Mary Shelley 1797-1851 (Note she is born at the END of the eighteenth century and comes of age at the height of the ROMANTIC Period ) Daughter of radical intellectuals: Political philosopher William Godwin and proto-feminist philosopher Mary Wollestonecraft, who wrote the famous Vindication of the Rights of Women
Her mother died, however, when she was only eleven days old, so she was raised by her father. Her education was very good because of her proximity to high-level intellectual parentage, but it was not structured or formal. She read books on her own and was allowed to explore ideas to a depth that interested her.
At age 16 she began a romantic relationship with a devotee of her father’s philosophical ideas: Percy Shelley, a married man. She became pregnant with his child, and they faced ostracism for their relationship; the child died as a result of premature birth. Shelley’s wife committed suicide and the two were married– a complicated start to the marriage, to say the very least.
1816: The Shelleys spend a famous summer in Geneva, Switzerland, during which time Mary Shelley conceives of the idea for the novel Frankenstein. In 1822, Percy Shelley drowns when his boat sank during a sailing trip off the coast of Italy. Mary continues to write and publish until she dies of a brain tumor at age 53.
Letter 1 The opening story of Frankenstein (the man) is narrated in a series of four letters written by Robert Walton, a twenty-eight year-old British explorer, to his sister, Margaret Saville, in England. Walton is following a long-held dream to become a distinguished navigator, Walton has left to embark upon an expedition to the North Pole despite Margaret’s reservations.
Think about Walton’s goal: he wants to satisfy his obsessive curiosity by “discovering a part of the world never before visited” and by stepping on a land “never before imprinted by the foot of man.” He is also interested in discovering more about magnetics and astrology when he reaches the Pole. He is also somewhat disregarding Margaret and her fears, and we never read anything from Margaret in the opening letters.
Some warning bells: Walton wants to conquer an area of the planet, wants to conquer nature He is extremely dedicated to this idea In order to accomplish his goal he is willing to cut himself off from the world He is ignoring feminine/family influences
Letters 2-3 Written four months after the first letter, the second letter informs Margaret that a vessel has been hired and that Walton is now hiring sailors. He also looks (yearns for) a companion, a well- educated friend who can correct and guide him and in whom he can confide. Warning bell: there might be something narcissistic in that desire, since Walton want to “recognize himself” in his friend!
Letter 4 Walton and his sailors glimpse a sledge drawn by dogs and guided by a huge man. Later that night, the ice breaks, and in the morning, a big fragment of ice carries another sledge and a nearly frozen man to the ship. Walton and his crew take him on board the ship and revive him. (Note how Walton and his crew nurse him back to life, and how Shelley dwells on the word “animate” in these letters– some echoing and foreshadowing).
Eventually the man decides to tell Walton his story (this is the frame story in the novel) because he recognizes in Walton the same dangerous desire that once propelled him: the destructive ambition to transgress the allowed limits of knowledge.
Triumph over nature Conquer an undiscovered region Find a perfect companion (have two beings complete each other) Satisfy his ambition
How does Walton compare to… Satan in Paradise Lost Macbeth Milton (the narrator) in Paradise Lost Beowulf??
Go through the letters and find two comments (sentences) from Walton that you think make him sound interesting and ambitious in a good way. Then find two comments from Walton that you think could be questionable.