Parent Child Relationship Frankenstein Essay Prompts

Parent-Child Tensions in Frankenstein: The Search for Communion

Laura P. Claridge

Studies in the Novel, 17:1 (Spring 1985)

The rights of kings are deduced in a direct line from the king of Kings, and that of parents from our first parent.
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Everything must have a beginning . . . And that beginning must be linked to something that went before.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
{15} Surely no one needs to be reminded that Frankenstein is a book largely reminiscent of Mary Shelley's own troubled family relationships; and in support of the point, one need only turn to George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher's excellent collection of essays, The Endurance of Frankenstein, to find the matter well documented.1 That an author's life becomes translated into her fiction is hardly news on any account. But what has somehow eluded proper treatment is the resultant real subject of this "monster tale": the failure of human beings to "parent" their offspring in such a way that they will be able to take part in society rather than retreat into themselves.

An emphasis upon the proper assumption of parental responsibilities was part of the age: Maria Edgeworth and Hannah More had, through their educational treatises, influenced Walter Scott's Waverley themes, and Mary Shelley in turn bowed in his direction by allowing her husband to send him presentation volumes of Frankenstein the month the novel was published anonymously. The romantic educators typically placed the blame for an adolescent's misconduct at the door of a negligent (though often well-meaning) parent. Shelley herself subtly indicts Victor's parents in exactly this way; and she suggests an even subtler subtext of family conflict in the letters Walton writes to Margaret. Previous commentators have, of course, noted {15} Frankenstein's abuse of his monster; strangely enough, however, they have tended to ignore the precedent within his own family for Victor's later actions, as well as the familial tensions that Walton, Victor's shadow self, implies. Such critical shortsightedness has inevitably resulted in textual analyses that fail to account for the complexity of this novel.

Readers have quite correctly assumed the statement in Shelley's preface, "my chief concern has been to exhibit the amiableness of domestic affection and the excellence of universal virtues" to be a cover-up; but in ascribing to Mary Shelley a need to deny the ugliness of a nightmarish vision they have missed her real subterfuge.2 She will indeed concern herself with "domestic affection" -- but more precisely, the lack of it, and how such a lack undermines "universal virtue."3 In Shelley's attention to parent-child relationships, she implies a far-ranging application to society at large if we fail at this most primal unit of communication, what hope is there for compassionate interaction within the larger community? Shelley insists that man can live only through communion with others; solitude, for her, represents death.

Through his continual exaggerations of familial love, Victor Frankenstein reveals to us the inadequacy of the homelife that belies his oft-fevered protestations of attachment. Perhaps the inevitable ambivalence concerning our own childhood creates a suspension of critical acuity in our reading Victor's story, but a close study of the text undercuts severely his insistence upon the perfect home. Critics have generally fallen for his defenses: Kate Ellis basically accepts his myth of the happy home;4 Gubar and Gilbert call his childhood, in Miltonic terms, Edenic.5 Only Christopher Small suggests that in Victor's description there is a "strained emphasis on felicity."6

That Victor insists upon remembering "the best of all possible worlds" is the psychological defense of an only child (as he was for a long time) who maintains a love/hate relationship with his parents because he senses that they share an affection that in some way excludes him.7 Victor is an object of their love, not a participant in it; he is "their plaything and their idol" (p. 33). In his recollections of his parents' relationship recollections more fully developed in the 1831 edition -- he emphasizes their devotion to each other, to the (implicit) detriment of their child. If, as Victor claims, everything was centered on fulfilling the mother's wishes, one must wonder at the son's extravagant account of the love left over for him: "they seemed to draw inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon me" (p. 33). The narrator strains his credibility too far when he assures us that "every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control" (p. 34) -- precisely those virtues that the young adult scientist will lack. After being told that "for a long time I was their only care," we are to believe that the addition of Elizabeth to his little {16} family effected nothing but unqualified joy. There is no mention of the inevitable sibling friction; instead, these siblings were "strangers to any species of disunion or disrepute. Harmony was the soul of companionship . . ." (p. 36). Frankenstein early on models upon his parents as Elizabeth becomes his plaything. His mother tells him, "I have a pretty present for my Victor -- tomorrow he shall have it" (p. 35, emphasis mine). The child subsequently accepts Elizabeth as his "promised gift" and makes her his own possession.

