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The concept of humanity in frankenstein by mary shelley

Cultural Uses of Gothic" by Lee E. Heller Mary Shelley's tale of creation and destruction has claimed a central place in Anglo-American culture since its first publication in 1818. Along the way, Frankenstein has come to stand for the genre we call Gothic.

Yet it is hard to define Gothic in any single way, for its conventions and their meanings depend upon the historical, ideological context in which they were created and construed.

  • Everyone and everything is in perfect concord;
  • I rely primarily on the 1831 edition of the novel, but with reference to the first edition of 1818, in order to assess how differences in the two versions of the novel help to elicit its essential interest in cultural concerns about education, literacy;
  • Such con cerns resulted in the eugenics movements of the 1920s and 1930s, which advocated selective human breeding in order to weed out the bad and improve the species as a whole; in Europe, these movements culminated in the racial typing, sterilizations, and genocide practiced in Hitler's Germany;
  • Though virtuous, Justine is wrongly executed for murdering little William, while the perfect Elizabeth is the final and most intimate victim of the monster's revenge;
  • The 1831 edition heightens the ideal nature of that parental authority;
  • Each narrator explains himself in terms of his childhood education--and in particular, his reading.

Cultural criticism endeavors to reconstruct Gothic, as far as it can, by exploring the ways in which its writers and readers understood its intention and its impact. Gothic fiction as it emerged from 1760 to 1820 was associated with the development of new forms of popular literature.

The development of Gothic fiction, and of Mary Shelley's novel, takes its meaning from the tensions informing these cultural concerns about human nature, its potentials and limits, and the forces that go into its making. The redefinition of human nature and its possible shaping through education was a crucial concern for eighteenth-century British culture.

John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1689 popularized the notion that character is acquired rather than innate. Personality and conduct could be created, or at least controlled, by controlling experience: Rousseau's Emile, published seventy years later, offered "a textbook of how to educate for the development of natural virtue" Silver 18: Mary Shelley's parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and the circle of Jacobin radical writers sympathetic to the egalitarian ideas of the French Revolution, reinforced Rousseau's view of the perfectibility of human character while resisting his elitism and gender biases; they argued for the use of education to reform the economic and social status of women and workers.

Education came increasingly to bear the weight of anxieties about control of those who had no tradition of formal education, and who therefore seemed most vulnerable to social instability and most dangerous if formed for ill: And the area in which they were least protected and most open to influence was the newly acquired literacy that was growing rapidly amid precisely these three groups. Even conservative opponents of radical reform, like Hannah More, acknowledged the formative power of education, and more specifically reading, as a powerful tool for social control.

More's works attempted to determine the values and conduct of these new readers by determining what they read: Books, it seemed, could shape people's lives. But if books could provide guidance, they could also lead readers astray. The capacity to read could be acquired without institutional guidance radical or conservativethrough a growing array of material cheaply available, highly appealing, and of uncertain moral influence.

For publisher William Dicey this was a point in favor of his street literature, with its stories of crimes and fantastic romance; he advertised his broadsides by claiming: They defined the proper use of literacy by excluding such street literature as inappropriate to the upwardly mobile values of their aspiring readers, advising what should and shouldn't be read, and by whom.

The different kinds of Gothic fiction that emerged in the late eighteenth century reflected the perceived vulnerabilities of their intended readers. Gothic achieved a measure of respectability only in the "sentimental Gothic" form popularized by Ann Radcliffe, whose plots were little more than scary versions of the didactic novel's lessons about women's proper marital choices.

In general, however, Gothic fiction was considered proof of the dangerous influence of the wrong kind of books on susceptible readers.

Even the radical Jacobins objected to its misuse of literacy's power. Mary Wollstonecraft attacked Charlotte Smith's Gothic stories for their tendency "to debauch the mind" so that "duties are neglected, and content despised" qtd. The good writer teaches the child to become a man; the bad and indifferent best understand the reverse art of making a man a child" qtd. Reviewers worried in particular about the malleability of unsophisticated readers seduced by material like William Dicey's broadsides and the popular "blue books" or "shilling shockers" cheap redactions of Gothic tales of the supernatural or of violent crime.

