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"When we are afraid to speak our minds, we have already begun
to lose them." Gemellus Lupus circa 46 C.E.
Informal Student Help
Although this site provides considerable material leading to greater
understanding of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, much of it deals with
insights that are bound to be unfamiliar to those who teach literature.
Because students are so often pressed for time, the aim here is to help
make it easier to comprehend something of the remarkable design and
purpose of Frankenstein that has been neglected. HMS links below
highlight some of the angles almost always missed by those who teach
the novel as well as a chronology of events that gives something of the
flavor of the times and some help with citing web pages for papers.
Also note that there are print versions of many pages.
From student e-mails we see that some assigned essays are based upon
flawed ideas. This very informal page may be of some help until we have
our student help page put together.
E-mails are welcome. Many of the improvements that have been made
and those we are working on are the result of student e-mails.
e-mail with comment or question [Contact]
[Frankenstein Questions]Some questions Robert Walton could have
asked Victor Frankenstein regarding discrepancies
in his story.
[Frankenstein Exercise] a quick way to see what is meant by the words
"untried resources of mind" in Shelley's preface
use of your back button with the following links will save time
[calendar] September 1796 through June 1798
[Connections between the novel and Mary's life]
[Comparing Branagh's Frankenstein to Mary Shelley's]<<< Branagh's sex comes
[importance of the author's preface] with baggage, so check
[Godwin's importance] these links The Slip &
[the hero we miss] Philo and The Fall
[machinery of the story] one of the best examples of design commonly ignored
[mistakes easily made] experts, thinking they know the novel, mess up
[the role of women in Frankenstein]
[example of Shelley's clever hints] and a reader with a great observation
[facts pointing to the purpose of Frankenstein]
[playing God] there is a surprise here
[hint regarding perspective] think of Robert Walton as Uncle Bob
[newspaper made Mary Shelley's life possible]
[browse by topic]
economic and social reform links: [Frances Wright] [Robert Owen][Godwin's Political Justice]
there are a number of links and notes on various subjects in TCW's advertisement index
from some responses to e-mail:
[how the subtitle relates to the novel]
[individual and society]
[motivation of Victor and the monster]
[what the monster's victims have in common (that non-victims don't share with them?)]
[Frankenstein, ethics and responsibility]
[Frankenstein and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner]
[Time line problems with Frankenstein]
[use of different voices]
[monster and Frankenstein as one person]
[setting and ideas of novel]
[support or opposition to scientific research]
Comparison between the monster and Victor and their motivations is
important to the exercise of mind that was partly responsible for the novel
taking the shape it did. However, it is important to note that Victor
creates the monster as a part of another of his creations, which is not
usually noticed. The story he tells Walton cannot be true and is a
monstrous creation that will not die. Shelley provides us with the
viewpoint of the magistrate, to whom Victor tells his story in detail
(with dates etc.) which we readers ususally do not bother to make use
of. When we do, we find that the dates and times that Victor says
support his account are what make it unbelievable. Victor's
story, just as the monster he claims within it to having given life, has
features that are well turned out and others that are not at all what
was intended. The contrast, when noticed, is truly monstrous. There
is a third (but only the second in actuality) creation Victor brings, that
is the monster of Walton as he has become. It is Victor who changes
Walton from the captain who will not allow a stranger to die on the
open sea into a man who will send one away without a word of
comfort or, perhaps more importantly, without asking his version
of the events, which could easily be more credible than Victor's story.
The motivations of Victor and the monster are important, as the
preface suggests, in understanding human behavior and means to the
development of unrealized potential. Victor does not set out to create
a monster. His intention is to create a race of happy creatures who will
benefit mankind. Likewise we do not set out to become monstrous
judges, which is what we become when we accept Victor's account
and believe that the monster murdered William. The magistrate to
whom Victor tells the story sees, as we do when we adopt the
purpose that Victor claims motivated him to listen to the monster's
account (to know if he in fact murdered William), that the monster's
confession is in conflict with the events of his account, which have him
arriving much too late within the vicinity of Geneva. Such ingenious
design in Frankenstein points to the work of Shelley's father, William
Godwin, author of Political Justice, who rejected the prevailing view
that people need to be told falsehoods in order to get them to behave
in wholesome ways. See On Necessity in Political Justice text at link
above. We can see that the monster's flawed tale is created for the purpose
of providing Victor with reasons to produce the mate the monster needs.
As is the pattern in so many examples in the novel, plans to bring about
some benefit go awry. The motivations are essentially good to begin
with. It is failing to see where the things that have lesser importance
come to tyrannize the things that matter most that is the problem.
prejudice against our own natural hope and virtue
Among the number of ancient writers Mary and Percy Shelley read was Cicero
(born January 3, 106 B.C.E.). Marcus Cicero in his last years wrote many books
on topics of importance to the Roman of the Republican period of Rome's
history. Prejudice, Cicero wrote, is the greatest single cause of evil in the world.
