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The Reality in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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The Reality in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

It was a stormy day in Geneva. Mary Shelley was accompanied by her husband and friends when a wager was proposed. Lord Byron, the owner of the villa in which they occupied, wanted to see which one could write the best ghost story (Woodbridge, "The Summer of 1816"). Even though this task was not strongly pursued by the others, Mary Shelley was determined to write a ghost story that would strike horror into her fellow friends. This was the birth of Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein.

In Shelley's Frankenstein, the protagonist is a scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein. He uses his scientific knowledge to build a creature and give it life. What Frankenstein thought would be a beautiful masterpiece, he soon viewed as a hideous and deformed monster. Frankenstein and the rest of humanity immediately reject the monster. As a result, the monster, the antagonist, turns to revenge against his creator. He kills Frankenstein's family, leaving him in misery and torment.

Frankenstein is full of scientific impossibilities, it is a story created to horrify the reader. However, many researchers have discovered that certain aspects in the story relate to many events in Mary Shelley's life. Even though Shelley wrote Frankenstein to win a wager, the story's origin is directly influenced by the deaths of her mother and stepsister, the books Metamorphosis and Paradise Lost, as well as the scientific discoveries of James Lind.

Shelley's mother was Mary Wollstonecraft. She died in 1797, shortly after giving birth to Shelley. Because of her death, Shelley was deprived of motherly direction and a strong woman in her life (Patterson, "What Sources Influenced"). We can see that Frankenstein lacks the presence of mothers. Most of the mothers die in the story. Victor Frankenstein's mother dies early in the story, Elizabeth's mother dies, the creature is motherless, and even the French family the creature studied did not have a mother. It is easy to assume that the death of Mary Shelley's mother deeply effected her idea of motherhood when writing Frankenstein.

In October 1816, Shelley's stepsister, Fanny Imaly, committed suicide. It is said that these were her last words.

I have long determined that the best thing I could do was put an end to the

existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a

series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavoring to

promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will

soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature existed (Patterson,

"Who was Mary Shelley?").

Imlay's words are very similar to the monsters feelings when he finally decides to end his life. " But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless...I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame...I shall be no more, the very remembrance...will speedily vanish" (Shelley 274). It is easy to assume that Shelley could have created the monster's feelings based on Imlay's feelings of loneliness and pain.

Before writing Frankenstein Shelley read many books that may have contributed to her story. Two books that stand out are Metamorphosis, by Ovid, and Paradise Lost, by Milton. Metamorphosis introduces the idea of Prometheus (Woodbridge, "Literary Sources"). Legend says that Prometheus molded men out of clay and water and gave them life. We can assume that Shelley's idea of Prometheus was brought into the story through Victor Frankenstein. He molds a creature and gives it life, just as Prometheus gave man life. The other book, Paradise Lost, introduces the idea of God's first creation ,Adam, and the jealous enemy, Satan ("Paradise Lost"). Likewise, the monster related with Adam, as a creation "Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence" (Shelley 153). Yet, the monster's emotions related more with Satan saying, "I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me" (Shelley 153).



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