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Mary Shelley – mistress of the macabre and feminist pioneer

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Literature on Saturday, 31 December 2011

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This edited article about English literature originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Frankenstein and monster, picture, image, illustration

Frankenstein and his monster by John Keay

Have you ever gone to bed shaking with fear after watching one of those old horror movies on TV?

If so, the name of Frankenstein will send a familiar cold chill down your spine. The horrific monster (portrayed at its best by Boris Karloff in 1932) has starred in countless films and spin-offs, but originally he was the star of a book written by a woman.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the famous romantic poet. She got the idea for her book after visiting Switzerland with her husband in 1814.

In her book (simply called Frankenstein), a young medical student of that name tries to build a man out of bodies stolen from graveyards.

He succeeds in giving his monster life by charging it with electricity – but his creation has human emotions and longs for affection.

Denied this by the townspeople, who run away screaming whenever he appears, the monster escapes from Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory and goes in search of warmth and friendship.

Nevertheless, as Mary Shelley portrays him, he seeks to revenge himself on the man who made him. He relentlessly pursues Dr Frankenstein and his relatives. In the end, Frankenstein enrols in an Arctic expedition in an attempt to escape from the monster, but even there it catches up with him. The doctor dies from despair at his ruined life and the monster disappears into the ice and mist.

Considering she wrote her book in 1817, Mary Shelley’s ideas were frighteningly advanced.

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