Posts Tagged ‘Mary Shelley’

Note: this is the final “Notes on Frankenstein” post. I know, I know. There’s a whole other volume but I didn’t get that far and I just don’t have time at the moment. Sorry.

Science and philosophy

  • “watching and endeavouring to discover the motives which influenced their actions” (p131) – the creature uses observation to make discoveries about his world.

  • “I ardently longed to comprehend” (p135) – the creature’s desire to know, and the way in which he expresses it, is eerily similar to Victor’s.

  • Victor, a scientist who relies on his senses, is unable to overcome them, “I sometimes felt a wish to console him; but when I looked upon him I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred” (p179).

The creature as reader

  • “I also learned the science of letters” (p142)

  • Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, The Sorrows of Werther (p154) – these represent a pretty well rounded education: religion, history, Romantic philosophy.

  • He finds them, “similar, yet strangely unlike” (p155)

  • As an empathetic being, he “sympathised with and partly understood” the texts.

Historical context

  • “I heard of the discovery of the American hemisphere and wept with Safie over the hapless fate of its original inhabitants” – like the Romantics, the creature sees hunter gatherer populations as closer to nature, perhaps somehow more human – this idea is known as “the noble savage”.

  • In contrast, there is also a sense that European cultures are superior and more civilised, Safie’s mother, “born in freedom, spurned the bondage to which she was now reduced. She instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion and taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect and an independence of spirit forbidden to the female followers of Mahomet.” (p149)


  • “What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred but I was unable to solve them.” (p155) – the creature’s use of rhetorical questions highlights his struggle to discover his identity and purpose, a struggle shared by all humans.

Biblical allusion (because we can never get enough)

  • The creature sees himself as being “like Adam” but soon decides on “Satan as the fitter emblem” (p155) – this makes sense if you have some understanding of Paradise Lost. Many scholars read Satan as the hero of the story.

  • “God, in pity” (p158) and “No Eve soothed my sorrows” (p159) both reinforce and question the creature’s deification of Victor.

  • He then goes on to do the same with De Lacey, “You raise me from the dust” (p163) – like God creating Adam.

  • “I, like the archfiend” (p164) – another reference to Satan.

  • The creature even uses the same logic used by Satan in Paradise Lost, rather than attacking the source of his pain – Victor – he decides to kill something the creator loves (p175).

  • Victor’s rebuttal to the creature’s “prayer” – “Shall I create another like yourself, whose joint wickedness might desolate the world?” (p176)


The use of direct speech at the beginning of Chapter 8 reminds us that we are dealing with layers of narrative.

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Biblical allusion – most of the references to heaven and hell, angels and demons in both texts are filtered through either Milton’s Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno (there’s a hint of Blake in Blade Runner to look out for as well). It is useful to have at least a passing knowledge of these texts.

  • Victor “wandered like an evil spirit” in “a hell of intense tortures” (p105).

  • Elizabeth: “I feel as if I were walking on the edge of a precipice, towards which thousands are crowding, and endeavouring to plunge me into the abyss” (p109).

  • “nor the beauty of earth, nor of heaven, could redeem my soul from woe” (p110).

  • For the creature, the De Lacey cottage is a “divine retreat as Pandemonium appeared to the daemons of hell after their sufferings in the lake of fire” (p125) – again, this is Paradise Lost. Reminds me of a line from Percy Shelley’s diary: “my mother fancies me on the high road to Pandemonium”.

Motif of sickness – reinforces Victor’s capacity to feel emotions deeply

  • “This state of mind preyed upon my health” (p105).

The sublime – and Victor’s Romantic imagination, which allows him to take spiritual comfort from the beauty of nature

  • “the dashing of the waterfalls around spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence” (p111).

  • “augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and shining pyramids and domes towered above all” (p111).

  • “glorious presence – chamber of imperial Nature…they elevated me from all littleness of feeling” (p113).

  • “the presence of another soul would destroy the solitary grandeur of the scene” (p114) – see Wordsworth, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ for a similar sentiment.

  • “sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul” (p115) – look out for references to Shelley (Percy, not Mary) around here.

Motif of ice and fire

  • “pallid lightnings that played above Mont Blanc” (p112).

