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Mary Shelley

domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2012

Mary Shelley

From The Short Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), only daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1814 she left England with P. B. Shelley, and married him in 1816 on the death of his wife Harriet. Only one of their children, Percy, survived infancy. She is best remembered as the author of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818), but wrote several other works. Valperga (1823) is a romance set in 14th-cent. Italy.
mary shelleyThe Last Man (1826), a novel set in the future, describes England as a republic, and the gradual destruction of the human race by plague; its narrator, Lionel Verney, finds himself as the last survivor amidst the ruined grandeurs of Rome in the year 2100, an interesting variation on the 'noble savage' motif (see PRIMITIVISM). The same motif is seen in Lodore (1835). She wrote other novels, biographies, and short stories, most of which were published in The Keepsake; some have science fiction elements, others are Gothic or historical, and many are continental in setting. Her Rambles in Germany and Italy, in 1840, 1842, and 1843 (1844) was well received. She also edited her husband's poems (1830) and his essays, letters, etc. (1840).

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (Online at Project Gutenberg)

—a Gothic tale of terror by M. Shelley, published 1818.

Technically an epistolary novel told through the letters of Walton, an English explorer in the Arctic, the tale relates the exploits of Frankenstein, an idealistic Genevan student of natural philosophy, who deiscovers at the University of Ingolstadt the secret of imparting life to inanimate matter. Collecting bones from charnel-houses, he constructs the semblance of a human being, and gives it life. The creature, endowed with supernatural strength and size and terrible in appearance, inpires loathing in whoever sees it. Lonely and miserable (and educated in human emotion by studies of Goethe, Plutarch, and Paradise Lost), it turns upon its creator, and, failing to persuade him to provide a female counterpart, eventually urders his brother, his friend Clerval and his bride Elizabeth. Frankenstein pursues it to the Arctic to destroy it, but dies in the pursuit, after relating his story to Walton. The monster declares that Frankenstein will be its last victim, and disappears to end its own life. This tale inspired many film versions, and has been regarded as the origin of modern science fiction, though it is also a version of the myth of the Noble Savage (see PRIMITIVISM), in which a nature essentially good is corrupted by ill treatment. it is also remarkable for its description of nature, which owes much to the Shelley's admiration for Worldsworth, Coleridge, and in particular the Ancient Mariner.



From The Short Oxford History of English Literature, by Andrew Sanders (1994)

The critical umbrella of the term 'Gothic' has been taken to cover a number of anomalous texts which allow both for a converegence and for a conflict of the natural and the supernatural. The contrast presented by William Beckford's oriental fantasy Vathek (1786) and mary Shelley's proto-science fiction Frankenstein (1818) is particularly pointed. Neither novel is narrowly 'Gothic', dispensing as they both do with medieval trappings and the diabolic in favour of an investigation of esoteric forbidden knowledge. Beckford (1759-1844), the heir to a phenomenal fortune, was able, like Walpole, to act out his fantasies in the architectural pleasure-domes he built for himself and amid the extraordinary collections of artifacts which he assembled. Like Fonthill Abbey and Lansdown Tower, his short, exotic romance Vathek (originally written in French) offered an escape from the plodding, orderly pleasures of the life of an eighteenth-century gentleman. The dissolute and disillusioned Arabian hero of the tale thirsts for power, both secular and material, and for a supernatural control over life and death, appetites which are sated only by entry into the caverns of the underworld, secret halls which belatedly force him upon wisdom that his cravings are empty. Vathek and his hedonistic companions are finally condemned to lose the gift of hope and to 'wander in an eternity of unabating anguish . . . the punishment of unrestrained passion and atrocious deeds'. Vathek is a Rasselas bereft of much of its moral philosophy, a study of unhappy yearning and unfulfilment.

Frankenstein works on quite a different level. Mary Shelley (1797-1851), the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, conceived her novel as a divertissement during a wet summer in Switzerland with her husband and Byron. Talk in this literary circle had, according to the novelist's own introduction to her work, dwelt on philosophy and nature, on the origins and meaning of life, on the myth of Prometheus, and on the enterprise of modern science. The proposal that each member of the circle should writer a 'ghost story' stimulated a sleepless night and a fertile, unconscious drift into 'terror' on Mary Shelley's part. Frankenstein is, however, more than simply a recall of her 'thrall of fear'; it is a morally probing exploration of responsibility and of the body of knowledge which we now call 'science'. The tendency amongst Byron's associates to push ideas to extremes, and to test sensation and experience, is here developed as a study of the consequences of experiment and of moving into the unknown. Frankenstein is also an imaginative expatiation of the principles of liberty and human rights so dear to the novelist's parents. The interconnected layers of the fiction lead from one variety of intellectual ambition to another, from the first-persona account of the solitary explorer, Robert Walton, to the confessions of Dr Frankenstein (the 'modern Prometheus' of the subtitle) and of his unhappy creation. Like the legendary Prometheus, Frankenstein's enterprise is punished, but not by a jealous heaven; his suffering is brought upon him by a challenge to his authority on the part of the creature that he has rashly made. A parallel is drawn not only between classical myth and modern experiment, but also between the story of Frankenstein's miserable creature and that of Adam. This artificial man, like the ruined, questioning Adam, turns to accuse his creator with an acute and trained intelligence (he has also grasped the theological and educational implications of Paradise Lost, a recitation of which he has overheard). Like Adam he insists on both his loneliness and, later, his wretchedness. He also comes to recognize how much he has in common with Milton's Satan ('When I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me'). Envy, defeat, and unhappiness express themselves in a course of jealous destruction which he sees as vindicating his separate existence. The novel ends where it began in a wild and frozen polar landscape, a wasteland which both purges and purifies the human aberrations represented by Frankenstein and his flawed experiment. The shifting ice is no only effectively placeless, it also allows for the opening of new perspectives and uncertainties. Frankenstein is no meditation on historical, pictorial, or mythological terros; its fascination and its power lie in its prophetic speculation.

Mary as the Monster

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