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Mary Shelley's Birthday

Updated on September 5, 2014
Introductory picture was taken by me.
Introductory picture was taken by me.

Celebrate Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Birthday!

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on August 30, 1797. Her father was a philosopher and her mother, also a writer, is considered one of the first active feminists. In 1816 Mary Godwin married Percy Bysshe Shelley, the notable poet. She is most well-known for writing Frankenstein, but she also authored other books. This year is the 217th anniversary of her birth.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Lineage

This picture is in the public domain, found on Wikipedia.  

Did I request thee, Maker, from clay to mold me Man, did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?

Ideas to Celebrate Mary Shelley's Birthday

Read Frankenstein, or another book my Mary Shelley

There are books by Mary Shelley as well as books by her closest relatives listed below.

Tell your own scary story

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein because she was spending some time with writer-friends and they all decided to make up and tell their own scary stories. Maybe you will end up writing the next Frankenstein?

Watch one of the many Frankenstein movies

Frankenstein has been adapted for the screen several times. Pick a few of your favorite versions and have a big movie night.

Re-enact some of your favorite passages

If you're feeling dramatic, maybe you can get some friends together and decide on scenes to act out from the book.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein is Mary Shelley's most famous work, so her birthday is also known as Frankenstein Day. What would the day be without a little literary critique of this influential novel?

Buy Frankenstein

Nature and Nurture in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses the characterization of Frankenstein and his monster to demonstrate the effects of isolation. She gives them similar characteristics and, by the product of their surroundings, they become radically different beings. Taking a look at the obvious personality traits of each character as well as their more subtle traits it can be seen that they have similar personality traits but become different due to how they are treated by society.

Mary Shelley describes Frankenstein as an intelligent, loving individual. On the surface he is a caring person with an exceptional amount of sensitivity; however, if a closer look is taken, Frankenstein is perceived as a selfish and unpleasant person. His good qualities are conspicuous, but underneath it all he has very negative characteristics. Frankenstein is a very studious person, an independent researcher, with a very curious nature. He does not have many friends, but he is very close to the friends he does have. His bond with his sister, Elizabeth, and Clerval is very strong. Frankenstein's more obvious personality traits are that he is learned ans sensitive. However, hidden beneath all of these positive descriptions is a person who is selfish and egotistical. Frankenstein creates his monster for completely self-centered purposes. When he finds that he can bring life to that which has died, he does not think about how magnificent that would be for mankind, about how he would be able to prolong life. Instead he thinks about how powerful he is and how astonishing this is for him. He wants to create a race of beings that will "bless [him] as its creator and source." He builds his monster not to further science, but for his own narcissism. He does not think twice before running away when the monster awakens. Frankenstein never thinks of the monster or its emotions. He brought this being to life and he never considers the implications of that action. After his brother is murdered and Justine is falsely accused and about to be put to death, all Frankenstein can consider is that "the tortures of the accused [do] not equal" his own. He does not even attempt to have Justine acquitted when he knows that she did not kill William. When someone dies he can think of nothing other than how it affects him; he always believes that he is suffering the most. While Frankenstein may be intelligent, he is only capable of thinking about how he feels and how everything affects him. He never considers anyone else's emotions. Frankenstein appears to be a caring individual with much love to give, but he only truly cares about himself and how everything looks for him.

Frankenstein's monster is presented, on the surface, as a malicious and evil being who should be taken out of existence. However, upon closer inspection of Shelley's description of the creature, he is presented as a weak, sickly individual, sometimes even an infant, who needs care. There is a hidden innocence about the monster that lies beneath his obvious personality defects. Frankenstein's monster is a repulsive creature that is hideous and deformed. Even though Frankenstein developed the monster and decided how it would look when he chose the materials, Frankenstein cannot stand to look at his creation and in fact flees as soon as the creature opens his eyes. The being certainly commits horrible acts of violence; he kills Frankenstein's youngest brother and Elizabeth. A superficial exploration of Frankenstein's creature shows him as a wretched being, nothing short of a monster. But when he first opens his eyes, they are "watery" with a "dull yellow" shade, and he has "yellow skin [that] scarcely cover[s] the work of arteries and muscle beneath." Yellow-looking eyes is the first sign of bad health, and transparent skin connotes weakness and vulnerability. Shelley describes Frankenstein's monster as an ill person who is extremely vulnerable. The being can be perceived as an abandoned baby. Frankenstein brings this creature into life and can therefore be seen as a father to it, putting the creature in the role of a child. When Frankenstein really sees the creature for the first time he notices the creature "muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks." The appearance of dimples and babbling is largely associated with babies. Frankenstein's creature, while he may look repulsive and act violently, is truly a fragile and feeble being. While Frankenstein describes his creature as a wretched, dangerous being, Shelley describes the creature as a weak and helpless individual.

