Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's 203 years of modern Prometheus

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's 203 years of modern Prometheus
The history of literature, especially that large part that concerns the so-called "great classics", lives hand in hand with cinema, two cultural sectors with essential mixes and influences. However, we are not only talking about mixing, but also about the power that the big and small screen often have in proposing and revisiting literary works in the eyes of the public, thus making them more widespread. It is no coincidence that it is easier to associate the name of Frankenstein not with its creator, but with the monstrous and horrifying similarities of the being who came to life in a laboratory, more suited to the period of Halloween than to that of the first days of the year. . But it happened precisely on January 1, 1818 when, once the pen was put down the previous year, Mary Shelley saw published at the age of 19 Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, the gothic horror and sci-fi novel written by the British author after long wanderings in Europe , with particular attention to the Swiss territory. Do we really know everything about the genesis of this work that still fascinates the public, after generations and generations? Although it has been taken up again and again by the cinema, from the classic Frankenstein Junior to the recent Victor Frankenstein reinterpretation starring Daniel Radcliffe, dismissed as Harry Potter, do we have in mind the precise details of the true story, as famous as it is deep and full of meaning? br>
Read also: Happy birthday Frankenstein! The monster turns 200

Frankenstein and his creature: who is the real monster?

The origins of this novel must be sought in 1816, when in May the author's half-sister, Claire Clairmont, a lover of Lord Byron, invites the Shelleys to follow her to Geneva, where bad weather often forces the guests to take refuge in their residence at Villa Diodati. Here they spend their free time reading stories written by authors of German origin and training narrating the stories of ghosts, translated into French and collected in the Phantasmagorian anthology. This element, combined with the frequent conversations about the nature of the principles of life, galvanism and the possibility of assembling a creature and infusing it with life, manage to whet the imagination of Mary Shelley, so much so as to induce her to have a nightmare. Precisely this dream activity was the origin of the great Gothic myth: the woman saw a student kneeling next to the creature she assembled. The latter, thanks to some force, begins to show signs of life.

Thus the tale of how a scientist, such Dr. Victor Frankenstein as we have mentioned above, begins to take shape in his mind. first he experiences a moment of success in animating the creature, then succeeded by terror for the same monstrosity created by his hand, escaping from the laboratory and hoping that, abandoned to itself, the being would die. But this is the mystery of life: the creature is not just some piece of a corpse exhumed and recovered around to be attached together, there is more. There is a soul, a conscience, an awareness of being in the world, alongside the bewilderment of his own loneliness and precisely to create a further parallelism with the previous literary works, Shelley places the monster in the same situation as Adam of Paradise Lost by John Milton, where he asked for explanations for his condition and for the fact of feeling alone in the world after being created.

The weight of life lies precisely in this drama: not only is the monster conscious and understands to be rejected by anyone for his appearance, and therefore not for what he really is inside himself, but he was also abandoned by his parent, forcing him to chase him almost to the limits of persecution at the end of the world, in a literary drama that has conquered the whole world with the emotion that it can only arouse.

The letters of Walton and the murders of the monster

Frankenstein was conceived in a very particular way: it is in fact, a story within a very specific narrative framework, written in an epistolary form. It documents a fictitious correspondence between Captain Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret Walton Saville. The story takes place at an unspecified epoch of the 18th century (the dates of the letters are indicated as "17"), telling the story of Walton as a failed writer and captain who sets out to explore the North Pole and expand his scientific knowledge. hoping to achieve success.

During the voyage, the crew sees a sled pulled by a dog driven by a gigantic figure, of which nothing is known. A few hours later, the crew saves a nearly frozen and emaciated man named Victor Frankenstein, in pursuit of the giant man observed by Walton's crew. Frankenstein begins to recover from his effort and sees in Walton the same obsession that destroyed him, telling him a story of his life's miseries as a warning. This very story frames the Frankenstein narrative. From this moment in fact we witness a double narration of the story, from the point of view of Victor and the monster.

Victor begins by telling his childhood: born in Naples to a rich Genevan family, Alphonse Frankenstein and Caroline Beaufort, with his younger brothers, Ernest and William, from an early age he has a strong desire to understand the world. He is obsessed with studying the theories of alchemists (although when he is older he realizes that such theories are considerably outdated). When Victor is five years old, his parents adopt Elisabetta Lavenza, the orphan daughter of an expropriated Italian noble, with whom Victor later falls in love. During this period, his parents welcome another orphan, Justine Moritz, who becomes William's nanny. A few weeks before his departure for the University of Ingolstadt in Germany, his mother dies of scarlet fever, and Victor devotes himself only to his experiments to deal with the pain. At university he excels in chemistry and other sciences, soon developing a secret technique to give life to non-living matter.

He therefore engages in the creation of a humanoid, but due to the difficulty of replicating the minute parts of the human body, Victor makes the Creature tall, about 2.4 meters tall and despite having chosen his characteristics to be good looking, in the animation process the creature is instead horrible, with watery white eyes and yellow skin that barely hides the muscles and underlying blood vessels. With repulsion for his own work, Victor runs away when he wakes up and meets his childhood friend, Henry Clerval, but when Victor returns to his laboratory, the Creature is gone. The scientist falls ill from this terrible experience and is treated by Henry, receiving only after four months of convalescence, a letter from his father informing him of the murder of his brother William, probably caused by the Creature.

