Discuss the extent to which one of the following novels is informed by contemporary social issues: Great Expectations Fathers and Son, Frankenstein.
The novel I have chosen to discuss is Frankenstein. Written in 1818 by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein is classified as a gothic novel, however, Shelly uses both realist and non-realist techniques. I will be looking at her reasons for writing the novel and what influenced her, as well as the realist and non-realist techniques used. I will be looking at some of the contemporary social issues that affected Shelley’s life at the time she wrote her novel. These will include Nature versus Nurture and Love and Responsibility.
Frankenstein was written after Mary Shelley and a group of her friends were challenged by Lord Byron to each write a ghost story. The idea for her novel came to her after she had listened to a conversation between Lord Byron and her husband Percy Shelly in which they discussed ‘The experiments of Dr Darwin’ They also discussed ‘galvanism’ ‘Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated’ (Frankenstein p195) Later that night she dreamed of her monster and was awakened with fear and so it began.
Shelly was undoubtedly influenced by what she read. She mentions literary works that she drew upon for her ideas ‘The Iliad, the tragic poetry of Greece-Shakespeare, in the Tempest (It is easy to see the parallels with the character of Caliban, who is viewed as monstrous, educated and betrayed by Prospero) Midsummer Night’s Dream – and most especially Milton, in Paradise Lost.’ (preface) There are parallels with the story of Frankenstein and the bible story of Satan. ‘Satan is an angel who has fallen from a blessed and God- given state because he has pride enough to think he can rival God’ (The Realist Novel p70). Victor Frankenstein could be viewed as Satan because he too is trying to be a creator of man. This dark image of Frankenstein necessitates the use of the gothic.
Frankenstein is a hybrid; a mixture of realist and gothic. Shelly needed to incorporate both techniques in order for her story to work. ‘ It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it develops; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.’ (Preface) This suggests that she could not have shown the turmoil of emotions without the use of gothic techniques as nothing she could find in everyday life could sum up the torment and misery inflicted on her monster. The horrors that occur in the novel (the recreation of life from dead body parts) would have been unthinkable and because of the nature of Frankenstein’s experiments a gothic approach was needed. On the other hand the story needed to be believable; characters had to develop. Shelley uses realist techniques: first person narrative, showing and telling, to help the reader believe that what they were reading was possible if not probable and this made the story all the more frightening.
Walton’s Narrative is told in the first instance, through letters (epistolary style) written by him to his sister. This realism (a brother writing to his sister) draws the reader in and a false sense of security is established. These opening letters give little indication that this is a horror story. They carry no hidden message. The language is simple and in parts there are elements of the romantic ‘There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible; its broad disc just skirting the horizon, and diffusing a perpetual splendour.’ (letter 1) They do however frame Frankenstein’s narrative which is ‘embedded’ into Walton’s narrative and the creatures which is ‘embedded’ into Victor’s. (This story within a story is typically gothic.) Another technique used is the use of first person narrative voice; this is easily achieved as the whole text is one person telling another a recount of a...
References: Allen Richard, Chapter Three, reading Frankenstein, The Realist Novel, The Open University (1995)
Butler Marilyn, Edited notes and Introduction, Frankenstein, 1818 Text, Oxford University Press.
Byron Glennis, York Notes Advanced, Frankenstein 1831 edition.
Shelley Mary, Frankenstein, 1818 text, Oxford University Press.
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