Romans became known as the pious people more than a century before Cicero's
birth because the Romans respected the many different beliefs of peoples. Roman
temples of the Ciceroman period celebrate the many different peoples who enjoyed
the freedom to practice the rituals important to their belief systems as long as they
respected the authority of Roman civil government. With few exceptions this period
was a peaceful period of more than two centuries, something that had not been
achieved before and has not been achieved since. The Ciceroman faith was
essentially that justice brings out the virtue in people. Cicero proposed that
the whole of humanity addresss the question of the nature of God and so
settle the philosophical argument about whether or not God or the Gods involved
themselves in human affairs etc. Cicero, while he preferred to keep his own
thinking on this private, did write that, where human beings are concerned
God (he said there was but one true one) desired that people behaved justly
with each other.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein can be seen as an exercise directed at the Roman
goal of achieving peace through the elimination of prejudice. One of her unpublished
stories, Valerius, The Reanimated Roman, expresses the longing for the Roman
faith. Her father, William Godwin, had for a long time wanted to bring to
Europe the Roman faith in virtue. In Latin the word for man is the word from which
virtue is derived, virtus. We can see the virtue of the monster coming forth, and
believe that, if he were treated justly, he would be of benefit to the society.
Shelley gives us the opportunity to make the crucial decision, to involve ourselves
in the lives of the characters, to think of ways that the desparate situation might yet
be resolved. Cicero had asked the question, "If we don't care for one another, why
should the God or Gods care for us?" She puts that question to us. We may
say our faith, which is informed by one of the various traditions, is good, yet
if it does not teach us to think and act in ways that save life and bring happiness
where it is possible to do so, we are enervated by the so-called religious system,
as Shelley suggests happens with modern novels (see her preface). Although
there are many examples of prejudice doing needless damage in Frankenstein,
the most important one is one we readers seldom recognize. It is despair, which
is, when we think about it, a prejudice against hope. Prejudice is improper
judgment and is usually a matter of habit, keeping our minds on the beaten path,
instead of using the valuable clues that suggest some truth has escaped us and
could be apprehended. Shelley provides the information that could have been
used to save Justine's life and shows us how those who claim to have an interest in
doing justice failed to save her. Justine is dead. It is too late to save her, but will
we learn from her tragic death or the other examples in the novel? This is
why she leaves Victor and the monster in the conditions we find them in at the
end of the novel, which is her way of handing it off to us. (Her father's children
stories usually added a better ending to old stories - which may well have given
Mary years of practice of looking for better outcomes from seemingly hopeless
situations.) We think Victor is dead. But Walton's account shows that he should
not be taken as the final authority on such things. (see exercise) The monster or
creature can be rescued. But for generation after generation, readers fail to see
that the better and truer ending to the novel is waiting for us to declare. The reason
for this is our prejudice. We don't think of despair as prejudice against hope, but there
Only the prejudiced-with-despair reader will accept the outrageous discrepancies and
contradictions Shelley has provided in such abundance. Hail Mary Shelley! She
has seen the happier and more helpful creatures we may become.
"What character traits do the "monster's" victims all have in common? & What might
Mary Shelley be telling us by making these characters the victims?"
Wow. What a pair of questions. The second suggests that the two character traits the
questioner is looking for are not common in other characters. That is puzzling. The questioner
is suggesting that little William and Justine, the first victims, have two character traits in common
with the last victim. The last victim is Victor Frankenstein, according to the "creature" or "monster".
And is Victor Frankenstein truly the creature's victim? Victor was "much recovered from his illness"
one month before he is claimed as the last victim. Is the "monster" responsible for the decline in
Victor's health? Walton, who tells us he has not followed the ship's surgeon's directive to leave
Victor alone, is much more likely the person responsible for Victor's condition. And what I wonder
two character traits does the De Laceys' landlord have in common with Elizabeth that we don't find
in other non-victim characters in the novel? Isn't the landlord a victim? He can't rent the ruins of the
cottage the creature burned. He has lost income and that injures him plenty. What about the De
Laceys, who perceive themselves as potential victims? Are they? They certainly were the beneficiaries
of the "monster's" concern and labor. This leads to the question of whether the child rescued by the
"monster" has either of the two character traits that little William has that are supposed to be common
to victims. If she does, the character trait must be discarded not important to being a victim or a
beneficiary. And what credence is due Walton's account or Victor's? Shelley takes care to include
details that suggests strongly that neither Victor nor Walton are reliable sources of important information.
It appears that "character traits" was meant to include circumstances in the life of the character beyond
the character's control, which I would not have considered character traits.
Are the monter's victims all both innocent and motherless? And are there non-victims, who
could have been victims who were both motherless and innocent? If so are the two traits really
the determining factors in who is a victim and who is not? What about Clerval? What about
William? He was selected by the "monster" because the "monster" thought the boy would be too
young to have learned prejudice, which judging by appearance certainly is. When he makes the
accusation that the "monster" intends to eat him, is he innocent? Which character in the book is a
vegetarian? Why might Mary have included this detail and how might it emphasize the aspect of
prejudice in William's accusation? Did the "monster" kill William intentionally? If not, what is the
point? What about the child the "monster" rescues? Can we be sure \that there are two groups of
people that Mary wants us to see as distinct on account of one group lacking mothers and being
innocent if we have no evidence that all the members of each group really have the traits or
circumstances they are supposed to have? And if we were able to identify groups, one apparently
susceptible to victimization by the "monster" and the other not, would that provide any help at all
for those who are victims of people other than the "monster"? Is Justine executed by the "monster"?