Such trash, even when a stern moral was tacked on, was clearly sensational in purpose and effect; and thus it was a threat to the innocent, unguided minds of middle-class schoolboys, fragile young women, and the newly literate laborer. Thus oral stories of the supernatural and the sensational, transferred to print in the form of chapbooks and shilling shockers, made the transition to literate culture via a new generation of rising and increasingly urban readers, and connected elite literate with subordinate illiterate classes.

To hostile reviewers, horror Gothic was obscene and immoral, emphasizing sexual misconduct, criminality, and antiaristocratic sentiment. It seemed to prove that expanding literacy meant that new classes of readers were bringing their vulgar, indecent, even anarchic tastes with them. Despite, or perhaps because of, its controversial cultural status, it was horror Gothic that provided the conventions for the form of Gothicism developed by novelists interested in politics and human psychology.

In "philosophical Gothic," as we might call it, "the laws of nature are represented as altered, not for the purpose of pampering the imagination with wonders, but in order to shew the probable effect which the supposed miracles would produce on those who witnessed them" "Remarks on Frankenstein" 613.

Philosophical Gothic made explicit the concerns about character, conduct, and education that underlay the emergence of popular Gothic fiction; in place of the machinery of sentimental and the concept of humanity in frankenstein by mary shelley Gothic, it explored the horrific elements of human personality, and the forces--including education and reading--that go into their creation. Philosophic Gothic did not simply provide education, like its sentimental counterpart, or seem, like horror Gothic, to subvert it; it offered a kind of scientific study of the making of human beings.

The Implications of Shelly’s “Frankenstein” on Human Nature and Government

Its principal representatives were William Godwin, author of the influential novel Caleb Williams, or Things as They Are 1794 ; the American Charles Brockden Brown, Godwin's disciple and author of Wieland, a study of the forces involved in the making of a mass murderer; and Mary Shelley.

Early reviews of Frankenstein indicate that its first readers assessed it in terms of cultural concerns about the formation of character and the role of reading.

The Quarterly R eview announced that "it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their taste have been deplorably vitiated" 385. It was only fellow novelist Sir Walter Scott, in an unsigned review in Blackwood's Magazine, who recognized the intellectual function of this "more philosophical and refined use of the supernatural," in which "the pleasure ordinarily derived from the marvellous incidents is secondary to that which we extract from observing how mortals like ourselves would be affected.

More specifically, it focuses on the problematic influence of experience--both social and literary--on those vulnerable, unstable groups around whom cluster cultural concerns about education and reading.

  • Walton describes how books, the primary tools of his self-education, have shaped him and his choices;
  • The text describes again and again the process by which individual characters are formed, via types who represent the vulnerable groups described above--sentimental young women representing concerns about class and gender , bourgeois boy children, and self-taught nameless, classless men;
  • Early reviews of Frankenstein indicate that its first readers assessed it in terms of cultural concerns about the formation of character and the role of reading.

Although Mary Shelley does not seem explicitly to raise issues of class and gender, her novel is very much about controlling the formation of character among potentially dangerous and endangered social groups. The text describes again and again the process by which individual characters are formed, via types who represent the vulnerable groups described above--sentimental young women representing concerns about class and genderbourgeois boy children, and self-taught nameless, classless men.

Mary Shelley spends the least time describing the education of women, but as with the male characters whose stories we will hear in more detail, she repeats one version of female upbringing. Caroline Beaufort is the model of virtuous femininity rescued from class degradation; in Mary Shelley's 1831 revision, Caroline seeks out other girls similarly situated, rescuing them from lower class influences and educating them in the virtues of a specifically bourgeois domesticity. Thus she finds Elizabeth, whose seemingly innate, upper-class feminine virtue makes the concept of humanity in frankenstein by mary shelley shine amid a family of "dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants" 40.

