Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an early product of the modern Western world. Written during the Romantic movement of the early 19th century, the book provides insight into issues that are pertinent today. Similar to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Shelley's Frankenstein concerns individuals' aspirations and what results when those aspirations are attained irresponsibly.
While Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) wrote Frankenstein in 1816 she was living or in contact with both Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, the two predominant romantic poets who professed the romantic ideals of the age. One such ideal was the society transformed by the individual. For example, the British writer Thomas Carlyle wrote of romantic heroes making an impact on the world around them. Also, the concepts of uniqueness and self-realization were born in this era. Authors were writing about individuals' feelings and emotions regarding their daily struggles.
What is unique about Frankenstein is that it represents and almost foreshadows the romantic disillusionment with the established order. After the French Revolution, liberalism and nationalism were at all time highs. But with the response by the monarchies (e.g., the wars of 1848), romantic ideals were spurned. The effect this had was an increase in disillusionment among romantics. The possibility of a society transformed by individuals seemed less believable. Mary Godwin suffered from this disillusionment, but for different reasons. In his essay on Frankenstein, George Levine discusses the dream Godwin had which inspired the book: "The dreams emerge from the complex experiences that placed young Mary Shelley, both personally and intellect...
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...such ideals. In the case of Frankenstein, his aspiration for supernatural powers and knowledge created a monster who tormented him until the day he died. He sought a fame greater than his nature would allow and, while his monster knew nothing but a desire to be accepted and reunited with his creator, Frankenstein's own "overreaching" ambition was met with disillusionment.
Kerscmar, Rhonda Ray. "Displaced Apocalypse and Eschatological Anxiety in Frankenstein." South Atlantic Quarterly 95.3 (Summer 1996): 729-747.
Levine, George, and U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds. The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.
Shattuck, Roger. Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1816. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
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