Yes, true believers today is the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (b. 1797) author of Frankenstein. I wanted to put down a few words to celebrate today and this amazing writer who has given us a well recognized, well loved trope within the horror genre. She writes about horror in perhaps its truest, most frightening form – that which comes from us - not human pride, but human optimism. It isn’t arrogance per se but our own exploration that led to the sad conclusion of this story. It is a reflection of the state of human nature and of a human world. We build the structures of our own destruction. We fight against nature, mold it, shape it and try to make it our own – enslave it.
Frankenstein is a novel about romantic striving against the boundaries and limitations placed on our existence. Shelley’s Frankenstein is not a mad scientist, as his character has been reduced to over the years, but a scientist who is passionate about the primary questions and preoccupations of his time. In his quest for a scientific ideal – the perfect human – he creates a monster, who then must be held in check by other systems and institutions that humans have also created. While these institutions are more concrete and based in reality than the creation of the monster, they are equally imperfect. This novel helps the reader understand that there is no such state as perfection. Furthermore, there is no social experiment, whether based in reality or in fantasy, that will result in an ideal solution. Rather, human beings will always create imperfect institutions and inventions, and given this, must be prepared to accept responsibility and anticipate the potential consequences. (From Nicole Smith’s Article, “Romanticism and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley“)
I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.
Taken from Mary Shelley’s Author’s Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein she describes the dream she had that inspired the book. The phrasing is not only gripping and graphic but very clearly highlights the themes we see repeated throughout the novel: the unnaturalness of the monster, the relationship between creator and created , and the dangerous consequences of misused knowledge. Best. Introduction. Ever.
More Quotable Mary Shelley
“It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open.”
“None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science.”
“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”
“The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body…[b]ut now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished….”
“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”
“I am malicious because I am miserable….You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?”
“[I]f I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear….”
“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.”
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
“But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be–a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others and intolerable to myself.”