Once under proper middle-class guidance--neither with peasants nor with Italian aristocrats as in the original 1818 text 4--she is the perfect domestic woman: Justine Moritz is also saved and educated by Victor's mother, whose very "phraseology and manners" she imitates 64. Justine's social status as servant and member of the lower class reflects cultural anxieties about women's vulnerability and the stabilizing role of a bourgeois domestic education.

Like Caroline and Elizabeth before her, Justine represents female upward mobility, as becomes apparent when Elizabeth explains Caroline's adoption of Justine by praising Geneva's flexible class boundaries: Elizabeth's observation about class flexibility seems to apply only to women in the novel, and reflects the text's definition of ideal female experience as bourgeois: Thus educated, women fulfill and are fulfilled by their social roles, and so pose little danger of disrupting the culture and its values.

Women, once guided into good conduct, are less actors in the drama of education than they are objects acted upon by men, whose deeds then reveal their character. Symbols of the ideal merger of gender and class identity, women's vulnerabilities to men's misconduct reflect cultural anxieties about social order and the education of bourgeois and working-class boys.

  1. Its principal representatives were William Godwin, author of the influential novel Caleb Williams, or Things as They Are 1794 ; the American Charles Brockden Brown, Godwin's disciple and author of Wieland, a study of the forces involved in the making of a mass murderer; and Mary Shelley.
  2. We learn from the monster that a variety of factors have produced him.
  3. Tomorrow we'll see about that. Mary Shelley's parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin,, and the circle of Jacobin radical writers sympathetic to the egalitarian ideas of the French Revolution, reinforced Rousseau's view of the perfectibility of human character while resisting his elitism and gender biases; they argued for the use of education to reform the economic and social status of women and workers.
  4. He characterizes himself as "passionately fond of reading" 27 but adds that as a boy he was "self-educated. In addition to emphasizing the consequences of Alphonse's carelessness, Mary Shelley offers us models of bad and good pedagogy.
  5. Elizabeth reports his erratic behavior. Who is responsible for the train of events beginning with Victor's reading of Agrippa, and ending with the annihilation of the entire Frankenstein family?

Though virtuous, Justine is wrongly executed for murdering little William, while the perfect Elizabeth is the final and most intimate victim of the monster's revenge: It seems ironic, given that Mary Shelley was the daughter of a feminist educator and novelist and that she kept such careful records of her own reading in her journals, but the novel is less engaged by the education and reading of its women than by the education of the central male figures whose stories supply the main structure of the text.

The first two offer varieties Henry Clerval would be a third of the ambitious, talented individual whose energy is dedicated to serving humanity. Victor, too, is nobly ambitious: Although they seem to abjure the pursuit of wealth, they are all three quintessentially bourgeois in status, as is clear from the example of Clerval, the merchant's son.

In the 1818 version Victor describes him as "the image of my former self,' Rieger 155while the 1831 text conflates material the concept of humanity in frankenstein by mary shelley with humanitarian ambition, describing Clerval's desire to "visit India, in the belief that he had. Each narrator explains himself in terms of his childhood education--and in particular, his reading. Walton describes how books, the primary tools of his self-education, have shaped him and his choices. He characterizes himself as "passionately fond of reading" 27 but adds that as a boy he was "self-educated: He bemoans this neglect: His goals, both noble and dangerous, are the product of the unguided childhood reading that has been almost the sole influence over him.

By contrast, the world in which Victor grows up seems at first an educator's paradise, with all the elements necessary to turn happy children into virtuous adults. Everyone and everything is in perfect concord: My father directed our studies, and my mother partook of our enjoyments" Rieger 37. The 1831 edition heightens the ideal nature of that parental authority: The Frankenstein children are products of an educational system based on an ideal, partly Rousseauian pedagogy: This happy family lives in Geneva Rousseau's ideal middle-class politya republic composed of virtuous burghers like Alphonse Frankenstein, with "simpler and happier manners than those which prevail in the great monarchies that surround it" 64.

Victor, the promising eldest son of a virtuous public servant, credits his parents with close guidance of his education. But the event that shapes his future actions is a chance encounter with a book--the work of Cornelius Agrippa, the medieval natural philosopher.