Does the evidence that the monster plants in the fold of her garment make it impossible for her to
survive when that evidence is discovered? Or does the confession Justine makes because the priest,
like almost everyone else, is convinced that she is guilty assure that there can be no reversal of the
judges' verdict? What about the evidence that indicates the size of the hands that strangled William
is much greater than Justine's hands? Why does Mary include that detail in the murders of William
and Clerval? And why does Mary precede the story of Frankenstein with a story of a father who
makes his daughter miserable because he thinks it is more important to keep his word? Isn't the
young Russian woman as innocent and motherless as Clerval? Isn't the unhappiness she experiences
as a result of her father's long delay in accepting a perfect solution just as real as the unhappiness of
other characters who suffer as a result of harm done by the "monster". Is Mary concerned only about
supernatural horrors? What does the preface to her book suggest she thinks about her book and
other novels? To whom does she dedicate the book? Where is the evidence that Mary Shelley
thought that ignoring evidence that would alleviate human suffering if that evidence does not fit some
theory a person in a position of authority has come up with is okay?
The view of science presented in Frankenstein with respect to ethics and responsibility
Like political, religious, social, educational and other areas of human endeavor, science
has a goal, which is to improve some aspect of human existence. However, like the
processes in the other areas, scientific efforts often go awry. It is understanding the
way such error comes about that Frankenstein is about. Victor's education at Ingolstadt
suggests that some scientific ideas, once widely accepted are now considered absurd
ravings. Yet, it is also suggested that some ideas of value were tossed out with the rubbish.
This is the sort of thing that happens in other disciplines as well.
Notice that from the very beginning, the stories of individuals involve situations in which
use of the scientific method could be of great help. The parable of the ship's master. is the first.
It is obvious that the goal, which is the happiness of the Russian lady, will not be achieved if she
marries the retired sailor, who cannot replace the man she loves in her affections and who no
longer has the means to support her. Her father for a long time holds with a course that can be
predicted to fail. Why? Because something of importance, keeping his word, became more
important to him than the greater goal which caused him to give his word to begin with. The
story is simple, yet the happy resolution of it relies on the scientific method, finding fact,
predicting results, revising a course of action in order to achieve more desirable results.
After that the novel presents a series of other situations in which the scientific method is missing
and disaster results. The creature fails to establish social relations at the cottage. But he thinks
afterward how he might have approached the situation better. Justine is hanged, when the
scientific method could have saved her. The bruises on the necks of the victims of the creature
correspond to the hands that made them. Justine's much smaller hands could not have made the
bruises. But the desire to have a solution in the case of William's death outruns the principles that
lead to a resolution that will be in keeping with the goal of doing justice, rather than merely
providing the sensation that justice has been done. It is very like the parable of the ship's master
that Walton relates to his sister - the first story in the book. The idea that comes through time
and again in Frankenstein is that vital steps are left out of efforts to achieve some good thing.
Scientific development requires the same care that other human endeavors do. The priest is truly
interested in helping Justine in the next world as he sees it. The result of his efforts are unnecessary
misery for those who love her. The false confession is quite predictable, as are its effects on the
family and the judges. Scientific development was moving along during the period of Shelley's life.
She, Percy, and her father were interested in the development of new scientific applications. Godwin
expected, long before it was realized, that people would be conveyed to distant places at speeds of
sixty miles an hour. Percy invested in a steamboat project. Friend Robert Owen developed new
processes for the manufacture of textiles, but at the same time thought of and put into effect ways
of improving the lives of those who worked in his factory. There was in all the belief in the
perfectibility of humanity. Attention to the common pattern of error, which Godwin described in
detail in Political Justice, is necessary to the improvement. Those who are concerned about science
running amok will make the same errors as Frankenstein demonstrates. Ethics and science require
care that is often lost in the excitement of the times or moment.
Frankenstein and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Some of the ideas here and elsewhere on this website may be extremely objectionable to long
established institutions. Our guiding principle is that vital truth is found when commonly accepted
discrepancies are examined and it follows that, when we have made a discovery, we ought not to
wait for the world to ready itself before offering what we have found for the most comprehensive
possible examination. As Gemellus said, "When we are afraid to speak our minds, we have already
begun to lose them."
To better understand the relationship between Frankenstein and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
it is important to give attention to Mary Shelley's preface and the purposes it suggests and also to
observe the design of her novel. Her use of Coleridge's poem can then be seen as providing her
reader with a mental and moral exercise, which will improve the judgment of her reader. Shelley sees
(preface) that most novels have enervating effects on the reader and she wants to do just the opposite.
She wants to invigorate her reader.
by the way Mary Shelley and her half sister, Fanny Imlay, remembered as children listening to Coleridge reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in their home. They would hide themselves behind a sofa or something. The poem was begun right about the time that Mary Shelley was born. She was born August 30th 1797 and Coleridge was reading the part that he had finished in Godwin's home that fall.
