Context of Frankenstein
The context of Mary Shelleys novel Frankenstein is a mixture of scientific discovery, literature and myths that Mary Shelley was present to.
In Mary Shelleys life, there were many developments on science and in creating life. There were many attempts to bring things to life, such as the work of Galvani. Galvanis work includes experiments on bringing a frog back to life by passing electricity through the legs. There were other theories like this in which applying enough current to the brain will re-animate a human corpse. This relates to when Frankenstein is bringing the creature to life with electric shocks, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. Also during Shelleys life, Giovanni Aldini experimented with a corpse, making the corpse to move its limbs and the left eye opened. The first few moments of the creature being alive in the novel, Frankenstein describes what he saw I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open, which is very similar to the outcomes of Giovannis experiment. There were also books being published that discussed the concept of creating life, such as Erasmus Darwin book on how to keep alive when suffering the effects of death and Humphrey Davys book on how science is greatly developing and how much man can do with science. Both of these books would have been greatly acknowledge during the 18th Century, so Mary Shelley would have heard of it. Mary Shelley would also have heard of Johann Konrad Dippel, a German alchemist, who supposably experimented with dead bodies, taking parts from each, to create an artificial monster, just like Frankenstein. The way that the monster was being created was influenced by the scientific experiments on creating life during the time of Mary Shelley.
Mary Shelley had also took influence from several literary classics. One of which was Miltons poem Paradise Lost, and through this text developed the characterisation of the Creature. In Paradise Lost, it shows Adam questioning God on why he was created and what was his purpose, because he didnt ask God to be created. The creature relates to Adam in this poem as he wonders why he was created. But in the middle of the novel, the Creature read Paradise Lost and concludes that he considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my helpless and alone. As in Paradise Lost, it describes Satan, after being abandoned by God, to be vengeful, envious and jealous, which is very similar to what the creature feels against his creator, after he was abandoned by him. The characterisation of the creature was developed through the poem Paradise Lost, as he was in a similar situation as Satan in the story.
The novel is also similar to The Prometheus myth. The Prometheus myth is a story in Greek mythology about Prometheus introducing humans to fire, regardless of this act being forbidden by Zeus. Prometheus was then punished by being bound to a rock and having his liver be eaten by birds each day, which then regenerates at the end of the day. This is reflected upon Frankenstein, as Victor goes past the natural order and acts as God by created life. Victor is then punished by having everything that he loved been stripped away from him, which results him feeling everlasting self-reprisal and guilt.
The book was written in the Romantic period, which then the book greatly was influenced by the ideas of Romanticism. Romanticism was a movement where it moved away from the classical ideas and techniques, which was more scientific and rational in nature. Romantic poets believed that through an individual imagination would create a new understanding of the world and lead to a more prefect image of human society. In this sense, Victor Frankenstein is a romantic character as he has dreams on creating life and was preoccupied by impossible ideals. Romanticism also suggests that nature plays an important role, which is reflected in Frankenstein, which the landscape was very symbolic. Such as when Victor was creating a companion for the creature and decided to do it in a gloomy setting, Orkneys, which he describes it as being cold, barren, gray and rough, in contrast to doing it in Switzerland where he describes it in Romanticism form. This shows that the creatures differences between the world, making nature having an important role. Mary Shelley has introduced themes of Romanticism into the novel, but also had some elements of Gothic novel.
During the time of Mary Shelley, there was a popular form of art which was Gothic Fiction. A Gothic fiction is where there is supernatural terror and mysterious horror in the atmosphere, taking place in a dark and menacing setting. A common feature of gothic fiction is the isolated and frightening settings. Mary Shelley uses these settings to emphasise the monsters isolation and solitude between him and man. When monster says The desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge. I have wandered here many days; the caves of ice, which I only do not fear, are a dwelling to me, and the only one which man does not grudge expresses how isolated the monster feels and how he was rejected by man. From this the monster wanted to take revenge on all mankind, creating the horror scenes in which the monster murdered all of Frankensteins family and closest friends. Also in Gothic novels, women in it are fearful towards the powerful men. This is reflected in Frankenstein as Elizabeth gets scared of Frankenstein, Elizabeth observed my agitation for some time in timid and fearful silence; but there was something in my glance which communicated terror to her... which also expresses that men were seen as more dominant than women in the 18th Century and women were seen as fearful.
The main aspects of the context of Frankenstein are various experiments of creating life, The Prometheus myth, the poem Paradise Lost, Romanticism and Gothic novel, and these aspects are reflected in the novel.