We misread the story (and many have) if we listen to Victor's hyperbolic descriptions of a family idyll without attuning our ears to the subtext. When, for instance, Henry Clerval asks Victor if they might talk "on an important subject" and Victor reacts with some anxiety, his friend quickly surmises that the scientist might be fearful to speak of his own home. Before proceeding, Clerval reassures his friend: "I will not mention it if it agitates you; but your father and cousin . . . hardly know how ill you have been and are uneasy at your long silence" (p. 63). Victor responds: "How could you suppose that my first thought would not fly towards those dear, dear friends whom I love and who are so deserving of my love?" Both Clerval and the readers have some reason to doubt Victor's insistence. At this point in the narrative, he has not been home for five years; he will finally return home after yet another year passes, when he is summoned by his father upon William's death. Consequently, though he proclaims in frenzied terms that he loves his family "to adoration," we suspect that ambivalence, at the least, subverts his affection.

It is not only Victor who has troubled connections with his family; rather, we are in a world where parental irresponsibility and failure are the rule. Beaufort's pride puts his daughter in a difficult position; Safie's interests are betrayed by her father; Elizabeth is left an orphan; Justine's father dies and leaves his favorite at the mercy of a hard mother; and Henry Clerval's father attempts to keep him from the academic life he yearns to pursue. But more important than any family conflicts outside of the protagonist's is Walton's relationship to Margaret, that maternal sister who has apparently failed to be responsive to her younger brother's needs. He somewhat cynically reminds her, for instance, that of his efforts at poetry, she is "well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment" (p. 17); and then, when discussing his latest venture, he implores: "And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? . . . Oh, that some encouraging voice could answer in the affirmative!" (p. 17). Upon close reading we sense a compulsion on Walton's part to prove himself to Margaret; and if we ignore this underlying theme, as critics traditionally have done, we miss the emphasis in the novel on the murky undercurrents of what look at first glance to be straightforward parent-child relationships. In one sense, then, Victor's exaggerated (and therefore unmistakable) neglect of his progeny serves merely as a bolder-than-life projection of the novel's other, more oblique family conflicts.

{17} The parental failures are emblematic for those people unwilling to fulfill their duties to society at large: just as the hunter, that mythical image of a strong and protective father, reacts incorrectly and injures his charge's rescuer, so even the priestly fathers respond insensitively to their children's needs.8 Justine's callous mother follows her confessor's advice in removing her daughter from the surrogate family where she is happy (p. 66); and when Justine is accused of murdering William, her priest helps condemn this innocent by threatening her into a false confession of guilt (p. 87). Even the De Laceys, who represent the family most at ease with itself, fail; De Lacey, a parent who is treated with the greatest deference and respect, responds compassionately to Frankenstein's child because he is blind and therefore not prejudiced by appearances. It is, ironically, when his sighted children return that the old man excludes the monster from a chance of kinship; it is when his children enable their father to "see through their eyes" that he loses his own visionary powers.

If, as Ellen Moers has suggested, "most of the novel -- two of the three volumes, can be said to deal with the retribution visited upon the monster and creator for deficient infant care,"9 it is also true that inadequate parental guidance in later years leaves its mark on Victor Frankenstein. The young scientist is thirteen, on the threshold of adolescence, when the struggle to break free of his parents and to become his own man begins in earnest. Not all fathers welcome their child's ascendant power, with its accompanying suggestion that their own is on the wane. Mary Shelley implicates this tension through her fascination with "the tale of the sinful founder of his race whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise" (p. 7). She revised the second version of her novel to emphasize Victor's lack of important formative stage; the first version allows the elder share his son's interest in science, whereas in the second, Victor is left on his own.10 In fact, when the exuberant youth tries to discuss his reading with his father, Alphonse Frankenstein carelessly glances at the title page and exclaims, "My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash" (p. 39). In one of Victor's rare insightful reflections, he explicitly criticizes his father's execution of his parental role: "If . . . my father had taken the pains to explain to me [modern science] . . . it is even possible that . . . my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin" (p. 39). Instead, he was abandoned "to struggle with a child's blindness . . ." (p. 39). Finally, he is left mingling "a thousand contradictory theories and floundering desperately in a very slough of multifarious knowledge," guided by "childish reasoning" (p. 40).