On one hand we see a number of parallels between the novel and the poem, beginning with the sea voyage to a polar region. Yet, there are some differences that should not be overlooked, because they fit with the purposes Shelley suggests. The poem is a complete story, which tells us of a wrong done, repentance, and redemption. Although the scenes and action are unusual, the theme is familiar enough. The great impression that the poem makes comes from the described scenes and action that cause the reader to imagine a horizon to horizon supernatural world.
Shelley, in a way does the opposite. That is the character of the creature is the supernatural being who is surrounded by the ordinary world. In some important ways, however, things are the same. The albatross is welcomed like a Christian soul and on the tenth day murdered. Justine, who is in protestant Geneva society not considered to be Christian, is welcomed and like the albatross is wrongly put to death. And Justine's death is not the only thing upsetting the family that lost its youngest member, little William. Justine's false confession, which results from the priest's effort to save her soul, is extremely wrenching. Add to this the fact that there is evidence that any person in Geneva could have used to save Justine's life and the fact that William's murder was accidental (the creature only intended to silence the boy) and commited by one who says his education in the things that are good came from observing a gentle Christian family, and we have something that is very complex but natural. This is very different from most of the poem, which relies on scenes of ordeal leading to redemption. The frightful stuff in the poem is in the open. With Frankenstein, much of the really awful stuff is stuff of which the characters are unaware. The judges are relieved that Justine has confessed, because they can be sure that they are not making a mistake and condemning an innocent person. Yikes! This is so different from what happens in the poem. Yet this kind of human failing is present in both poem and novel. The crew of the poem's ship condemn the ancient mariner for killing the albatross (which made the breeze to blow) and then say that it was right to kill such birds that bring the fog and mist. What is so different about what Coleridge and Shelley do is that Shelley involves the reader's judgment.
Coleridge's crew all know the albatross and who killed it, both approving and disapproving of same. Shelley's crew does not know the creature nor that Walton has sent him to die. What is really interesting about this inclusion of the reader in making a judgment is that most readers are quite safe. The reader is not likely to make a superstitious judgment (see Spinoza on superstition and use the back button to return here) because of the crush of ice or confines of mist. And yet we readers, safe from the kind of circumstance that Spinoza says causes bad judgment, make the worst mistake at the end of Shelley's "exercise of untried resources of mind". We judge the story to be concluded. But the reference to the Coleridge poem is a hint that it is not. The crew has made no judgment with respect to the creature. They don't even know that he has been sent to his death. Shelley takes us to that early point of the poem, where the judgment of the crew changes, at the end of the novel and gives us the opportunity to finish the story. So, while she uses the poem's powerful setting, she is presenting the reader with a problem Coleridge does not. And she points out that bad judgment comes not just from being in a situation of great danger, but also from assuming that the books we read are for our entertainment or that our participation is not required.
Frankenstein does feel guilt, but as with Justine's death, for example, does not recognize that he could have taken some action that would have saved a life. Shelley provides us with some information that could have been used to show that Justine could not have murdered William. Imagine the bruises on William's neck and ask the obvious question about the hands that made them. Victor also says at the end that he did everything to equip his creature. Hold on fella! You forgot to equip him with some cosmetics and teach him how to fix his hair, to mention just two things the creature desperately needed. Victor has not yet come to terms with the errors he made.
Playing God is something Walton does when he judges the confession of the creature and pronounces his repentance as false. Paradoxically, Walton isn't playing God well enough. Abraham questions God's destruction of Sodom, which results in some lives being saved. Here is an important distinction Mary Shelley's father points out that has been forgotten by Christians. Wm Godwin says that imitation leads to this kind of error in which judgment fails because more importance is placed on the pronouncement than on its premise.
The presence of the wedding early in the poem and novel is a parallel worth looking into, especially with respect to the Christian reference (the pending wedding in heavenly terms between the Christians who are the bride and the groom who is the Christ). Both poem and novel suggest that there needs to be some more preparation before entering into the marriage. That first story in Frankenstein is about a wedding that is complicated by the fact that the father promised his daughter to the wrong groom. This story, which I call the parable of the ship's master, you may have seen commented on elsewhere on this site parable (the back button will return you to this work space). It is very important because it shows how a difficult problem was solved. Walton loses sight of what is most important, just as the father in the parable does. Now for similarity with Coleridge's poem, we might ask what the ancient mariner might be warning of that could come up in the wedding to which the audience is going. Coleridge may be seen as suggesting, though far more obliquely, that there is some application of the story that we could benefit from. For example, as you may have already found on the site, John (the favorite disciple of Jesus) misbehaves terribly in heaven. Paul refers to the voluntary worship of angels as "false humility" which disqualifies anyone who does it from receiving "the prize". Now isn't this our world a bit like the Coleridge poem's crew, who find a reason to go along with what they had previously identified as wrong? What does post-Justinian Christianity teach, if not that it is a personal relationship with Jesus that effects salvation, disregarding the fact that no one in the group of followers has a closer personal relationship with Jesus than John, who is clearly not enjoying salvation. But Coleridge does not do much to direct us to examine such bad judgment in our common views. Shelley loads up her book with metaphors and references that do a lot to cause us to examine such sacred cows once we see that there is a pattern of error that runs through the novel and everyday life.