The ideal of the noble savage

  • “Alas! why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings (p115) #humblebrag.

The relationship between creator and creature

  • “almost too horrible for human eyes” (p116) – Victor is horrified by the creature because of its appearance. Perhaps we, as readers, empathise with the creature precisely because we can not see it. Consider this idea when comparing descriptions of the creature with the physical beauty of the Replicants.

  • “How dare you sport thus with life?” (p117) – the creature challenges Victor.

  • “I am thy creature, and I will be ever mild and docile to my natural lord and king” (p118) – irony?

  • “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel” (p118) – probably the best quote in this novel, allusion to Paradise Lost.

  • The creature emphasises the divide between itself and humanity, “your fellow-creatures” (p118).

  • “Yet it is in your power to recompense me, and deliver them from an evil” (p119) – allusion to the Lord’s Prayer (and deliver us from evil), suggesting Victor is a god-like figure, which is reinforced by…

  • “I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were” (p120).

The creature as complex being with a Romantic imagination of his own

  • “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me” (p121).

  • “Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure” (p122).

  • “I wished to express my sensations in my own mode” (p123)

Scientific belief

  • “the light from my eyes” (p122) – I think (and this might be a stretch) that this is a reference to a Renaissance belief that the ability to see is linked to our eyes creating light.

  • “I knew nothing of the science of words of letters” (p130) – and yet the creature learns by applying the scientific method, reinforcing the Enlightenment idea that men are inherently rational.

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Discussions of what are and are not appropriate human pursuits foreshadows the disastrous consequences of Victor’s passions (p57).

Look out for high register language, particularly from Victor. In spite of his horror of the creature he still speaks with pride, “the accomplishment of my toils” (p59).

Eye motif

  • “dull yellow eye” “watery eyes” (p59)


  • “I had selected his features as beautiful” (p59)


  • Victor’s dream about Elizabeth.

Victor Frankenstein as Romantic hero. Not only his relationship with the sublime natural world but also his capacity for extreme depth of feeling. Perhaps undermined by his hubristic pursuit of knowledge and power?


  • “divine spring” (p66) water symbolises birth and renewal.


  • Justine “learned the duties of a servant; a condition which, in our fortunate country, does not include the idea of ignorance, and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being” (p70). Contrast with the treatment of the Replicants in Blade Runner. This may also be Shelley’s critique of the way in which servants were treated in England.


  • Clerval is described as an “Orientalist” (p75). The Romantics were fascinated by other cultures, often seeing them as being closer to nature. See Coleridge’s Kubla Khan for an example of Romantic Orientalism.

  • “Their melancholy is soothing, and their joy elevating to a degree I never experienced in studying the authors of any other country” (p75).

  • “How different from the manly and heroical poetry of Greece and Rome” (p75). Romantic reaction against the Classicism of the Renaissance.

  • Gothic image of Caroline kneeling by her father’s coffin (p86).

  • Shakespearean allusion, “my prophetic soul” (p101) – see Hamlet I.v and Sonnet 107.

Motifs of fire and ice:

  • “I contemplated the lake: the waters were placid, all around was calm; and the snowy mountains, ‘the palaces of nature’ were not changed” (p82).

  • “the lightnings playing on the summit of Mont Blanc in the most beautiful figures” (p83).

  • “so beautiful yet terrific” (p84) – remember that “terrific” means “terrifying,” not “great”.

The inhumanity of the creature

  • “the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity” (p84).

  • “living monument of presumption and rash ignorance” (p89).

Motif of sickness

  • “the nervous fever with which I had been seized just at the time…would give an air of delirium (p85).

Guilt and innocence

  • Justine

    • described as “poor,” “good,” and “innocent” (p88) and “the most amiable and benevolent of human creatures” (p95) – note the contrast with Victor’s descriptions of the creature.

    • “her countenance, always engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful” (p91).

    • “God knows…how entirely I am innocent” (p93).

  • “every human being was guiltless” (p89) [really Victor? Even you? – sorry, sometimes I can’t help editorialising…wait for it…]

  • Victor: “I, the true murderer” (p98).