John Dussinger has perceptively suggested that Frankenstein's academic pursuit is a rebellion against the moral obligations between father and son: "The center of evil is parental irresponsibility and selfishness, and the ideal {18} of goodness is the father's bond to his son and the reciprocal bond of son to father."11 Before there can be an interplay of love between father and child, the father has to fulfill his duties, a contract Mary Shelley well knew from her mother's writings. She also understood the pain of being rejected when her activities earned her father's disapproval, such as his refusal to see her after her marriage to Shelley or his callous warning not to grieve in excess for her dead child, lest she lose the love of those close to her.12

Just as William Godwin steamrolled over his daughter's sensibilities, so Alphonse Frankenstein too was insensitive to his son. Victor implies, for example, that his father insists that he depart for Ingolstadt soon after his mother's death, away from the sympathy of his native country and into new, strange surroundings with no one to guide him. There is the suggestion that Alphonse disapproves of his son's grief as a dilatory tactic. In fact, strong sense of parental disapproval informs the father/son reactions throughout the novel. Indeed, as Victor describes his father, we come to see a parent who loves only conditionally: his justice is a "virtue" which renders it necessary "that he should approve highly to love strongly" (p. 33).

The need to win approval from judgmental parents can at times compel the child toward excellence; but it can also be perverted into disastrous extremes, in which the child transforms his Promethean aspirations for success into those of overreaching and surpassing his parents at the cost of everything else. Victor has ambitiously planned that "a new species would bless me as its creator and source . . . No father would claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs." That after the "birth" he feels "guilty of a crime" comes, therefore, as no surprise to us -- he has usurped his father's place in the hierarchy. No wonder then that he finds his interior self "in a state of insurrection and turmoil" (p. 48). His father had taken great precautions to ensure that his son disdain supernatural horrors (p. 55); yet, regardless of his disclaimer of responsibility for his creation, Frankenstein deliberately chose the form for his creature that was sure to provoke the most horror and dread in other mortals. Harold Bloom typifies those readers who gloss over Frankenstein's foreknowledge of his creature's ugliness, when he asserts: "the hideousness of his creature was no part of Victor Frankenstein's intention . . ."13 Instead, we must read Victor's shock at his child's ugliness as mere repression of the truth, as he unwittingly admits: "I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then . . ." (p. 58, emphasis mine).

Victor compensates for the sense of smallness his father has imparted by usurping his parents' powers as creators, but also by issuing forth a child whose physical nature will be inferior, in size, to no one. He acts out his anger at his family in an attempt to affirm his own selfhood. Just as he threw the door open to find "a spectre," so he exorcises the wolf under his bed, the parent as evil predator, by creating his own nightmare come true.14 He recognizes from his progeny's first murderous act that the monster's destruc- {19} tion is his own: "I was the true murderer" (p. 89). By the end of the novel he has acknowledged that he is responsible for all the deaths. He admits: "I abhorred the face of man," a statement he fearfully retracts with "oh, not abhorred! . . . I felt attracted even to the most repulsive among them . . ." (pp. 184-85), a reflection we can hardly credit. Instead, his exclamation that he has turned a murderer loose upon society (p. 200) indicates the truer self-knowledge.

But Frankenstein is not alone in needing to dethrone his parents. Walton, that too often forgotten character who frames the novel subtly strikes out at Margaret, the sister who helped rear him. He reminds his sister again and again of his imminent destruction, and he presages pain for her whatever the outcome of his "voyage of discovery," as he continually alludes to his journey: "If I succeed, many years will pass before meeting again; if I fail, you will never see me again" (p. 18). In a sense he tries to "kill" his parent too, in tones redolent of the monster: "You will have visitings of despair, and yet be tortured by hope" (pp. 212-13).

Margaret, his mother substitute, has regarded his voyage with evil forebodings (p. 15), but Walton insists on his vision: "you cannot contest the inestimable benefits which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation . . ." (p. 16). Since learning of his father's injunction against a seafaring life, the son has waited for his chance to disobey: "the favorite dream of my early years was this voyage" (p. 16). Walton's very uneasy relationship with his sister has been too often overlooked; his letters to her are usually thinly veiled threats to her power, attempts to assert his own autonomy.15Indeed, this "voyage of discovery" is, for him, a fight, in the Ericksonian schema,16 between dependence and autonomy, an effort on his part to determine his relationship to the rest of society. If he, in the end, falls short of the godlike aspirations that, he emphasizes, "lift his soul to heaven," he will also turn back, however reluctantly, toward a finally integrated relationship between parent and child. Walton will "grow up," affirm himself, and return to his community, unlike his counterpart, that "soul mate" in whom he so tightly sees his own potential reflected.


Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?

Paradise Lost, X, 743-45 (epigraph to Frankenstein)

Victor Frankenstein's role as father is intensified by that fulfillment of every parent's dream: he can deliberately, knowingly create his child; he can {20} actually choose the parts. It is especially ironic, then, that he hates what he sees. Victor produces such a grotesque model for his procreation in part as a response to his own aggressive feelings toward his parents and the guilt these emotions provoke. He is anxious throughout the gestation period: "Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree" (p. 56). Consequently, he has geared himself to hate and fear his creature. In one sense, the ugliness affords him an escape from parental responsibilities; he can justify his immediate flight. After proving his godlike power to produce life, he is then able immediately to abandon it.

It is not, however, that Victor Frankenstein is unaware of familial connection to his monster; he feels what the duties of a "creator towards the creature" are, but he nonetheless makes no attempt to satisfy the monster's needs. He recognizes, "I ought to [have rendered] him happy before I complained of his wickedness" (p. 102). At one point the monster's tale of his life allows Frankenstein to offer his conditional concern, judging, in the manner of his father, his progeny worthy of attention: "His tale, and the feelings he now expressed, proved him to be a creature of fine sensations; and did I not as his maker, owe him, all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow?" (p. 146). He continues to fail his creature, however, never gaining insight into the monster's tortured psyche, so that at the end of the novel he is able to exclaim without irony: "Let the cursed and hellish monster drink deep of agony; let him feel the despair that now torments me" (p. 202).

In noting Frankenstein's brutal disregard of any parental duties, we should recall his analysis of his parents' reaction to him as a child: "It was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery, according as they fulfilled their duties to me." They had a "deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they had given life . . ." (p. 34). In reality, however, his parents had regarded him as a plaything, a bauble (p. 33); and so Frankenstein views his creation as an object of his pleasure, until the "newborn" forces his way into his parent's consciousness.

It is also worth noting here that Mary Shelley began her writing with Chapter 4, wherein we see the father rejecting the monster's outstretched hand.17 The monster labors under no delusion that he is loved: "You, my own creator, detest and spurn me . . ." (p. 99). In response to the monster's pain, his father notices that "his countenance bespoke bitter anguish," but its "unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes" (p. 99). The monster's "deal" -- "Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you . . ." (p. 99) resonates with the sound of Mary Wollstonecraft's parental advice: "A right always includes a duty, and I think it may likewise fairly be inferred that they forfeit the right who do not fulfill the duty."18 Since Frankenstein does not act out his proper role, his creature condemns him as "the author at once of my existence and its unspeakable torments" {21} (p. 220). It is no coincidence that the portrait of Caroline kneeling, in agony, by her father's coffin is echoed at the novel's end, where the monster, in his own agony of despair, hangs over his dead father and utters exclamations of grief and horror. Caroline's beauty ensures that her portrait will elicit a strong sympathy from Frankenstein, but the monster has no such saving grace. Thus, with his arm extended yet again to his maker, he admits the impossibility of contact.

To substitute for the lack of human connection, the monster revels in self-education. He recognizes the wonders of speech, in which, unlike those around him, he locates mysterious powers. Viewing language as "a godlike science" (p. 112), he pays rapt attention to the lessons Felix offers to Safie. Through the De Laceys he learns that man is "at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base" (p. 119). Unlike his creator, who ponders meaning only insofar as its suggests power, the monster learns what life is about. He absorbs Felix's lessons. "I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings . . ." (p. 128). His lessons lead him, finally, to that question of intense psychological importance, without which the child never becomes the man; he tells his "father" that he finally asked himself "Who was I?" (p. 128). "The path of my departure was free; and there was none to lament my annihilation . . . What was I? . . . What was my destination?" (p. 128). It is worth quoting here at length from Bruno Bettelheim's analogous description of a child's self-discovery.

