Frankenstein is a unique novel in the canon of English literature. The novel seeks to find the answers to questions that no doubt perplexed Mary Shelley and the readers of her time.
Shelley presents a unique character in Victor Frankenstein and his creation, the monster. It is as though there are two distinct halves to one character. Each half competes for attention from the other and for the chance to be the ruler of the other half. In the end, this competition reduces both men to ruins.
Shelley also is keenly aware of the concern that technology was advancing at a rate that dizzied the mind of early eighteenth century readers. Perhaps this novel is addressing that issue of advances created by men, but which fly in the face of "natural" elements and divine plans.
Mary Shelley crafts her exquisite novel in a way to direct attention to the treatment of the poor and uneducated as a major theme throughout the book. She would have learned these precepts from her father William Godwin, a noted writer and philosopher. (Refer to the "Life and Background" section.) But the beginnings of the historical background go back much further than Shelley's own time.
To understand Shelley's time period, one must delve into the period that preceded Shelley's. Mary was born in 1797, after the American and French Revolutions. Europe was a tense place for fear of potential political revolutions during much of the period from 1770-1800. The English upper class feared that the French Revolution might spill over to their own country. Many felt that change was necessary to ensure equality among the masses. The wars that Napoleon waged, begun in 1805, essentially quashed any real hope of building a better Europe. However, the seeds of discord were sown for the dissolution of social and class barriers in England and mainland Europe. The cries of "liberty, fraternity, and equality," were left on the impressionable minds of men everywhere. It was thought that man could achieve greater personal liberty, without the threat of overbearing governments. Men also reasoned that brotherhood in a common cause — whether it be social, class, or academic — would lead to a better country and a better government.
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