In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, she tells a disturbing tale of horror through an ingenious method of epistolary narrative structure. This novel is written in first person through personal letters and diaries that contain each other and are on display throughout the book, until they close in a perfect circle.
We found the backgrounds of this work in the Gothic novels (1765-1815), which were intended solely to awaken in the reader a sense of horror through the exaltation of the superstitions and legends of ghosts that filled the imagination of the population of that time, most naive and uneducated. While recognizing their literary or stylistic attributes, these novels were made only for entertainment, and they didn’t seek greater intellectual depth.
Mary Shelley was far beyond of that (Frankenstein was first published in 1818), and her main merit is that while instilling a sense of horror in the reader, she manages the plot to incorporate rational and meta-scientific elements —as opposed to those of the prevailing romanticism— that provide a high "probability" of truth to the characters and situations of this work, leaving us at the end with the concern about the uncertain fate of the monster that may still lurks us.
Through the plot become obvious the interest and knowledges of Shelley in terms of scientific advances, especially experiments with electricity (Franklin, Galvani) and the Theory of Evolution (Darwin). It also takes the many exploration trips, and the adventurers and scientists’s stories as a source of inspiration for her novel, incorporating them into the frame with accuracy and detail, taking advantage that she traveled some of the places she describes.
We also found some traces of an Orientalist exoticism, exalted by the restoration of the Ottoman Empire just at the time when this novel was written, yet this Empire had left a deep cultural imprint in many of the European countries.
The writing style is impeccable and extremely courteous. All the characters, even at the most committed or aggressive of situations, dialogue with absolute finesse and education, sometimes bordering on the improbable. More to be unsuccessful, this resource gives charm to the narrative. And of course, it would not be "impossible" if we stick to the story of the dry and polite English joy at the meeting in the African jungle, having found the lost-for-many-years Dr. Livingstone.
The perkiness of this first novel by Mary Shelley is observed in some precipitations. For example, the speed with which Victor Frankenstein goes from being a mere student to a first-rate scientist, capable of an incredible discovery which itself deserves a more professional management of the subject and a more complex philosophical discourse than he raises as a researcher.
All the intellectual preparation of Victor vanishes without further, once he has achieved his goal of creating life in the laboratory: the monster wakes up and then the scientific abandons him with horror and then he will come back until the next day just to check with relief that the beast has gone. An unlikely, immature behavior in a man of science, but again: it could be “possible".
Frankenstein is also an essay on human condition, based on the reflections and dialogues of the characters of the novel, through which they arise —sometimes answering, others exposing— numerous questions concerning the nature of men. Questions that —even today— have several wrong answers as truth, which has affected us as a species.
In a time when slavery was justified without blushing by the "absence of a Christian soul" in the indigenous who lived in the colonies of dominant empires, Shelley gives her beast an absolute and contradictory human spirit. However, the monster has a condition of origin marking him as "different" and therefore that will exclude him of the human race and the consideration of people that he would deserve. He is a monster without rights.
The philosophical discussion is given throughout the novel in the three or four meetings between the beast and his creator when they talk to each other, and in the remembrance the creature makes of his secret life among men, watching a human family and trying awkwardly to approach them unsuccessfully.
Finally, the intolerance to differences is the key to this work. It exposes what it is in the nature of us, human beings: our ambiguity, our ability to act interchangeably with acceptance or rejection, with kindness or wickedness. In this novel the lack of acceptance addresses and even subtly touch the nationalisms, as well as our religious and racial conflicts: it confronts us with our visceral attitude of rejection to those who are different from us.
A subtle irony —this novel was written by a woman—, arises when Victor Frankenstein discovers that making the female counterpart of his first creation is a process much more complex than expected; therefore, to continue his work he should use the most recent discoveries in biology in a foreign country to carry it out. In the end, however, he decides to interrupt it, as he anticipates with horror the reproductive potential of these beings, but not before leaving us abruptly and forever with the enigma of the origin of the parts of a female body —how the hell he got them— in the farther and deserted islands of Scotland.
Roberto Mendoza Ayala
New York City, October 26th, 2014