Yesterday, we celebrated Mary Shelley’s 224th birthday. I wanted to use this day to reflect on my adoration for the author, as well as my fascination with Frankenstein. I have been so enthralled with Frankenstien from my first reading to now, that friends and family know that an intrinsic part of my interests revolve heavily around the 1818 novel. I loved it so much, in fact, that there was a point in my graduate studies where I was writing three papers on Frankenstein at once.
The first paper was written with an ecocritical consideration, exploring the representation of Frankenstein’s Monster as a sublime figure; the second paper was about the relationship of Dr. Frankenstein to the Monster as a mother, the fear and anxiety that comes with it, including Shelley’s exploration of a mother losing a child; And third was a content analysis, comparing events in the story to items illustrated in Shelley’s personal journal.
After these papers were all submitted, I still had thoughts of Shelley and Victor and The Monster and the university at Ingolstadt. I was obsessed with the story, and doing an in-depth study on the book was a venture to understand my own fascination with the story. A fan of horror since early childhood (thanks to my mom and dad for letting me watch The Exorcist, probably far younger than I should have), a fascination with the morose, and a literary interest that leaned towards self-speculation, the absurd, and the bizarre, my interest in Frankenstein was instant. Frankenstein, to me, represented an extremely important chapter for the horror cannon, however a unique trait of giving the reader an intimacy with the author: One that begged so loudly to be read and understood, all at the same time with an air of disconnect and mystery.
The true horror of the tale lies between the lines, contextualized by Shelley’s well-kept journals, informed by the poems of Percy Shelley, and confirmed artistry from her parents’ literary legacy. And imagine, this story was written in rainy Geneva during The Year without a Summer.
This physical cloudiness hung a heavy scene around the darkness of Frankenstein’s conception, as well as a metaphorical representation of Shelley’s early life. Losing her parents at a young age, losing her children, and being a woman writer in a circle of mostly male poets was a personal pressure, identifiable to the reader.
However, external factors such as climate change, growing technological advances, and the bounds of science constantly being tested in a time of rapid production all engage her text in a really nuanced way.
Frankenstein, to me, is so much more than a horror novel. It is the culmination of the thoughts of a young woman who has lived the trauma of several lifetimes, as well as weighted with the impacts of the future to come.
To me, that makes the conception of Frankenstein a story of a woman who was brave. Writing was a place where she could release her experiences and anxiety in a way which could have the reader feel the same dread as she, akin to a forced sympathy where the vehicle to horror was fiction but the experience very real. Her pain and anxiety is felt by nearly every reader of the novel. Frankenstein bookmarked a genius writer who saw past her own time.
I will forever send a reverberating “thank-you” to Mary Shelley for being the writer she is, for putting her fear on paper, and for evoking fear forever in reader after reader, lifetime after lifetime.