A bit of info on Mary Shelley...
1797 - 1851
Born in London, Mary Shelley married Percy Shelley in 1816. She wrote several other books, including Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), the autobiographical Lodore (1835) and the posthumously published Mathilde. Shelley died of brain cancer on February 1, 1851, in London, England.
The way that Frankenstein was written is my favorite author's writing story, if that makes any sense. She went to Switzerland with Percy, and while there, they met up with Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. One rainy afternoon, Lord Byron suggested they recount horror stories, and write the best ones that they could. This is the point in time where Mary Shelley developed her most famous novel, Frankenstein.
(courtesy of biography.com)
If you haven't yet read Frankenstein, or need some refreshing, Watch this brief video summary!
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is a multitude of Biblical images, allusions and references. This comes as no surprise because the strong social influence that the Roman Catholic religion had on the early 1800's. Appropriately, the story of Frankenstein parallels that of Genesis. Mary Shelley is dependent on the Genesis story to help deliver her message concerning the monster. He is an intricate character that constantly fights between good and evil, beauty and horridness, love and rejection. The monster embodies the creation myth by prominently symbolizing the essence of Adam and Satan, and briefly, Eve.
Much like Adam, the monster was the first of his kind. Victor took on the role of God when he created the monster. The moment that life entered this being, Victor fled and hid from it. The monster squinted and fought with the light that he was seeing for the first time; confused, alone and abandoned in this new world, the monster goes out and begins to learn about his surroundings. Eventually he comes across a cabin in the woods, pertaining to the DeLacey family. On the way, however, the monster looks at his reflection in the water and is ashamed of how horrific he actually appears. This is in contrast to Eve, when she discovers her beauty for the first time in the Garden of Eden. Having read and studied Paradise Lost, the monster compares himself to Adam and mimics their departure, “…and now, with the world before me, whither should I bend my steps.” He is, essentially, kicked out of his home and set to traverse a violent, hurting world. No sooner, he realizes what he is missing, a companion; “No Eve soothed my sorrows, or shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator; but where was mine?” Through being the only one of his kind, seemingly deserted by his creator, and the desire to have a companion, the monster shows characteristics that liken him to Adam.
While on the DeLacey’s property, time passes quickly as the monster studies and learns more about the family, of languages and communication, and of his new surroundings; he grows to love them and refer to them as his family. It is when he is in their cabin that he realizes beauty in nature and love, much like Eve does in the garden. The monster grows lonely, and greedy for affection; he attempts to convince old man DeLacey to accept him as he is, though the old man is blind and cannot see what the monster looks like. Almost immediately, the DeLacey children arrive and the monster is attacked and thrown out of the house. He pleads to the old man to understand, but the children cannot get over the monstrosity of his appearance. Here the monster simulates the Fall of Man, where he is kicked out of his paradise and left to traverse the unknown world, for the second time. This is the catalyst that produces the monster’s resentment towards Victor for not giving him a mate.
As Victor denies the monster of his companion, the monster then launches into a spiteful rage. It is with noble intentions that he approached Victor, but the best intentions often times procure the most dreadful outcomes. Although already having murdered Victor’s brother and friend, only because he did not know how to handle the circumstances, the monster now intends to kill everyone that Victor loves in hopes that he may know what it’s like to truly feel alone. The monster pleaded with Victor, “…I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” Victor refuses him for fear of creating two monsters that wreak havoc in the world. Victor is afraid, we can look back on Genesis, when God created Eve for Adam; because of her, they are released from the garden for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Victor is fearful that they will destroy and ruin everything together. The monster begins to resemble Satan, and even mentions it himself, “I cursed him. …like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence … but I was wretched, alone and helpless. Many times 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.” Through the rejection of Victor, his creator, and malice towards Victor, the monster relates to Satan in these contexts.
As Victor lay dying in Walton’s ship, alone, he tries to convince the captain to avenge him by killing the monster. Walton agreed, though to no avail. Victor dies on his boat, but unbeknownst to them, the monster has been hiding amongst them and enters the cabin mournfully. In awe, Walton listens to the monster’s apologies and regrets. The monster then says to him, “…I shall ascend my funeral pyre triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept to the sea by the winds.” This parallels to the story of redemption, and how the sinner must atone for his sins to be saved. Adam was made from dust, and to dust he returned; Victor died at sea, and the monster’s ashes will join him.
It goes without saying that Mary Shelley’s use of religion is pivotal to the novel, even the title page of the novel contains an epigraph from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay/ To mould me Man, did I solicit thee/ From darkness to promote me?” This epigraph serves as the staple for the novel, as the monster equates himself to both Adam and Satan. Much like Adam, his creator rejects him though he continues to battle with being good. These rhetorical questions, referring to the epigraph, embody the monster’s bitterness toward Victor for forsaking him in a world that is ceaselessly cruel to him and imposes blame for his horridness and subsequent wickedness on Victor. His coming to life, the fall, and the poignant trail up to his death are all scenarios in which the monster can be compared to Adam, Eve, and Satan.
The Influence through Paradise Lost
Elspeth (Ellie) Green holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.
She offers a quick summary of Paradise Lost, and a cute video. If you don't have time for the video, she does also have the transcript uploaded.
Click here to visit her page.