I am writing to draw your attention to a new archive, just put online, of the manuscripts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The novel went through several drafts and revisions, and the digital copies provide an interesting insight into the process of writing and revision that Mary Shelley undertook while crafting this classic piece of literature.
The Frankenstein Notebooks
With dull yellow eyes, pearly white teeth, black lips, and a shriveled complexion, the fiend in Frankenstein was a horror to the human eye. Not only did he cause fear in those who faced him, but also in his creator, Victor Frankenstein. As the novel develops, we learn, as well as Frankenstein, that playing the role of God is not a human responsibility. However, because of his eagerness and dream to infuse life into a dead body, Frankenstein works 2 years to accomplish this goal. Then, when the lifeless thing arose from its inanimate state, Frankenstein feels terror. “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (pg. 51).
The novel continues to develop, and we then read from the monsters point of view as he explains the troubles of being a wretched creature, who strikes fear in those he comes in contact with. In this, we see how he goes from quietly observing humans, hiding in the shadows, to murdering Frankenstein’s love, friend, and brother.
As we see the transition of the wretch, he gets angrier as the text progresses. He demands that Frankenstein create another monster to be his companion because he is living a terrible, and lonely life. To strengthen his desire, he tells Frankenstein: “If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall eve see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment” (pg. 130). However, Frankenstein does not create a companion for the monster and in anger, the monster then kills Elizabeth and Clerval. So, my questions to the class: Did the monster deserve a companion to roam the earth with? Does he not deserve the chance to be happy too, like humans? Was his promise to leave man alone worth creating another monster?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a Romantic novel about a young scientist with radical ideas and ambitions. He is intrigued with life, specifically the creation of life. He spends years of his life researching and studying, he even spent extended periods of time in tombs observing bodies decay. This novel contains many important themes. Two of which I would like to highlight in this blog post.
The first is that man should not play God. Victor Frankenstein embarks on a quest to create life, which ends in tragedy. Frankenstein’s creature, in visioned to be a beautiful being with larger features then humans turned out to be a grotesque monster. Once it came to life, Victor Frankenstein himself could not even bear the sight of it, his own creation.
His monster fled the the house and never returned. Frankenstein’s monster tries to fit into society with desire of acceptance but receives only hate and fear from the humans, because of this it swears revenge on humans and his creator, Victor Frankenstein. This is where this first theme, that man shouldn’t play God becomes apparent. Wandering through the wood in Geneva the creature stumbles across a young boy. The boy reveals that he is from the Frankenstein family and the creature strangles him to death. The creature doesn’t stop here though, his next victim is Victor’s dear friend Henry Clerval, whose death is a result of Victor not complying to the creature’s request for a companion. The final straw is when the monster kills Elizabeth on Victor’s and her wedding night. After all of these killings Victor devotes his life to destroying his creation, which eventually leads to his own demise. Shelley wants to use Victor as an example of how men can’t play the role of God. The creation of life is beyond man’s control and through the savage killings the monster does, Shelley portrays what happens when man tampers with Gods role of creation.
The second theme that I would like to point out in this story is the healing role of nature. When Victor spent years creating the monster he fell very ill. It wasn’t until he left his house and received fresh air with his friend Henry that he began to feel renewed and healthy once again. Throughout the story Victor seeks sanctuary from illness in nature.