Mary Shelley

Stories of the Human Spirit

Mary Shelley (1797-1851):

Frankenstein (1818)

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Mary Shelley, wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was only 19 when she wrote the gothic tale of Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus (1818). The book was published anonymously and became an immediate bestseller. Only when the second edition appeared in 1823, was it revealed that the author was a woman. Knowledge alone was not enough for Victor Frankenstein. His arrogance led him to "bestow animation upon lifeless matter." Scavenging body parts from graveyards and experimenting with electrochemistry, his act of creation, although begun with the best of intentions, failed because of hubris. In recounting this chilling tragedy, Mary Shelley demonstrates both the corruption of an innocent creature by an immoral society and the dangers of playing God with science & technology.

Dr. Frankenstein describes his creature coming into life:

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils... I collected the instrumens of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet... I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature opne; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs... His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!— Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips. (p. 56) Photo: Colin Clive in Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein's monster speaks to his creator:

"Be calm! I entreat you to hear me, before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine; my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous." (pp. 96-97) Photo: Boris Karloff in Frankenstein

Dr. Frankenstein's lament & call the spirits for help:

"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom! Cease; you know not what it is you say." I broke from the house angry and disturbed, and retired to meditate on some other mode of action... I knelt on the grass and kissed the earth, and with quivering lips exclaimed, "By the sacred earth on which I kneel, by the shades that wander near me, by the deep and eternal grief that I feel, I swear; and by thee, O Night, and the spirits that preside over thee, to pursue the daemon who caused this misery until he or I shall perish in mortal conflict. For this purpose I will preserve my life: to execute this dear revenge will I again behold the sun and tread the green herbage of earth, which otherwise should vanish from my eyes for ever. And I call on you, spirits of the dead; and on you, wandering ministers of vengeance, to aid and conduct me in my work. Let the cursed and hellish monster drink deep of agony; let him feel the despair that now torments me." (pp. 194-196)

Frankenstein's monster speaks to explorer Robert Walton

Once my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. (p. 213)

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)
Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus),
Maurice Hindle (Ed.), Penguin Books, London, 1985

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