The passivity that Mary in her preface identifies as something she would like to change and the urgency of the ancient mariner addressing the next of kin.
Time line problems with Frankenstein
We often get requests for this information, which is a serious problem, because,
when examined closely, Victor's story does not make sense. Also, there is
reference to a period of time that appears in one edition and not in the other.
As for determining the year in which the events are likely to have occurred,
the day of the week clue in Victor's father's letter setting May 7th is the only
means to that end in Victor's tale. May 7th fell on a Thursday in the year
1795, which comes closest to fitting with the event time of Walton's voyage,
during which July 31st fell on a Monday, which was the case in 1797. The
next most recent year in which July 31st fell on a Monday is 1786. That
year is less than the century and a half after the events Victor refers to in
relating his visit to Oxford. The importance of the struggle of Charles I,
suggests that , whether or not his tale is an invented one, Victor would
see to it that such references were accurate. Thus, 1797 is the year in which
Victor tells his tale to Walton.
But Mary Shelley deliberately included an impossible chronology in Victor's
tale, which it is important to remember Victor may have changed after
Walton wrote it down. Shelley could easily have removed the problems in
the 1831 edition. The reason that she didn't is likely that she wanted Victor's
story to be understood to be a fabrication. The most serious problems with
Victor's time line occur with respect to William's death and Victor's trip
to England. Victor's version of the events leading up to William's death
make it impossible for the Creature to have murdered William. To see
this, compare the two stories in detail, adding up the periods of time in
the Creature's story. Even if the Creature's several weeks for recovery
from gun shot are limited to two weeks, Spring would have to have come
very early that year, in order for him to have taken the months he details it
having taken to get to Geneva. But Victor says that Spring was uncommonly
late that year. Similarly, Victor's account of his travel to England is out of
whack. According to his account, it took nine months to arrive in England
after he first saw its white cliffs from the ship. If it really took that long,
there is no way that he would be able to meet with Walton in the last
year of the 18th century in which July 31st fell on a Monday. Victor's
story isn't credible and that is what Mary Shelley intended.
Only the chronology Walton gives is credible, with allowance for
poetic license for the inclusion of reference to Rime of the Ancient
Mariner, which was not written until late 1797.
on line text of Frankenstein
the creature is incompletely created
there is a moment missing from the novel
there is something missing in our reading of the novel
Naming Frankenstein printable version
The origin of the Vitebsk story, which contains the three names for
the person on whom the character Victor Frankenstein is supposed
to have been based, is found on this site at Vitebsk story origin .
As it is an oral tradition, and a rather obscure one at that, it cannot
be documented, except as a possibility. Count Philippe - Paul de Segur's
Napoleon's Russian Campaign translated by J. David Townsend, 1958
Time-Life Books, paperback, does describe the period during which the
letters are said to have been translated and burned. Segur, however, other
than Napoleon's state of mind, never mentions any part of the discovery
of the letters or Napoleon's interest and then abhorrence of them. Much
can be found in Shelley's novel, however, that suggests there is room
for consideration of the story as either something she had heard about or
had invented herself. A veteran of the Russian campaign looked her up
in Venice soon after Frankenstein was published, which can be found
in Richard Holmes' Shelley, The Pursuit, 1976. Perhaps it was this fellow
who started the story of the Vitebsk letters.
The character in Frankenstein and the person the Vitebsk story suggests
inspired his creation do resemble one another, and the stories complement
each other. In the latter the Frankenthaler is so called because he does not
reveal his name, but does reveal a connection to the Montgolfier brothers,
who developed balloons, which is the town of Frankenthal, not all that far
from Frankenstein geographically or lingually. Sieger is the form of address
in the Vitebsk story that the Frankenthaler's enemy uses when the two
begin to reconcile. It is clearly not a name, but rather an acknowledgement
of the Frankenthaler's merit in the eyes of his former friend and enemy.
Their trouble had to do with an agreement between them to help one another.
Jondo, the name given to the Frankenthaler's enemy, assisted in returning to
the Frankenthaler's family a relic that had been entrusted to an ancestor and
then stolen from the family. This is where the name Canteleu comes in. Central
to the Vitebsk story is a story of how the Shroud of Turin came into being.
It is very different from the accepted one. However, the year in which the
Vitebsk story of the creation of the Shroud is said to have occurred does
fit the results of testing done at three labs in recent years. A search for
dating of the Shroud should provide details. I have a copy of an article
from a periodical, which I will dig out later. What is important to see
is that, at the time the story of how the Shroud was created in the 13th
century is supposed to have been told, it was not possible to provide any
clear evidence that it was factual. Nothing could then have been done to establish
a date for the cloth. Further, the story is not flattering to established Christian views.
