Essay on Monstrosity
Mary Shelley made her reputation of being one of the best Romantic authors on the basis of just one book. The notoriety that came with being the daughter of two famous authors helped, as did her age at the time of conceiving the book, but Frankenstein was the only one of her stories to achieve any fame. The level of fame it achieved, however, was astounding. In fact, even though it was originally published in 1818, Alasdair Gray still saw fit to use Frankenstein as his primary inspiration for Poor Things in 1992. The Gothic Romantic nature of both of these books is well known, but the monstrosity contained within them is an interesting topic to examine.
Romantic literature was known to contain notions of a return to nature, and exaltation of senses and emotions over logic and reason, and the Gothic Romance movement had these elements as well as a typically dark setting and supernatural overtones (Gothic romance 1). Shelley and Gray used all of these devices and more, including: word use; thoughts and feelings on loneliness and friendship; a unique, nonlinear structure style, Shelley's twinges of Milton's Paradise Lost and Darwin's theories, and Gray's illustrations, to create two closely connected stories.
The base monstrosity for Shelley was in the conception of the book. Beginning soon after her elopement with Percy Shelley, the loss of her newborn son, and the rejection of her father, she had a dream. The company she was keeping at time also helped the dream and the story. Depressed from some of these tragic events, reeling, as one so young must be, from her new elopement, she encountered Polidori and Lord Byron while honeymooning with Percy in Switzerland. Their conversations on the state of society and medicine, particularly Darwin's theories, this was in 1816, gave her an immense knowledge, and many theories of things to come. It was the combination of all of these conflicting feelings and thoughts, along with the knowledge that her birth most likely caused her mother's death, and probably the newfound theory of galvanization, that her dream was inspired. The dream was of "pale student of unhallowed arts putting together the phantasm of a man." This horrible dream inspired a horrific novel. (Bushi)
The next level of monstrosities came from the structure of both novels. Shelley's Frankenstein is told in epistolary style, starting with a series letters from an R. Walton, the first of the lonely yearning characters in this book, to his sister Margaret. In keeping with Milton's style of starting a story in mid-action, Shelley begins by talking about Walton's stalled journey to the North Pole, an attempt for fame. While stuck in the frozen sea, he observes a giant being on a dog sled and Victor Frankenstein in pursuit. Victor then stops at the ship, inquires of it's intended direction of travel, and determines to board. Shelley then switches to Walton merely narrating Victor's tale. It is a wondrous tale of happiness, ambition, creation, and desolation, all told with virtually no commentary from Walton. This makes Walton an observer of the story, and the reader, a twice-removed observer. Hence, even at it's beginning, the story is disjointed.
From that starting point, in the middle of all the action of the story, Walton's journey, Frankenstein's pursuit, Shelley takes us back to the beginning of Victor's life. This is the happiness. Victor had a great childhood, with a loving, benevolent mother, and a somewhat distant father, surrounded by children his age that he loved, and family and a domestic staff to dote on him. While Victor's father is distant, his main mistake is in not correcting Victor's studies away from outdated and almost magical topics. These Victor learned of from books that his Father kept in his library. The one time Victor asked about the authors and their theories, his father was short and dismissive, when he should have explained...