But it will be Justine Moritz, William's nanny, to be convicted of the crime after William's medallion is found in her pocket. Victor knows that no one will believe him if he tries to exonerate Justine, and in fact everything is in vain: she is hanged. Devastated by pain and guilt, Victor retires to the mountains. The Creature finds him and begs Victor to hear his story. But the meeting will not help much, if not to increase man's fear of the monster. Later, in fact, the scientist dedicated himself to the creation of the female creature in the Orkney Islands, but he was tormented by premonitions of disaster. He fears that the female may be even more evil than him. Even more troubling to him is the idea that the creation of the second creature could lead to the birth of a race that could plague humanity.

Then he tears apart the unfinished creature and meets again the monster, which he had followed Victor, and tries to threaten him to get him back to work, saying, “I'll be with you on your wedding night“. Victor, fearing the monster's plans, sails north to get rid of his tools and lands in Ireland, where he is arrested for the murder of Clerval, as the Creature had strangled Clerval to death and left the corpse to be found where the its creator. In Geneva, Victor is about to marry Elizabeth and prepares to fight the Creature to the end, arming himself with a pistol and a dagger. The night after their wedding, Victor searches for "the devil" by scouring the house and the grounds, but in that moment the Creature strangles Elizabeth to death. From the window, the scientist sees the Creature, which provocatively points to Elizabeth's corpse; the man tries to shoot him, but the Creature runs away. Victor's father, weakened by the age and the disappearance of the woman, died a few days later. Seeking revenge, Victor chases the Creature to the North Pole, but collapses from exhaustion and hypothermia before he can find his quarry.

The monster, symbol of the sublime and the challenge to human limits

At the end of Victor's tale, Captain Walton resumes telling the story, closing the narrative frame around Frankenstein's tale. A few days after the Creature's disappearance, the ship is trapped in the pack ice and several crew members die in the cold before the rest of Walton's crew insists on returning south once freed. After listening to and getting irritated by the crew's pleas to their captain, Victor teaches him a lesson with a powerful speech: it is difficulty, not comfort and ease, that he defines as a glorious undertaking like theirs.

he pushes them to be men, not cowards. The ship is then freed and Walton, thanks to the will of his men, albeit with regret, decides to return south. Victor, albeit in a very weak condition, states that he will continue alone. He is firmly convinced that the creature must die. Victor dies shortly after, telling Walton to seek "happiness in peace and avoid ambition". Walton discovers the Creature on his ship, mourning Victor's death. The Creature tells Walton that Victor's death has not brought him the peace he sought, but that his crimes have made him even more miserable than Frankenstein ever was.

The monster vows to kill himself so that no one else knows of its existence. Walton observes the Creature that goes away on an ice raft that is soon lost "in the darkness and in the distance", never to be seen again. We therefore have a heartbreaking work on the one hand, but definitely to be counted among the myths of literature precisely because it has its roots in human fears. Probably its success is due precisely to the figure of the monster, an expression of fear at the time widespread for scientific development, for the progress of technology and for the abuse of man's power that challenges, once again, his human limits.

The “creature” is the example of the sublime, of the different, which as such causes terror. Since the publication of the book, the name of Frankenstein has entered the collective imagination in the literary, film and television fields. The success is due to the dual influence that Shelley experienced strongly from the works of both of her parents: her father was famous for Inquiry Concerning Political Justice and her mother for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In particular, her father's books were set in Switzerland, just like the places that are part of the story of Frankenstein.

Ovid's recovery and personal events

To finish our rediscovery of the origins of this story, we must rediscover some great themes of social affections and the renewal of life, which appear in the novel by Shelley, deriving from works he had in his possession. Other literary influences that we can find are Pygmalion et Galatée by de Genlis and Ovid with the appearance of an individual without intelligence. Ovid also inspired the use of Prometheus in Shelley's title. Finally, Percy and Byron's discussion of life and death surrounded many scientific geniuses of the time, discussing the ideas of Erasmus Darwin and the experiments of Luigi Galvani. Maria joined in these conversations and the ideas of Darwin and Galvani were both present in her novel, not surprisingly. The horrors of not being able to write a story for the contest and her hard life also influenced the themes within Frankenstein.

The novel's themes of loss, guilt, and the consequences of defying nature developed from the life of Mary Shelley. The loss of the mother, the relationship with the father and the death of the first child created the monster and her separation from the guidance of the parents. In a 1965 issue of The Journal of Religion and Health a psychologist proposed that the theme of guilt stemmed from the fact that she did not feel good enough for Percy due to the loss of their son. A hard story, but like all great pains, they are often capable of giving birth to a masterpiece, just like this novel.

If you want to reread the story of Frankenstein, we recommend that you retrieve this version

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