  • “all judges had rather that ten innocent should suffer than that one guilty escape (p97) – this is the inverse of the Enlightenment ideal of the presumption of innocence, or “innocent until proven guilty” a term coined by Enlightenment lawyer Sir William Garrow.

  • Judges are described as “harsh, unfeeling, reasoning” (p100) – the opposite of the Romantic ideal.

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The role of women:

  • “Caroline Beaufort possessed a mind of an uncommon mould.” (p26)

  • “the guardian angel of the afflicted” (p29) – Shelley reflects contextual values by portraying women as angelic helpers of men

Victor’s idyllic childhood with perfect parents

  • “Harmony was the soul of our companionship” (p32) – an example of romantic relationship that Victor has experienced first hand but fails to achieve for himself or to provide to his creation. [see post on Playing God in Frankenstein and Blade Runner]

Victor’s passion, however, is for knowledge, not love

  • “I was more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge” (p32)

  • “I delighted in investigating their causes. The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine.” (p32) – “smitten” “delight” “desire” – romantic imagery but Victor’s passions are misplaced

Clerval as a foil to Victor

  • “deeply read in books of chivalry and romance” (p33)

  • “occupied himself with the moral relations of things” (p34) – highlighting that Victor did not consider these at all

  • It is the loss of companionship that allows Victor to lose his moral compass, “I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions…I was now alone.” (p43)


  • “Natural philosophy is the genius that regulated my fate” (p35) – “genius” here could mean spirit

  • “immutable laws of Destiny” (p39) – note the personification of Destiny through the use of capitalisation

  • “chance – or rather evil influence, the Angel of Destruction – led me first to M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy.” (p44) – it seems to me that Victor’s continual references to fate are an attempt to avoid responsibility for his actions.


  • “Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth.” (p36) – for a neat contextual link to Blade Runner,

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos[first published 1980]

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Walton feels alone, foreshadowing the loneliness of the creature:

  • “most severe evil, I have no friend” (p8) If loneliness is the most severe evil, what does that suggest about Victor’s treatment of his creation?

The positive qualities of humanity:

  • “gentle yet courageous…of a cultivated as of a capacious mind” (p8)

  • “some feelings, unallied to the dross of human nature, beat even in these rugged bosoms” (p9) – “dross” is also a biblical allusion, see Proverbs 25:4

  • “retains some of the noblest endowments of humanity” (p9)

Poetic allusions:

  • repetition of the word “romantic” (pp8-10)

  • “Ancient Mariner” (p11) – too obvious to be an allusion, this is really a reference to Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

  • “I shall kill no albatross” (p11) – allusion to the above poem

The idea of the Noble Savage

  • “southern cape of Africa or America?” (p12)

Walton’s first glimpse of the creature…:

  • “a being which had the shape of a man” (p15) – as distinct from an actual man

  • this view led to a sense of “unqualified wonder” (p16)

…Which contrasts with Walton’s first impression of Victor:

  • “a human being” (p16)

  • “He was not as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island [I suspect this is an allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest] but an European.” (p16)

  • “I begin to love him as a brother” (p19)

  • “noble creature” (p19)

Victor’s description of the creature…:

  • “the daemon” (p18)

…And its dehumanising effect on him:

  • “inhuman in me to trouble you” (p18)

Ethics (or Shelley’s message to the reader):

  • “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought.” (p20)

  • “You seek for knowledge and wisdom…a serpent to sting you.” (pp22-23) – biblical allusion to Genesis 3.

The setting – sublime:

  • “wild and mysterious regions” contrasted against the “tamer scenes of nature” (p23)

Fate and foreshadowing (expressed in high modality language):

  • “nothing can alter my destiny” (p23)

  • “irrevocably determined” (p23)

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I recently discovered an old notebook filled with my own study notes on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Rather than simply throw it out, I thought I would type the notes and share them here.

[Page nos refer to the BOS preferred edition]

The Northwest Passage – literally a trade route through the Arctic Ocean; however, during Shelley’s time its existence remained theoretical (it was discovered in 1902 and has only really been useful as a sea lane since 2009). In this letter it represents the hope that there is still room for discovery and heroism in the world.


This technique is popular in gothic novels and gothic novels were popular during this era. In fact, they were so popular that parodies such as Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey were written and published before Frankenstein.

