The Historical Perspective in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an early product of the modern Western world. Written during the Romantic movement of the early 19th century, the book provides insight into issues that are pertinent today. Similar to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Shelley's Frankenstein concerns individuals' aspirations and what results when those aspirations are attained irresponsibly.
While Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) wrote Frankenstein in 1816 she was living or in contact with both Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, the two predominant romantic poets who professed the romantic ideals of the age. One such ideal was the society transformed by the individual. For example, the British writer Thomas Carlyle wrote of romantic heroes making an impact on the world around them. Also, the concepts of uniqueness and self-realization were born in this era. Authors were writing about individuals' feelings and emotions regarding their daily struggles.
What is unique about Frankenstein is that it represents and almost foreshadows the romantic disillusionment with the established order. After the French Revolution, liberalism and nationalism were at all time highs. But with the response by the monarchies (e.g., the wars of 1848), romantic ideals were spurned. The effect this had was an increase in disillusionment among romantics. The possibility of a society transformed by individuals seemed less believable. Mary Godwin suffered from this disillusionment, but for different reasons. In his essay on Frankenstein, George Levine discusses the dream Godwin had which inspired the book: "The dreams emerge from the complex experiences that placed young Mary Shelley, both personally and intellectually, at a point of crisis in our modern culture, where idealism, faith in human perfectibility, and revolutionary energy were counterbalanced by the moral egotism of her radical father, the potential infidelity of her husband, the cynical diabolism of Byron, the felt reality of her own pregnancy, and a great deal more" (Levine 4). The overwhelming reality of Godwin's life was similar to the harsh reality going on in Europe's political events.
In Forbidden Knowledge by Roger Shattuck, Mary Shelley's background is discussed further. She was swept off her feet by Percy Shelley at the age of seventeen. Without being married she lived in an irregular household of men who were intent upon achieving glory through their genius. Lord Byron was one such individual. "Surrounded by illegitimate births and infant deaths, they subsisted on high ideals to remake the world through liberation and revolution" (Shattuck 84). It was the hollowness and vanity of these high ideals that Mary Godwin was reacting to when she wrote Frankenstein.
In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is a doctor who seems discontent and achieves satisfaction by exploring the supernatural realm. The creation of his monster comes about because of his unchecked...