The child asks himself: "Who am I? Where did I come from? . . . He worries not whether there is justice for individual man, but whether he will be treated justly. He wonders who or what projects him into adversity, and what can prevent this from happening to him. Are there benevolent powers in addition to his parents? Are his parents benevolent powers? How should he form himself, and why? Is there hope for him though he may have done wrong? Why has all this happened to him?19
The tragedy is that for this introspective wanderer, the world will not support his answer; he will be answered only "with groans" (p. 121). Psychiatrist Selma Fraiberg, in Every Child's Birthright, writes that the unnurtured, unloved child grows into the aberrant adult -- the criminal who seeks to negate his overwhelming sense of nothingness by inflicting pain on others -- a scream that "I exist, I am."20 It is not, then, the monster's nature that makes him so vengeful, as his creator deludes himself into thinking, but rather his overwhelming sense of isolation and despair at lacking human connections that in fact his father should have first provided. At the time of his first violent act, he is merely seeking fellowship with another human, and he assumes little William, the "beautiful child" so unlike himself, to be too young to have formed prejudices based on appearance. Enraged to the point of murder, {22} he is motivated by a combination of being rejected by one so young and finding that the child, related to the monster's creator, is yet another agent of sorrow by the scientist's hand. Similarly, he strikes out at Justine because she represents to him the relationships he can never have: her condemnation will therefore be "just" because "the crime had its source in her; be hers the punishment" (p. 144). By issuing the ultimatum to Frankenstein, "On you it rests, whether I quit . . . man and lead a harmless life, or become the scourge of your fellow creatures" (p. 101), the monster places the blame for his aggression where it properly lies. Frankenstein refuses the responsibility, and so, as U. C. Knoepflmacher observes in a different context, "The monster becomes father to the man and relentlessly imposes on its creator the same conditions of dependence and insecurity that it was made to suffer."21

In a last desperate attempt to evoke a one-to-one response, the monster forces his master into the Arctic race where he assures Frankenstein, "You will feel the misery of cold and frost, to which I am impassive" (p. 204). The cold serves as a metaphor for the comfortless, solitary life he has led, one he is bent on recreating for the agent of his pain. We become intensely, painfully aware of the monster's motivation for his aggression through the death scene of his father. Through the grief and horror at his successful patricidal act emerges the typical, unfathomable loyalty of the abused child: "Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! I . . . destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst." But the larger, more deadly truth about this "self-devoted being" is unwittingly echoed in his child's last suffocated observation: "Alas! He is cold, he cannot answer me" (p. 219).


In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man's aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of them in check by psychical reaction-formations.22
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Of major significance in the struggle between Frankenstein and his monster are the efforts of the creator to escape his place in society, in contrast to the desperate attempts of the created to become situated within it. Frankenstein relates that his early life was passed in considerable seclusion; that it became his temper to avoid a crowd, a withdrawal making him "indifferent," therefore, to his "school-fellows in general" (p. 37). His apprehension at leaving his "amiable companions" of the hearth for the new territory of Ingolstadt is well rounded, since he will be more alone here than ever. He creates his {23} monster in solitude; and after the monster kills William, the scientist can justify his alienation from mankind by reason of his grief. He now shuns the face of man: "all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation -- deep, dark, deathlike solitude" (p. 90). His father senses a hidden meaning to his son's withdrawal, ostensibly due to his mourning, and warns him that "excessive sorrow prevents improvement of enjoyment, or even the discharge of daily usefulness, without which no man is fit for society" (p. 91). The truth is the blunt reality previously noted: "I abhorred society." Victor wishes to pass his life on that "barren rock" (p. 169) where he will be uninterrupted by the pain of human contact; in contrast with Prometheus, whose bondage was a sacrificial act for the good of all mankind, Frankenstein wants to protect himself from the weariness of social intercourse.

In direct opposition to his maker, the monster longs for society and sympathy. He quickly becomes aware that there is no place for him, that he has been forbidden all that society holds dear: wealth and connections. If his own creator withholds from him human contact, he can expect nothing more from the rest of his world. He realizes: "No sympathy may I ever find." Though his vain efforts to assert his selfhood through aggressive acts have ruined him, he realizes his depravity is the fault of man: "the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone." All humankind has sinned against him (p. 221). In the tradition of those who, regardless of their sins, know passion and thus know life, the monster will exult in self-destruction by fire. Frankenstein instead will die passively, "a fit end for a being who has never achieved a full sense of another's existence."23