If Shelley had heard of this story, she could not have published it. The
name Canteleu in the Vitebsk story points to the circumstances that
are said to have surrounded the creation of the Shroud, the persucution
of Jews under Louis IX in 1239. Chronicles of the Crusades, 1963, Dorset
Press includes the name Canteleu as one of Louis' men.
Although there really isn't anything that can be produced that demonstrates
that the Vitebsk letters really existed, or that Shelley new of the story
they are said to have told, Shelley's novel from beginning to end, in
a number of ways suggests that there is a story that is not being told,
one that would be shocking.
As for the connections with stein en and frank, in ancient writings, such as
Every Good Man is Free, and Genesis, Philo of Alexandria, and the Greek Bible's
suggestion that the stones will cry out, and the discrepancies in letters
to Trajan concerning knowledge of Christians, and Roman admission
of having provoked the Hebrew uprising, Shelley may have developed
a view of history that explains the discrepancies that have had to have
been ignored by historians for doctrinal reasons. Her father's expectation
that the truth would reappear with "double lustre" and her employment of
his observations regarding misguided good intentions should not be
discounted. A search for the reasons for the name of Victor Frankenstein,
though they may never result in pinning down specifics, can be of great
benefit to the progress her father had in mind. He did say that it was the
best book he had read by so young an author. This is more understandable
when we look for the ways in which she demonstrates the validity of so
much of what he proposed. printable version
regarding question 1 (How does the use of three different voices effect
our understanding of some of the novels ideas?)
The narrative structure of the novel is very interesting as an "excerise in
untried resources of mind" (see preface to Frankenstein). Because Mary
dedicated the exercise novel to Wm Godwin, who interestingly could not read
the preface when he first read the novel from proofs before it was published,
we should expect and look for ways that the exercise is useful to understanding
Godwin's ideas concerning human perfectibility. The essence of Godwin's
observation is that things go wrong because we fail to use knowledge already
in hand to guide our moral tendencies. See moral tendencies in Browse Site
Topics for some example of how Shelley introduces this idea before any other.
The narrative structure suggests that the reader adopt the viewpoint of Mrs.
Saville. We don't. If we did, we would be very concerned about brother Bob's
vow to kill no albatross and his unjust action toward the person he sends away
to die. Unjust because the contradictions in the story ("mutilated" or not) indicate
that it cannot be true. Look closely at the stories told by the creature and Victor
and you will see that it is not possible that the creature was able to kill little William.
The creature's story is never told by the creature. Nor is anyone on the ship,
other than Walton and Victor privy to the contents of the letters. So we are
the only persons who may ask the questions that must be asked if justice is
to be done. VERY IMPORTANT because Godwin had hoped to restore
Roman virtues to modern society. Justice is the queen of these. Shelley's
work is designed to remain available long after she is gone and to be ready to
demonstrate when Tom and Leanne are ready. Hail Mary Shelley!
further note: because persons may indeed be harmed by Walton's decision
(don't forget the allusion to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner -- the entire
crew may perish as a result of an unjust death) and because there are
discrepancies in the account given by Victor, it is vital to consider that there
is the appearance of three voices, rather than three actual voices. Not one
word of what we read was written or reviewed by the creature or monster
or whatever it is he is to be called. His version cannot be the same as Victor's
because Victor's does not make sense. This leads to another vital question.
Has Victor made a monster out of Walton. Walton has some knowledge of
navigation, enough that he should question the account he has been given, which
in its corrected form states that it took nine months from the time Victor and
Henry first sighted England's shore to arrive in England!!!!! And then there is
the matter of the accounts of the monster and Victor (both given by Victor),
which are in conflict. Walton is accepting absurdities a child could demolish.
Such careful design in the machinery (the word MS uses in the later introduction)
of the story has been taken for carelessness, the mistakes of a woman. There is more.
If Victor lives (his death is reported to us by an admittedly unreliable source)
he could deny that he is the author of the story. Yes, he could say, I did make
suggestions as to how Walton might improve his novel, but it isn't my story.
He has not, as far as we know, identified himself as Victor Frankenstein to
any other person on the ship. To assume that there are really three voices on
the pages of the novel is to forget the purposes of the novel and the dedication
of it to Wm Godwin.
regarding question 2 ( Is there an implication of guilt on the part of the monster,
Frankenstein, or society?)
The design of the novel leads us to despise characters for not taking
responsibility for their actions and then, if we exercise our untried resources
of mind and ask the obvious questions, find that we have done the same.
further note: if we are responsible for guiding our moral tendencies so that
the good intended results, rather than a disaster, our guilt often arises from
ineffective use of information. Organizations of people, as Godwin observed,
fail all too often fail to raise the questions that are necessary to achieving
truth in a matter. This is because, individuals in an organization are usually
limited by their postition within the organization and the desire to belong.
Shelley shows us how this tendency to assume an unquestioning role,
even when we are warned about this, is enormous. Mrs. Saville must
question, must worry. We, although we are invited to read the story
from such a point of view, do not. That which we need to discover and
understand about ourselves, so that we may avoid pursuing courses that
result in the opposite of that which we intend, we have yet to take an
active interest in.
regarding question 3 (Is there something to the view that the monster and
Frankenstein are halves of one person?)
