Brinsley Peake, in 1823. A French translation appeared as early as 1821 (Frankenstein: ou le Prométhée Moderne, translated by Jules Saladin).
Frankenstein has been both well received and disregarded since its anonymous publication in 1818. Critical reviews of that time demonstrate these two views. The Belle Assemblee described the novel as "very bold fiction" (139). The Quarterly Review stated that "the author has the power of both conception and language" (185). Sir Walter Scott, writing in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine congratulated "the author's original genius and happy power of expression" (620), although he is less convinced about the way in which the monster gains knowledge about the world and language. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany hoped to see "more productions from this author" (253).
In two other reviews where the author is known as the daughter of William Godwin, the criticism of the novel makes reference to the feminine nature of Mary Shelley. The British Critic attacks the novel's flaws as the fault of the author: "The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment" (438). The Literary Panorama and National Register attacks the novel as a "feeble imitation of Mr. Godwin's novels" produced by the "daughter of a celebrated living novelist" (414).
Despite these initial dismissals, critical reception has been largely positive since the mid-20th century. Major critics such as M. A. Goldberg and Harold Bloom have praised the "aesthetic and moral" relevance of the novel and in more recent years the novel has become a popular subject for psychoanalytic and feminist criticism. The novel today is generally considered to be a landmark work of romantic and gothic literature, as well as science fiction.
In his 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre, author Stephen King considers Frankenstein's monster (along with Dracula and the Werewolf) to be an archetype of numerous horrific creations that followed in literature, film, and television, in a role he refers to as "The Thing Without A Name." He considers such contemporary creations as the 1951 film The Thing from Another World and The Incredible Hulk as examples of similar monstrosities that have followed in its wake. He views the book as "a Shakespearean tragedy" and argues: "its classical unity is broken only by the author's uncertainty as to where the fatal flaw lies—is it in Victor's hubris (usurping a power that belongs only to God) or in his failure to take responsibility for his creation after endowing it with the life-spark?"
Frankenstein discussed controversial topics and touched on religious ideas. Victor Frankenstein plays God when he creates a new being. Frankenstein deals with Christian and metaphysical themes. The importance of Paradise Lost and the creature's belief that it is "a true history" brings a religious tone to the novel.
There are numerous novels retelling or continuing the story of Frankenstein and his monster.
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