Introduction to Frankenstein #
Mary Shelley and Percy Shelly were married in 1813, and three years later while living in Geneva with Lord Byron who one night issued a challenge for each of them writing a gothic (ghost) story. Mary claims the inspiration for her story came from a vision she had during a dream. Her story was the only one completed and has become one of the most famous Gothic novels of all time.
Her father inspired her intellectually “To be something great and good” and she developed as a writer from the early age of ten, writing Frankenstein when she was only 19.
Mary Shelley is writing during the time when the Romantic movement was in full swing. The swing towards a more humanistic attitude towards fellow mankind and the reverence for the natural over the man made is clearly depicted in Frankenstein. Shelley questions the eighteenth-century scientific rationalists’ optimism about, and trust in, knowledge as a pure good.
While the Philosophers believed in the perfectibility of man through reason, the Romantics put their faith in the ‘immortal spirit’ of the individual’s emotions. The Romantics maintained suspicions about the dark inscrutable workmanship of the Scientific and empirical attempts to improve on nature.
This is a cautionary tale warning about the threat to a diminished humanity posed by Science. Both Walton, the epistemological narrator and Frankenstein are challenging the frontiers of human knowledge and will suffer for it. Shelley parallels Walton’s spatial explorations and Frankenstein’s forays into unknown knowledge, as both men seek to “pioneer a new way,” to make progress beyond established limits.
Science and too much rational learning can diminish our humanity.