Life and Times of Mary Shelley
• Born Mary Wollstoncraft (William Godwin and
Mary Wollstoncraft – both liberal writers)
• 1797
• Mother wrote “A Valediction on the rights of
Woman” (feminist
• Lived in Scotland in teen years (wrote)
• Returned to London at 16
Met and fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley
Had affair and became pregnant
Married after his wife committed suicide
Lost 3 children
Percy drowned in 1822
At 24 she was an impoverished widow –
supported herself with her writing
• Frankenstein published in 1818 (20 yrs old)
• Considered a feminist text (written by
daughter of a feminist) – yet has very few
strong female characters
Historical Events
• 1789: French Revolution (common people
trying to get rid of monarchy) – very bloody
• 1793-1794: French Reign of Terror
(Robespierre) – British lost all hope for true
justice and equality
• 1804: Napoleon is crowned Emporer
Romantic Writers
• Turned towards nature as an escape from the
harsh realities of their world
• Nature was a place where human tyranny did
not reign.
Romantic Movement
• Disheartened liberals
• Sought solitude in nature, believing that the key to all
emotional healing could be found in nature
• Nature imagery is the most predominant feature
– Ie. 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 disenfranchised man was common
– 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 he
cannot enjoy the company of his fellow men after
unleashing a monster among them.
• Many romantics dealt with the supernatural.
One common Romantic trait was making
ordinary, everyday things seem wonderful and
awe-inspiring. Some went a step further and
dealt with non-nautral things.
– Ie. Frankenstein’s creature (his education/life) is
not a common / real thing.
Gothic Literature
• Offshoot of Romantic Literature
• Predecessor to modern horror movies in both
theme and style
• Puts a spin on the Romantic idea of nature
worship and nature imagery
• Along with having healing power, nature has
the power of destruction
• Frankenstein is full of the harsh reality of
– Ie. Storms – the night the creature comes to life
- The night Frankenstein destroys the corpse of the
second creature in the Irish sea
- * mood is indicated through the weather – when bad
things are going to happen, the reader knows it
because there is invariably a storm outside.
Victor Frankenstein’s Science
• Modern readers are puzzled by Victor’s approach
to discovering the “elixir of life” – he does not
seem to perform scientific experiments as much
as read books.
• Prior to 18th century, “science” and “philosophy”
were essentially the same disciplines.
• 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.
• Victor is a student of “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 eventually to take.
Cornelius Agrippa
• Renaissance philosopher and scientist
• His work reflects a strong interest in the occult
and ancient, mystical sciences of the near East.
• Writing blends European interpretations of
Plato’s philosophy with Jewish Kabalistic beliefs
• Published “De incertitudine et vanitate
scientiarum” (the vanity and uncertainty of the
arts and sciences)
• A treatise on the occult as a hidden knowledge that
existed in Renaissance Europe and was known to a
select few. – collection of thoughts on Renaissance
magic including such diverse topics as astorlogy 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, methos of predicting the future,
numerology, the divine Trinity, the Kabalistic Names of
God and the orders of evil spirits.
• His ideas have been discredited.
• Renaissance philosopher and scientist
• Introduced a new concept of disease and the use
of chemicals rather than herbs to treat diseases
• Asserted that diseases were caused by external
agents attacking the body – to cure the disease
one needs to attack the external agent
• Alchemy became the means by which chemical
remedies were prepared
• Paracelsus changed the emphasis of alchemy
from chasing the mythological “elixir of life” or
“philosopher’s stone” to making medicines
• Some ideas bordered on the occult (tutors
were gypsies and sorcerers and affected
miraculous cures of maladies)
Albertus Magnus
• Renaissance philosopher and scientist
• Advocated the search into the natural causes
of things (didn’t believe God was the cause of
all effects)
– “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”
– Scientific approach to studying the real world (his
ideas were accepted by the church – he tried to
understand nature, not God)
Character Terminology
1) Round Characters: characters that are fully
developed and multi-dimentional
2) Flat Characters: characters that are based
solely on one trait or characteristic
3) Dynamic Characters: characters that develop
through the course of the story
4) 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 – the first domino to fall and
hit the other dominoes
Static Characters
• Frankenstein’s 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
• Mrs. Frankenstein’s death is what makes
Victor wish to create and ultimately restore,
life to inanimate objects
Character Foil
• Henry Clerval is used as another reason for
Victor’s revenge
• He is a foil for Victor by showing how scientific
and often un-Romantic Victor is
• Henry is Shelley’s was 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
• Victor uses him to be the scribe of his story
• Shelley uses him to be the reason the story is
• M. Waldman is purely a catalyst for Victor to
return to natural philosophy and continues his
• 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
Dynamic Characters
• Frankenstein: has a very complex character
change throughout the story
• 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”
• 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.