Frankenstein and his monster, though existing as separate individuals, become two extremes of the same person throughout the novel. They have similar personality traits. They are both loving, sensitive individuals, yet both have tendencies towards violence. Frankenstein describes himself as having "a temper [that] was sometimes violent, and [his] passions vehement; but...they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn." He is a very passionate person, as evidenced in his ability to throw himself into his studies, and this passion has the potential to result in violence. He does not become violent or destructive, however, because his energy is turned towards learning and researching. Frankenstein, who appears to be a very loving and kind being, admits to having moments where a violent nature surfaces. He has deep-seated urges that are covered up and drowned out by his studies and the love that surrounds him. Frankenstein's creature becomes destructive over a period of time. At first he does not act violently, but when the DeLaceys move away he is overcome by "feelings of revenge and hatred" and he becomes "bent...towards injury and death." He is not malicious from the moment he awakens, but after the DeLaceys move away he burns their house down out of anger and he murders people out of frustration because no one will accept him. He has an amazing capacity towards kindness that is never cultivated by loved ones; instead his destructive urges are allowed to take over. During the first part of his life "to be a great and virtuous man appear[s] the highest honor." He helps the DeLaceys by bringing them firewood and performing other menial tasks that take up their time, and after he has sworn revenge on all of mankind he still saves a drowning girl. He wants to be a good, kind person, but he is, in a way, punished for committing acts of kindness. In making Frankenstein and his creature have overlapping personality traits Mary Shelley is implying that there is a destructive and violent capacity in all civilized beings. Both Frankenstein and his creature have violent tendencies and loving tendencies, but Frankenstein's ability to love is cultivated while his monster's predisposition towards violence is allowed to flourish. Frankenstein's creature wants to do good but he is not encouraged in his attempts to perform good deeds so he turns to destruction. The creature's misdeeds are allowed because no one really tries to stop him except Frankenstein. They each have similar characteristics, but one aspect of their personality is amplified. In Frankenstein there is a dramatized capacity towards kindness, and in his monster there is a dramatized capacity towards evil. The extremes of their personality traits are magnified. Frankenstein and his creature function in the novel as two extremes of one being brought up in two radically different environments.

One central theme of Frankenstein is that of the negative effects of isolation. Frankenstein grows up in a loving family, has playmates, and is active within society. He becomes an intelligent and kind person. His parents are very devoted to him, "draw[ing] inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon [him]." They love their child and children in general. His parents find no problem in adopting some stranger's child. His mother meets Elizabeth and thinks nothing of taking her home with the family, a "pretty present for [her] Victor," and the family rescues Justine form her emotionally abusive mother. Frankenstein grows up surrounded with love and affection, and that is all he knows. He experiences how loving his parents are and he sees how loving they are towards others. Between Clerval and Elizabeth he has constant companionship. This causes him to grow up to appear very compassionate and intelligent. Frankenstein's monster is "an unfortunate and deserted creature" with "no relation or friend upon earth." He grows up isolated from society with no love or affection directed towards him. The creature never has a family or any type of companion. No matter what random act of kindness he performs, the creature cannot function normally within society because society will not accept him. This fact is distressing to him. Everywhere around him Frankenstein's creature "see[s] bliss, from which [he] alone [is] irrevocably excluded," and this causes him great "misery [and makes him] a fiend." The creature is not born evil, but becomes evil over time because he is never loved. He never has any sort of healthy relationship with another being. Frnakenstein's creature never experiences love or compassion. His tendency towards violence is a result of, not a cause of, his lack of companionship. If he had experienced love rather than detestation during the course of his life he might not have committed such abhorrent acts. His experiences during his formative years, however, "impressed [him] with feelings which, from what [he] had been, have made [him] what [he is]." It is his surroundings that turned him into the wretch that he appears to be. He is not inherently evil, but he adopts very abominable characteristics in response to the way he is treated. If the creature had been raised in a warm and caring environment then his positive characteristics would have been cultivated. It is because he is alone in the world that he turns to destruction and violence.

By characterizing them so that they can be seen as the same person and then putting them in two different environments, resulting in different aspects of their personalities being cultivated, Mary Shelley demonstrates what can happen to an individual who receives no positive stimulation and compares that to the potential that is within that person which could be brought to the surface with a loving environment. Frankenstein grew up surrounded with love, so he becomes a loving individual. Frankesntein's creature is cut off from society from the moment he is brought to life so he becomes a destructive individual.

The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein
The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein

This is a very interesting book that is the discussion of Mary Shelley's life and her writing.

 

More Books By Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley wrote many books over her life. If you enjoyed reading Frankenstein then read another of her books.

Books written by Mary Shelley's relatives

Books by William Godwin - Books by Mary Shelley's Father

William Godwin was a philosopher who wrote many books - both philosophical essays and fiction.

Books by Mary Wollstonecraft - Books by Mary Shelley's Mother

Mary Wollstonecraft was a feminist in the eighteenth century. Vindication of the Rights of Woman is her feminist treatise, and was the first of its kind.

Books by Percy Bysshe Shelley - Books by Mary Shelley's Husband

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a notable poet in the nineteenth century.

© 2012 Marigold Tortelli

What do you think of Mary Shelley?

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    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 2 years ago from France

      Mary Shelly is one of my all-time heros. She must have been such a brilliant and brave woman. Mary Wollstonecraft is another hero!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Very special. Thanks for sharing! ;-)