He calls it, and the other books he is led to read, "wild fancies" 44 ; like Walton's sea stories, and like Gothic fiction itself, they are unsanctioned, dangerously exciting explorations of the mysterious. And they have obvious power: Krempe dismiss the concept of humanity in frankenstein by mary shelley as worthless, they start Victor down the path that results in his awful discovery. Victor's reaction to Agrippa is partly determined by his father's careless dismissal of the book as "sad trash" 44.

He intimates that his father is one of many instructors who "utterly neglect" their responsibility to direct "the attention of their pupils to useful knowledge" Rieger 32: If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced. I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside.

It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. The novel thus raises explicitly the central issue of dangerous conduct and its causes. Who is responsible for the train of events beginning with Victor's reading of Agrippa, and ending with the annihilation of the entire Frankenstein family?

Such critics have then read these as variants on the neglectful Victor-as-father and his rebellious monster-son. Certainly the novel is critical of irresponsible instruction. In addition to emphasizing the consequences of Alphonse's carelessness, Mary Shelley offers us models of bad and good pedagogy.

Krempe ridicules Victor's reading as "nonsense," with the consequence that, like Alphonse, he turns Victor back to those "exploded systems" 49. Waldman on the other hand is an inspiring instructor, who succeeds not by mocking Victor's favorite philosophers but by seeing the same potential in the new chemistry.

  1. As with Victor and Walton, it is possible to blame the irresponsibility of the parent-creator for the actions of his creature.
  2. As with Victor and Walton, it is possible to blame the irresponsibility of the parent-creator for the actions of his creature. Along the way, Frankenstein has come to stand for the genre we call Gothic.
  3. It seems ironic, given that Mary Shelley was the daughter of a feminist educator and novelist and that she kept such careful records of her own reading in her journals, but the novel is less engaged by the education and reading of its women than by the education of the central male figures whose stories supply the main structure of the text.
  4. Rousseau's Emile, published seventy years later, offered "a textbook of how to educate for the development of natural virtue" Silver 18.
  5. I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property" 106.

In fact, Waldman says that chemistry offers a better field for such ambitions: They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places.

They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers. If Waldman's good pedagogy guides Victor in the direction of great achievements in the field of chemistry, it is this new expertise, combined with his earlier ambition to conquer death, that leads to Victor's discovery and the train of consequences which follow.

  • In this the monster is a symbol of the violent potential of social instability, and of the danger posed by the discontinuity between the ideals that books imagine and the reality that such readers must confront;
  • Victor, the promising eldest son of a virtuous public servant, credits his parents with close guidance of his education;
  • And he learns good and evil from Milton, identifying with both Adam and Satan;
  • Victor's mis education reflects specific anxieties about bourgeois childrearing; the monster represents both the abstract concept of natural "man" and his social equivalent in late eighteenth century England--the culturally displaced, newly literate rising worker lacking class traditions to guide or guard him;
  • Heller Mary Shelley's tale of creation and destruction has claimed a central place in Anglo-American culture since its first publication in 1818.

Given Waldman's contributory role, then, we must reject the simplistic notion that bad teaching or the wrong kind of reading is to blame. We need to consider instead the difficulty of controlling the experiences, including reading, that affect the shaping of character, and the extent to which individuals are themselves responsible for their actions.

What we realize first is that "education" is partly accidental; as Victor discovers Cornelius Agrippa by chance, so the accident by which he learns about electricity in the 1818 version of the novel "explodes" his faith in alchemical texts and temporarily turns him away from his fatal path. Then Alphonse's plans to send Victor to more modern science courses--which, presumably, would have made Victor's change permanent--are frustrated by " [s]ome accident, which prevented my attending these lectures until the course was nearly finished" Rieger 36.

The 1831 version of the novel emphasizes the image of the vulnerable unguided child: But it also complicates the issue of character's origins by adding Victor's apparently innate longing to penetrate the secrets of nature, and by making Alphonse scientifically uninformed rather than careless. The revised text seems to emphasize fate; Victor mentions a "guardian angel of my life" trying to "avert the storm that was even then hanging in the stars," and claims that "[d]estiny was too potent.