Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Crisis Magazine

Despite a wildly fluctuating income--based largely on the Juvenile Library of M.J. Godwin and Company, a publishing enterprise devised by Mrs. Godwin--the physical needs of the children were provided. Mary's favorite pastime as a child was to "write stories," and in 1808 her thirty-nine-quatrain reworking of Charles Dibdin's five-stanza song was published by the Godwin Juvenile Library. This version became so popular that it was republished in 1830 in an edition illustrated by Robert Cruikshank. Meanwhile, as Mary became a young woman, the tension with Mrs. Godwin increased. Mellor argues that Mary "construed Mrs. Godwin as the opposite of everything that she had learned to worship in her own dead mother"--as conservative, philistine, devious, and manipulative, where Wollstonecraft was freethinking, intellectual, open, and generous. In the summer of 1812 Godwin sent his precious only daughter to visit William Baxter, an acquaintance who lived in Dundee, Scotland. With the Baxter family, Mary experienced a happiness she had rarely known. She grew fond of Baxter, and a friendship soon developed between Mary and his two daughters, Christina and Isabel. This close-knit family was to provide Mary with a model of domestic affection and harmony that would surface later in her fiction. The dunes, the beach, and the barren hills near Dundee inspired Mary, and she would later describe this scenery in her novella (written in 1819-1820).

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Somers Town, London, in 1797

Encouraged by Percy, Mary developed the little ghost story into a novel, which she finished in May of 1817 at Marlow and published in March 1818. To those who have not read the book, the name Frankenstein is often associated with the monster rather than its creator. The mistake is perhaps not altogether erroneous, for as many critics point out the creature and his maker are doubles of one another, or doppelgängers. Their relationship is similar to that between the head and the heart, or the intellect and the emotion. The conception of the divided self--the idea that the civilized man or woman contains within a monstrous, destructive force--emerges as the creature echoes both Frankenstein's and narrator Robert Walton's loneliness: all three wish for a friend or companion. Frankenstein and his monster alternately pursue and flee from one another. Like fragments of a mind in conflict with itself, they represent polar opposites which are not reconciled, and which destroy each other at the end. For example, the creature enacts the repressed desires of its maker, alleviating Victor Frankenstein's fear of sexuality by murdering his bride, Elizabeth Lavenza, on their wedding night. Identities merge, as Frankenstein frequently takes responsibility for the creature's action: for instance, after the deaths of the children William and Justine, both of which were caused by the creature, Frankenstein admits they were "the first hapless victims to [his] unhallowed arts."


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, published in 1830, was perhaps Shelley's least successful novel. Impressed by the popularity of 's historical romances, Shelley attempted one based on the historical figure Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, escaped from the Tower of London--after Richard III's henchmen killed his elder brother--and raised in Flanders. When Warbeck attempted to take the throne of Henry VII for the Yorkists, his pretension was supported by James IV of Scotland who wed him to his cousin Princess Katherine Gordon. Shelley was under some constraints in the composition of the novel. Believing in his royal identity, she created Perkin Warbeck as a stereotypically perfect, benevolent, and honest character, and then had to manipulate that character to adhere to the facts of history. William Walling describes the book as "essentially a lifeless novel, although it deserves our respect for the quality of the intelligence which is intermittently displayed in it," while Bonnie Rayford Neumann says that the novel "has none of the power and passion of her earlier ones; by the time she removes Richard from the Procrustean bed, not only does she have no hero, but she is almost devoid of a story as well."