Influence of Mary Shelley’s Life on Frankenstein
Since its publication in 1818, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has grown to become a name associated with horror and science fiction. To fully understand the importance and origin of this novel, we must look at both the tragedies of Mary Shelley's background and her own origins. Only then can we begin to examine what the icon "Frankenstein" has become in today's society.
Mary Godwin was born in London in 1797 to prominent philosopher William Godwin and well-known feminist and author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Shortly after Mary's birth, her mother died of complications from childbirth, and this event set the stage for the strained relationship between Mary and her father. Godwin blamed Mary for her mother's death and put her in the care of her unqualified stepmother, who favored her own children and forced Mary to do tedious housework. Godwin felt that punishing Mary would satisfy his grief, and consequently Mary became withdrawn in her studies. Her talent for writing is believed to have saved her from premature suicide.
Possibly as an attempt to be accepted by her father, Mary immersed herself in literary studies and her father's intellectual conversations with other philosophers. She attempted to compete with her mother's legacy by continuously writing. It was reported that Mary's "attempts to compete with her dead mother reached obsessive proportions by the time she turned seventeen." "When Mary was seventeen," writes Samuel Rosenburg, "she began taking her books and writing material to the nearby Old St. Pancras Church, where her parents had been married and where her mother was buried. There, seated in the graveyard behind the church, the haunted girl read and read and wrote and wrote under the willow tree that drooped mournfully over her mother's grave." This attempt was feeble because "the corpse of her mother never rose."
Mary's father went on to set Mary up with radical atheist Percy Shelley, who was at that time married. A 21-year-old Shelley later went on to marry 16-year-old Mary after his wife died of a mysterious suicide. The couple, who were looked down upon in society because of their untimely marriage and suspected premarital affair, moved to Italy. The effects of her unhappy childhood can be seen even in her married life, where she:
presented two faces to the world: one was a polite, silent, placid, gentle
and melancholic young girl, who kept things very much to herself. . . Her
other face was hidden behind this phlegmatic, reserved young lady. . .
Depending upon the circumstances, she could suddenly become an extrovert, be
flighty, giddy, wild, even flirtatious in the presence of male company.
(Florescu,39) It was during a trip to Geneva, Switzerland that Mary's creation, Frankenstein, came to life. In the company of her husband and two other prominent...