Fear of Pregnancy in Frankenstein
Frankenstein can be read as a tale of what happens when a man tries to create a child without a woman. It can, however, also be read as an account of a woman's anxieties and insecurities about her own creative and reproductive capabilities. The story of Frankenstein is the first articulation of a woman's experience of pregnancy and related fears. Mary Shelley, in the development and education of the monster, discusses child development and education and how the nurturing of a loving parent is extremely important in the moral development of an individual. Thus, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examines her own fears and thoughts about pregnancy, childbirth, and child development.
Pregnancy and childbirth, as well as death, was an integral part of Mary Shelley's young adult life. She had four children and a miscarriage that almost killed her. This was all before the age of twenty-five. Only one of her children, Percy Florence, survived to adulthood and outlived her. In June of 1816, when she had the waking nightmare which became the catalyst of the tale, she was only nineteen and had already had her first two children. Her first child, Clara, was born prematurely February 22, 1815 and died March 6. Mary, as any woman would be, was devastated by this and took a long time to recover. The following is a letter that Mary wrote to her friend Hogg the day that the baby died.
6 March 1815
My dearest Hogg my baby is dead - will you come to see me as soon as you can - I wish to see you - It was perfectly well when I went to bed - I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it - it was dead then but we did not find that out till morning - from its appearance it evidently died from convulsions - Will you come - you are so calm a creature and Shelley is afraid of a fever from the milk - for I am no longer a mother now
from the Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (letter to Thomas Jefferson Hogg)
What is informative and sad about this letter is that Mary turned to Hogg because Percy was so unsupportive. Percy actually didn't seem to care that the child was dead and even went out with Claire, leaving Mary alone with her grief. Mary's second child, William, was born January 24, 1816. (William died of malaria June 7,1819 .) Thus, at the time that Mary conceived of the story, her first child had died and her second was only 6 months old. There is no doubt that she expected to be pregnant again and about six months later she was. Pregnancy and child-rearing was at the forefront of Mary's mind at this point in her life.
Frankenstein is probably the first story in Western literature the expresses the anxieties of pregnancy. Obviously male writers avoided this topic and it was considered taboo and in poor taste for a woman to discuss it. Mary's focus on the birth process allowed men to understand female fears about pregnancy and...