There is also the possibility that Victor is half of the person in his story
who appears as Clerval. This seems a difficult idea to find support for
until it is discovered that Frankenstein's story is seriously flawed and
it very likely an invention. Then Henry Clerval's talent for inventing
fantastic tales is a much better fite. There are also other connections,
such as the ancient languages.
regarding question 4 (How is the setting important to the ideas of
setting has loads of possibilites
Considering that we as readers have ventured through the novel,
never recognizing where we have been, the cold of the arctic is
an appropriate metaphor. It is also a way of suggesting that there
are possible clues to be found in Coleridge's poem, the greatest of
which is that there are consequences for actions such as Walton's
and ours, when we fail to examine the evidence. It also recalls
the ancient observation, even quite old when Cicero mentioned it
in his book On Duties, namely that humans suffer more often as
a result of mistreatment by humans than by all natural causes. Cicero
himself was the savior and destroyer of many in that regard, and his
example of who should be saved when the ship sinks (in the same book)
is one that Shelley suggests may be loaded with facts not in evidence
(assumptions). The character who appears vigorous appears out of
the harshest environment. The character who has been saved from
the harsh environment, recovers significantly, but then under care declines.
regarding question 5 (Does Frankenstein support or oppose scientific
research?) Note that Victor both encourages and discourages Walton"s
Scientific research is but one activity -- see Godwin's
observation in regarding question 1. If we acquire knowledge but do not use
knowledge already in hand or that newly acquired to guide our moral tendencies,
they will run amok. see parable for discovery and effect of newly acquired knowledge
in the hands of a hero. Note tha Victor at different times urges and then discourages
further note: it depends on whether we are talking about the novel or the
character. The author of Frankenstein gives plenty of examples to show
that any moral tendency, whether it be expressed as a scientific enterprise
or spiritual one, is dangerous, if care is not taken. Justine could have been
saved by anyone, even a child, who could point out the obvious failure of the
evidence to identify her as the murderer. All this is deliberately included
by Mary Shelley. It is exactly as she promises in the preface.
the role of women in Frankenstein
In some ways the role of women in Frankenstein differs in the
two editions. In the 1818 edition, Elizabeth Lavenza is Victor's cousin
and comes to the Frankenstein household following the request of
Victor's uncle after the death of Victor's aunt. Victor's mother plays
no role at all in making the decision to bring Elizabeth into Victor's
life. In the 1831 edition, it is Victor's mother, Caroline Frankenstein,
who finds Elizabeth and sets about bringing her into the Frankenstein
family. One of the changes this new story of Elizabeth's past brings to
the later version is a greater development of the picture equality between
Victor's father and mother. It is unfortunate that the two editions are not
seen as important to one another for this and other reasons discussed
elsewhere at this site. The story of Elizabeth shows a woman who uses
her understanding to achieve a result pleasing to others as well as herself.
Note that when Victor's father returns from his trip to Milan, Elizabeth is
playing with Victor in the Frankenstein home. Caroline explains what
has happened and her own desire to make Elizabeth a member of the
family is shared by her husband. Note also that Caroline had for some
while wanted to have a daughter and that she never gave birth to one.
Her interest in aiding the less fortunate led her to an opportunity to
fulfill her role as a mother of a daughter as well as a son. This change
adds a view missing from the 1818 edition in which Elizabeth comes
to the Frankenstein home as the result of a decision made by a man,
The influence of Elizabeth is also an important element of the novel
to notice. Both Henry Clerval and Victor Frankenstein are more
complete and balanced as the result of Elizabeth's character.
Most important with respect to the role of women in the design of
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the off-stage role of Robert Walton's
sister, Mrs. Margaret Saville. As some such as Marylin Butler have
noted, Walton's sister has the same initials as the author of Frankenstein,
although not legally at the time she began writing the novel.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Margaret Walton Saville
This could very well suggest that it will be through the eyes of this
character that the reader will best understand the author's point of
view. This sort of hint is consistent with other similar choices in
naming characters. For example, in a story that was not published in
her lifetime, Mary Shelley used the name Valerius, which was a name
her father had used for a time when writing opinion for publication in
the London newspaper, Morning Chronicle. The veiws of the character
in Valerius: The Reanimated Roman were those of her father expressed
with the point of view he thought so important, one that took the long
view of human progress. Now what is vital to see, and has not been
noticed until this website and the book it is based on, is that the view
of the off-stage sister to whom the letters and story are addressed
represents one that will solve the hidden mystery hinted at in the preface to
the novel. Margaret we know has fears about what will happen to her
brother. She will be watchful for signs of trouble he may be unaware of.
That is exactly what the reader finds, when looking at the Frankenstein
story through such watchful eyes. Margaret Saville knows that the
story her brother believes is not true. Such discrepancies such as the one
regarding Victor's arrival in England are the very things that a sister
worried about her brother will take great notice of. It took nine months,
according to his account, from the time he first saw the white cliffs of England
to the time he says he arrived in England! The point of view of the sister is
the mystery solving point of view. She sees both the danger her brother is
in, and which he doesn't see, as he is about to break his promise to kill
no albatross, and the real possibility that a rescue will follow the final
words her brother writes. All of this is very carefully crafted and does
not change from the first edition to the second.