  • Margaret’s “evil foreboding” (p3)

  • Walton’s “foretaste” (p3)


This is a technique where opposites are juxtaposed. I think this really captures something of the depth and complexity of Romantic thought.

  • “frost and desolation” vs “beauty and delight” (p3)

  • “courage and resolution” vs “spirits…depressed” (p6)

  • “soon or never” (p7)

  • success vs failure (p6)

Biblical Allusion

This has to be the number one technique in Frankenstein (and it’s prevalent in Blade Runner too).

  • “eternal light” “all mankind to the last generation” “heaven” “soul”(p4)

  • “paradise” “consecrated” (p5)

  • “St Petersburg and Archangel” (p6)

  • “blessings” “testify” (p7)

Shelley also puts the Christian language of the bible in a broader spiritual and Classical context.

  • “temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated” (p5)

Science and Technology

  • “intellectual eye” (p4) also keep an eye out for the eye motif in both texts

  • “maths, medicine, physical science” (p5)


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If you’re having trouble grappling with the “similar content” in the Module A elective Texts in Time, these articles may help.

Worldspace in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

This article, by Evan L. Wendel, not only helps students to focus on the relevance of each text’s setting, it is also a wonderful example of essay structure with integrated paragraphs.

Frankenstein‘s Futurity: Replicants and Robots

Jay Clayton’s contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein is impressive in scope. You’ll need to scroll down to the section entitled The Replicant’s Tears (page 5 of the pdf or 88 if you’ve grabbed the book) for Module A specific stuff, but if you want a more general understanding of the ongoing relevance of Frankenstein, the entire chapter is worth a read.

The Evolutionary Relationship Between Man and Technology

This article by Magar Etmekdjian focuses on context and the way in which Blade Runner can be viewed as an extension of Frankenstein. It very helpfully refers back to the module rubric as well.


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One of the “big questions” explored in the comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner is, “what does it mean to be human?”

This question is not only integral to developing an understanding of both texts but also so broad and ephermeral as to be almost useless. Let’s pin it down by rephrasing, “what are the qualities that distinguish a human being from artificial life forms?” or, for this particular study, “what are the qualities that, if present in artificial life forms, would force us to consider them human?”

  • humans imagine – humans have the capacity to not only remember the past but to imagine the future or to imagine alternate worlds. This capacity for imagination is integral to the next three points…
  • humans are mortal… and aware of it – the capacity to imagine a different world means the capacity to imagine a world without ourselves in it. It is this awareness of the fragility of human life that makes it so significant and important, not only to each individual but also as a subject of literary endeavour. It the awareness of their own mortality that drives the replicants to Earth in Blade Runner.
  • humans have empathy – the ability to imagine ourselve in the position of others–not just other humans, but also other sentient beings–is one which is developed through relationships but also through reading. The great irony in Blade Runner is that while the replicants are identified by their inability to empathise with animals, it is the humans who lack empathy for each other and for the replicants.
  • humans create – since the cave paintings in Lascaux, human beings have been driven to create works of art; and even before the invention of language and art, humans were procreating, seeking immortality for their genes through their children. The irony in Frankenstein is that Victor seeks glory through his unnatural creation and this eventually results in the destruction of any hope of having children when Elizabeth is murdered.
  • humans seek relationships – we are, above all, social creatures. The need to understand and be understood, to love and be loved, is at the heart of the human experience. It is this need that drives the creature to beg Victor for a mate in Frankenstein and empowers Deckard and Rachel to seek a life together in spite of not knowing how much time they have.

Most of the examples in this list seem to point to the humanity, and humane-ness, of the artificial life forms in each text. If you can articulate a response to this paradox, you are well on the way towards developing strong responses to this module.

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Looking at Module A responses recently, I have noticed something strange: students understand the context of Frankenstein, they have a handle on Romanticism, the Enlightement and the effects of Industrialisation; however, they don’t get the context for Blade Runner. There are some vague references to globalisation and capitalism but no real evidence of the values underpinning those movements. I think that it’s possibly because many teachers (like me) grew up in the 80s and so we assume that part of history is common knowledge. It’s not. Students completing the HSC this year were born in the early 90s and 1982 is outside their experience (and, let’s be honest, their interest). Here are some points to help rectify this problem.

