In retrospect, Mary Shelly’s epistolary novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus provides us with a gateway to the values and ideals of the time in which it was written. It is often difficult for any author to compose in isolation of their cultural, political and historical contexts. Hereby, the nature of humanity and the dangers of the challenging the natural order are consequential in Shelly’s literary limn of individuals who contest the conventional values of their time. Where the novel operates within the hybridity of its genre of gothic romanticism, Shelley creatively portrays contextually significant ideologies to discuss the ramifications of the Industrialisation and the enlightenment on the frailty and morality of human existence.
Initially, the audience receives the impression that Robert Walton is to embark on a journey which will challenge the natural order. In his letters to his sister, he describes that he will see success in his aim to push the limits of human understanding by “treading a land never before imprinted by the foot of man”. However it is soon learnt that it is the character of Victor Frankenstine who will contest certain principles. Primarily, Fra nkenstine as a novel, is a narrative of three levels. Robert Walton’s Letters appear at both ends, ‘framing’ Victor Frankenstine’s narrative and within this narrative is the Creatures story. Thus the device of the ‘story within a story’ becomes apparent whereby such dimension purposefully allows the audience to sympathise with each first person narration. Driven by genre, Frankensteins hubristic goal of creating a human being, essentially challenges the law of the universe. Frankenstein as the ‘Mother of science fiction’ was written as a Gothic Novel yet too held the view of the Romantics. They held emphasis on the “sublime” power of nature and were conscious of the greatness of nature against the smallness of man. Mary Shelly was exposed to this by her husband Percy Shelly, a famous romantic poet. Thereby it is argued that Frankenstine was a reaction against the Age of enlightenment with its focus on rationality of thinking.
Victor Frankenstein appears as a revolutionary scientist, who holds an obsession and “curiosity to research and learn the hidden laws of nature” which eventually alludes to the psychological demise of his character . His creation of life, invokes a biblical parallel to the genesis story and thus dramatises the issue of humanity usurping the role of God. Hubris is conveyed through the hyperbole “I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life...I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter”, depicting Victor’s vision of himself as a God like being. In becoming capable of giving life to a lifeless matter through galvanism, Frankenstine has in a sense trespassed unto uncharted territory. Victor has defied the natural order and so is punished by having his loved ones murdered and his paradise in Geneva with Elizabeth ironically destroyed by his own creation. Subjected by context, Victor acts as Shelley’s ‘modern Prometheus'. Prometheus, of Greek Mythology, disobeys his leader Zeus in deciding that humankind should be introduced to fire. As punishment, Prometheus having caused much destruction, is bound to a rock for all of eternity where each night his liver regrows only to be eaten by a bird the following day. Henceforth arises the relevance of the subtitle of the novel, “the Modern Prome theus” whereby Shelley’s belief of the corruption inherent in science is demonstrated through the allegory of Victor’s fall from grace.
In Chapter four, Frankenstein’s language is highly ambitious in describing that “a new species will bless [him] as its creator and…