Any reader who wishes to understand the connection between Mary
Shelley's Frankenstein and the effects of the Industrial Revolution ought
to look into the ideas and efforts of Robert Owen. Owen was influenced
by Mary's father's Political Justice and, about the time Frankenstein was
published, had begun to provide evidence that new ways of dealing with the
realities of the industrial changes could be of great benefit to society. See
his New View of Society at these links.
Also note that Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was keenly aware of
the effects of industrialization on women. She identified the displacement of
women in handwork by mechanization as the cause of prostitution, which was
the only means displaced women had to resort to for income.
Frances Wright: Challenging Societal Views
Women in History of Scots Descent - Frances Wright, Woman's Advocate
Man's relationship to himself as a theme for an academic competition --
Tom's suggestions for study.
Note: While I couldn't be happier with the choice of the theme, more than a
decade of experience has convinced me that the value of Frankenstein and
the work of Mary Shelley's father, to whom the novel is dedicated, are so
little understood by most of those who have written on the subjects. The
prospect of study and competition that includes questions about Frankenstein
can be expected to involve some conflict for the competitors. That is, if a
student follows the course of study using the ladder of inference suggested
by the machinery of Shelley's story, she or he will discover things that are
unknown to those who ask the questions and evaluate the other efforts of
the competitors. It is my aim to encourage the investigation of those ideas
Godwin proposed for the perfecting of human society, which are the core
of Frankenstein. It should be possible for students to acquire knowledge
that will serve in the competition using the recommendations made here,
while at the same time developing an awareness of the deficiencies in the
academic world concerning the importance of Shelley's work, which should
help the student avoid presenting herself or himself in ways that would be
likely to meet with disapproval by those judging the competition.
I recommend reading both the 1818 edition and the 1831 edition, noting the
changes Shelley made and listing the questions that arise from them and the
purposes and declarations of the preface. It is also important to note that
although she could have easily removed them Shelley kept the discrepancies,
which at first seem to be errors, in some cases even enhancing them.
Frankenstein, Norton Critical Edition, W. W. Norton & Company, 1996,
edited by J. Paul Hunter. The 1818 text, Nineteenth Century Responses,
and Modern Criticism.
Frankenstein, The original text edited by James Rieger, Bobbs-Merrill, 1974.
If you can find a copy of this in the library or used book store, it is very useful
for making comparisons between the two editions, listing them in an appendix.
William Godwin A biographical study by George Woodcock, Black Rose
Books, 1989. This book is important because it provides a clear picture of
the political elements and Mary Shelley's father's life and work, which was
aimed at improving man's relationship to himself, human perfectibility. Some
understanding of Godwin's work, which through Emerson and others resulted
in Gandhi's work and that of Martin Luther King Jr., is vital to seeing the
value and appreciating the design of Frankenstein.
Shelley The Pursuit, Richard Holmes, Quartet Books Limited, London, 1976.
The text of this well indexed book exceeds 700 pages and provides detail of
Percy Shelley's life.
The Godwins and The Shelleys A biography of a family, William St Clair,
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989. Like the Holmes book, much
of the character of the life and times provides an understanding of the influences
without which Frankenstein would not have been written.
Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine, 1792.
A Vindication of the Right so Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by Carol
H. Poston, Norton Critical Edition, W. W. Norton & Company, 1988.
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, William Godwin, 1793. [text of Political Justice]
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Plutarch's Lives (It is a good idea to sample some of the works read by the
monster. The life of Numa and his policy as detailed by Livy in his Early History
of Rome are especially important. Note how conflict is avoided by the Romans
of the interregnum and Numa's policy regarding images.
Percy Shelley's Text of [The Necessity of Atheism]
[WILLIAM GODWIN: His Friends and Contemporaries] This is an excellent
source, probably the best biographical Godwin site on the web. Our hats are off
to Dana Ward for this one, as well as the link below. We would, however, note
that C. Kegan Paul, the source of the information provided, was rather unfair,
particularly to Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.
[Thoughts on Man, His Nature, Productions and Discoveries - William Godwin]
Excerpts from A New View of Society Robert Owen's "A New View of Society" (1813)
Prometheus and Epimetheus
[Edmund Burke Texts] This site does not allow use of back button to return
to hail Mary Shelley! So have your bookmark ready.
[Edmund Burke] aphorisms
[Edmund Burke, 1729-1797] biographical
Michael Faraday's Contributions to Electricity and Chemistry
Encyclopedia.com - Results for Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent
James Clerk Maxwell
Maupertuis, Pierre-Louis Moreau de - Britannica.com
Maupertuis, Pierre Louis Moreau de
Search Results - pierre-louis maupertuis
Maxwell, James Clerk, an Encarta Encyclopedia Article Titled "Maxwell, James Clerk"
Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent, an Encarta Encyclopedia Article Titled "Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent"