Connections between Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and her life
two books rich with information about Mary Shelley's life and that of
Shelley The Pursuit by Richard Holmes, 1974, Quartet Books, London
The Godwins and The Shelleys by William St Clair, 1989, Johs Hopkins
University Press, Baltimore
Holmes' book gives many details about Percy Shelley's personality. His
playfulness and struggle with his father, as well as his efforts directed
toward liberating the Irish are carefully illustrated. Matters of personal habit
that may have been things with which Mary had to deal include his complete
lack of orderliness. Descriptions of his rooms as entirely unkempt, his
rather romantic interest in being unhealthy, and carrying poison with him in
case life became too much of a burden are things that Holmes draws into
the full picture.
St Clair's book also details much of what life was like for Mary, with
more of the Godwin side included. It is very important to note that Mary's
interest in her mother's writing and life was on her mind during the period
during which she wrote Frankenstein, as it had been during her life prior to
meeting Percy. Her father's ideas are most important, although little has been
noticed of this. The numerous errors in Victor's story, and which Mary chose
to keep in the text 13 years later at republication, speak to the purpose of
her "excerise of untried resources of mind" (preface to Frankenstein).
Several of these deliberately included errors are discussed at this site
at the link keys to understanding Frankenstein. The need to conceal the
purpose of her work is not difficult to see, when we consider how a
friend, Dr. Wm. Lawrence, lost his copyright to his major work due to
its scientific view seeming to affront church doctrine.
The following links provide some insights or angles that may be of interest
in influences and evidence of Shelley's crafting of Frankenstein.
Some additional noteworthy connections and parallels:
As a very young girl Mary listened to Samuel Taylor Coleridge recite
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in her father's house.
Mary and her stepmother did not get on well - Justine?
Mary's father was described as a monster by those who opposed
reform. When she and her stepsister left for the continent, the story
put out by her father's detractors was that he had sold his daughters
to Percy Shelley.
The longing of the creature for the female creature may have been
inspired by William Godwin's never having stopped missing Mary
Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother.
Percy studied medicine for a while and was very interested in
electricity and gases. He invested in a steam powered boat project
while they lived in Italy.
Probably the most intriguing parallel is the one Mary created in the
first tale told in Frankenstein, which has nothing to do with Frankenstein
at all. The story of the ship's master is important because (1) it demonstrates
her father's view of virtue and (2) Shelley then writes a story she later refers to
as her hideous progeny which she abandons at the crucial unfinished moment.
Like the father in the absence of the hero, the reader is left with the unresolved
and unhappy story. When we see more of the design and possibility of the
novel, we are able to appreciate this parallel. Like the father of the young
Russian woman, we had the best intentions when we began reading the
novel. Somewhere we got off track. Although we have no admiration for
Victor, we have accepted his story as true, even though in three ways it
proves to be false by the internal evidence he claimed it would have.
Mary leaves us on Walton's ship just as the hero leaves the young woman
her father and his country. The problem is not one Mary Shelley can solve.
We have to recognize our own error and correct it. That requires that we
examine things we have assumed to be true. When find that some things
we thought were true aren't, we are able to see possibilities for better