Things to know …
Circumstances of the creation of the novel
Background of Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley
Traits of Romanticism: Boundlessness, focus on nature and human reflection found in nature, emphasis on the common not the aristocratic, elevation of the ordinary, focus on democracy, the solitary wanderer, the need for a soul mate
Faust by Goethe or Doctor Faust’s by Christopher Marlow
The Myth of Prometheus
Background to the writing of Frankenstein: Percy Shelley was a prominent poet of the Romantic Movement along with his good friend, Lord Byron. Percy’s wife and companion, Mary Shelley was exposed to the same influences as her husband, and this influenced her work. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein after Byron introduced a challenge to the three writers--- Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Byron himself – to see who could write the best ghost story. Mary was 18- years-old at the time.
Events of the day, which had major influence on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein:
1. The French Revolution. The French Revolution and the American Revolution occurred in this period. Due to its close vicinity, the French Revolution had a greater impact on England. With its motto of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” the French Revolution inspired Europe to champion democratic ideals, free thought, and individuality---also ideals of the Romantic Writers, and themes in Frankenstein.
2. The Industrial Revolution also had significant impact on the writers of the time. The mass production and dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution and all of its social ills---poverty; filthy, crowded cities; joblessness; poor and dangerous working conditions---were particularly heinous in England, arguably the most powerful country in the world at the time. These problems posed a threat to the Romantic ideals (importance of individual, beauty, the expression of emotion & free thought). Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, can be seen as a protest against the dehumanization of the Industrial Revolution.
3. Science: Scientific progress in all fields was also a large part of this century of discovery. Darwin, a leading scientific figure with his theories of evolution, was a personal friend of the Shelleys. Advances in medicine and the need for cadavers also figured into the time in which Mary Shelley lived. At this time in London, grave robbing was a common occurrence because men would sell stolen bodies to teaching hospitals and scientists. Intellectuals were increasingly interested in exploring the mysteries of the origin of life, humanity and creation.
Frankenstein was the first novel in English to deal with the possibility that science will create a monster that can destroy humankind.
Mary Shelley did not wish the story to be considered "supernatural" (Preface). She made the main character a scientist and his scientific efforts a focal point of the reader's attention.
Paradise Lost is John Milton's attempt to "justify the ways of God to man" by retelling of the story of Creation, the revolt of Lucifer and his fall from grace, and the story of Adam and Eve
About Romanticism. . . .
The imagination was elevated to a position as the supreme faculty of the mind. This contrasted distinctly with the traditional arguments for the supremacy of reason. The Romantics tended to define and to present the imagination as our ultimate "shaping" or creative power, the approximate human equivalent of the creative powers of nature or even deity. It is dynamic, an active, rather than passive power, with many functions. Imagination is the primary faculty for creating all art. On a broader scale, it is also the faculty that helps humans to constitute reality, for (as Wordsworth suggested), we not only perceive the world around us, but also in part create it. Uniting both reason and feeling (Coleridge described it with the paradoxical phrase, "intellectual intuition"), imagination is extolled as the ultimate synthesizing faculty, enabling humans to reconcile differences and opposites in the world of appearance. The reconciliation of opposites is a central ideal for the Romantics. Finally, imagination is inextricably bound up with the other two major concepts, for it is presumed to be the faculty that enables us to "read" nature as a system of symbols.
In style, the Romantics preferred boldness over the preceding age's desire for restraint, maximum suggestiveness over the neoclassical ideal of clarity, free experimentation over the "rules" of composition, genre, and decorum; and they promoted the conception of the artist as "inspired" creator over that of the artist as "maker" or technical master. Although in both Germany and England there was continued interest in the ancient classics, for the most part, the Romantics allied themselves with the very periods of literature that the neoclassicists had dismissed, the Middle Ages and the Baroque; and they embraced the writer whom Voltaire had called a barbarian, Shakespeare. Although interest in religion and in the powers of faith were prominent during the Romantic period, the Romantics generally rejected absolute systems, whether of philosophy or religion, in favor of the idea that each person (and humankind collectively) must create the system by which to live.
The Everyday and the Exotic
The attitude of many of the Romantics to the everyday, social world around them was complex. It is true that they advanced certain realistic techniques, such as the use of "local color" (through down-to-earth characters, like Wordsworth's rustics, or through everyday language, as in Emily Bronte's northern dialects or Whitman's colloquialisms, or through popular literary forms, such as folk narratives). Yet social realism was usually subordinate to imaginative suggestion, and what was most important were the ideals suggested by the above examples, simplicity perhaps, or innocence. Earlier, the 18th-century cult of the noble savage had promoted similar ideals, but now artists often turned for their symbols to domestic rather than exotic sources--to folk legends and older, "unsophisticated" art forms, such as the ballad, to contemporary country folk who used "the language of common men," not an artificial "poetic diction," and to children (for the first time presented as individuals, and often idealized as sources of greater wisdom than adults).
Simultaneously, as opposed to everyday subjects, various forms of the exotic in time and/or place also gained favor, for the Romantics were also fascinated with realms of existence that were, by definition, prior to or opposed to the ordered conceptions of "objective" reason. Often, both the everyday and the exotic appeared together in paradoxical combinations. In the Lyrical Ballads, for example, Wordsworth and Coleridge agreed to divide their labors according to two subject areas, the natural and the supernatural: Wordsworth would try to exhibit the novelty in what was all too familiar, while Coleridge would try to show in the supernatural what was psychologically real, both aiming to dislodge vision from the "lethargy of custom." The concept of the beautiful soul in an ugly body, as characterized in Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is another variant of the paradoxical combination.
. Like one of their intellectual fathers, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the Romantics yearned to reclaim human freedom. Habits, values, rules and standards imposed by a civilization grounded in reason and reason only had to be abandoned. "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains," Rousseau had written. Whereas the philosophes saw man in common, that is, as creatures endowed with Reason, the Romantics saw diversity and uniqueness. That is, those traits which set one man apart from another, and traits which set one nation apart from another. Discover yourself -- express yourself, cried the Romantic artist. Play your own music, write your own drama, paint your own personal vision, live, love and suffer in your own way. So instead of the motto, "Sapere aude," "Dare to know!" the Romantics took up the battle cry, "Dare to be!" The Romantics were rebels and they knew it. They dared to march to the tune of a different drummer -- their own. The Romantics were passionate about their subjectivism, about their tendency toward introspection. Rousseau’s autobiography, The Confessions (1781), began with the following words:
I am commencing an undertaking, hitherto without precedent and which will never find an imitator. I desire to set before my fellows the likeness of a man in all the truth of nature, and that man myself. Myself alone! I know the feelings of my heart, and I know men. I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.