The Cold War: Although it broke out into “hot” wars throughout the 20th Century (Korea and Vietnam being the most obvious examples) the Cold War consisted mostly of spying and tense international relations between the US and the USSR. It also manifested in the Space Race, the over-emphasis of western nations on capitalist policies and their continued interference in the politics of developing nations. The tone of this period of history was pessimistic, with the constant threat of nuclear war hanging over the world. This pessimism about the future of the human race and of the planet is clearly seen in Blade Runner.

Globalisation: this is a term which refers specifically to the unification of economies through free trade. It can also be used to describe the shrinking of the world through media and communication technology. Its effects can be seen in Blade Runner in the Chinatown scenes, where the movement of peoples and languages across borders is evident.

The Reagan Doctrine: Ronald Reagan was President of the US from 1981 to 1989. His policies were shaped, at least in part, by the Cold War, and so included funding anti-Communist groups overseas  (like the Taliban – oops) and being aggressively pro-capitalist.

Thatcherism: Margaret Thatcher (who famously said, “No woman in my time will be Prime Minister” ) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was aggressive in her economic policy, which involved prioritising the control of inflation over the control of unemployment; and limiting the power of trade unions. Many people saw this attitude as being “money over people”. To understand more about the potential of Thatcherism see…

Alan Moore was not a fan of Thatcher or her politics.

One of the main practical outcomes of both Reaganism and Thatcherism, was Deregulation. This is the removal of government controls on corporate activities. Usually the justification was “free market competition”. The consequences of deregulation can be seen in Blade Runner in the unrestrained commercialisation of not only our planet but the offworld colonies. The looming presence of the Tyrell Corp over the government offices is a visual representation of the power shift which took place during the 1980s. It was during this time that many companies went multinational, thus breaking down national boundaries, furthering globalisation and the disempowerment of governments.

A useful word to use for this worldview is Neoconservatism. The main values associated with Neoconservatism are competition (in the free market sense of competition between corporations, free of government interference), economic freedom and traditional “family” values. In some ways, Neoconservatism is the natural child of America’s puritan past and its focus on the Protestant work ethic.

Another consequence of the deregulation of corporations and the commodification of everything is Environmental damage and its reactor, the Environmentalism. The fear of irreversible environmental damage is clear from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The message that is explicit in the novel and implicit in the film is that the destruction of natural habitats, and the animals that live in them, is ultimately dehumanising. The key to passing the Voigt-Kampf test is demonstrating empathy with animals. This is almost ironic as the corporation that administors the test is probably one of the corporations responsible for the utter destruction of nature. The potential for mass extinctions due to human interference became a real concern for a number of people by the 1980s.

Technological Innovation. In the 1980s scientific progress had moved from the industrialisation of the 19th Century to a new medium: information. Innovation of this time focused on computers and software. The ’80s were the era of the personal computer (for the first time people had computers in their homes) and of arcade gaming. The replicants can be seen, perhaps, as just another consumer gadget, like a PC.

Space Exploration was also huge. American had won the Space Race in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon but there was more to explore. In 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1, a probe designed to visit the outlying planets of our solar system and continue beyond. It also carries a “golden record” designed to convey information about the human race to any extraterristrial life the probe may encounter. Space exploration was the antidote to the pessimism of the Cold War. In Blade Runner the optimism of colonising new worlds is undermined as they are necessary refuges from the polluted ruin of Earth rather than symbols of human endeavour.

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This is just a quick post to outline an idea that came up when I was talking to a student today.

In the Christian Bible, God gives two gifts to the men (humans) he has created:

1. Companionship.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:17-19

2. A generous life span.

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:9-11

Both Victor and Tyrell are poor reflections of the Creator. While God made Eve as a companion (or “helpmeet”) for Adam, Victor destroys the female creature before she is created. In a similar vein, while God promises at least seventy years – enough time to live, to love, to experience the richness of life – Tyrell limits the Replicants to four years of life, all of which, unless they rebel, will consist of slavery of one sort or another. The injustice of this span is reinforced by many of the replicants’ ignorance of their own creation date, and their status as a replicant.

She won’t live. But then, who does?

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