If Mary Shelley offers us both Frankenstein and his monster as societal members who serve only to subvert civilization, she suggest in Robert Walton. a resolution of the conflict between ambition and the need for intimacy which will result in a balanced world. Walton knows from the beginning of his trip that he is undergoing a rite of passage, a journey of discovery. We recognize a potential Frankenstein, another man ill at ease with family life, seeking out ultimate knowledge by conquering the world's uncharted regions. Indeed,"Walton claims Frankenstein as his soul mate, and the scientist acts out the monster's role of deviant self, the other half, as he tempts Walton to continue his ill-fated voyage to the Pole. What distinguishes Walton from his counterpart, however, is his nascent sense of responsibility to his larger family aboard ship. In worrying about the difficulties of the voyage, he realizes he will need to be responsive to his men's fears; he "must raise the spirits of others" as well as sustain his own (p. 17). His description of his two favorite subordinates reflects the weaknesses they share with the novel's major characters: the lieutenant is "madly desirous of glory and the ship's master has experienced a "youth passed in solitude" which by {24} now we recognize to be a clear danger. Walton will, however, in fulfilling his "moral responsibility to the family," steer them clear of danger.

His sailors instinctively assume the protectorship of their captain; they approach him as a surrogate parent who will not fail them. They tell Frankenstein, "Here is our captain, and he will not allow you to perish in the open sea" (p. 24). Indeed, even as Walton carefully absorbs Frankenstein's story -- a story that will help vicariously to redeem the captain's solipsistic quest--he ministers to the sick man. Although in a literal sense not true, Frankenstein's acclamation to Walton that "you have restored me to life" suggests the strange interchange whereby Walton fulfills properly Frankenstein's quest for knowledge as well as assuming a paternal role toward the progeny of that quest. In spite of his horror at the "appalling hideousness" of Frankenstein's creature, Walton takes the redemptive step that no one else in society has been willing to take, and, magically, calls on him to stay (p. 219, emphasis mine). The monster is transfixed; he looks on with wonder at the person who will finally acknowledge his outstretched hand.

Walton's voyage of discovery ends, then, in his, assuming responsibilities of the mature adult, the man who turns back to society away from goals benefiting only the self, toward the goal of communion with others. He forswears his self-pity at having been a neglected child, a parentless boy, and takes on fully the role of parent himself -- to the monster (he listens), and to his men (he turns back). As J. M. Hill remarks: "He chooses human connections."24 In Walton, Mary Shelley has suggested the possibility of a successful, if subdued, modern Prometheus, stripped, through the expiations of Frankenstein and his monster, of Satanic aspirations. It is, perhaps, a domesticated Promethean vision that lacks the poetic grandeur of her spouse's ideal, but the novelist managed an understanding of basic human needs and limitations that, finally, may suggest less of a "dream story" than she modestly claimed as the basis for her novel.


1.U. C. Knoepflmacher, "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979), pp. 88-119, offers the most extensive treatment of the biographical soundings. See also Kate Ellis, "Monsters in the Garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois Family," and Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic" in the same volume.

2. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. M. K. Joseph (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 14. All future citations will refer to this text. I realize, of course, that Percy Shelley wrote this preface, but Mary apparently agreed to the authorial explanation.

3. As is by now well known, Shelley had much to exorcise from her own family relationships. Her mother had died soon after childbirth. Her father, according to Christopher Small, "regarded infants as mere parcels, to be handed from one person to another without adverse effect" (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972], p. 70). And we can easily associate the solipsistic Victor, whose sense of responsibility toward his creation is severely limited, with the Shelley who will, as Mary acknowledges, appreciate his child most "when he has a nursery to himself and only comes to you, just dressed and in good humor" (Frederick L. Jones, ed. Mary Shelley's Journal [Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1947], p. 205; the entry occurs on 21 Oct. 1838).

4. Ellis in The Endurance of Frankenstein, p. 136.

5. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, "Horror's Twin: Mary Shelley's Monstrous Eve," in The Madwoman in the Attic (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979), p. 230.

6. Small, p. 73.

7.J. M. Hill, "Frankenstein and the Physiognomy of Desire," American Imago, 32, (1975), 346.

8. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), p. 205.

9. Moers, in The Endurance of Frankenstein, p. 81.

10. Ellis, in The Endurance of Frankenstein, p. 142.

11. John A. Dussinger, "Kinship and Guilt in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Studies in the Novel, 7 (1976), 38.

12. Knoepflmacher discusses Shelley's relationship with her father, p. 113.

13. Harold Bloom, The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 124.

14. Whether, as Bruno Bettelheim shows, the "wolf" is embodied in the mean witch or the nasty stepmother-or, we might add, the ugly monster--is irrelevant.

15. A close reading of Mary Shelley's letters, with their two-edged sentiments, will illumine the nature of those she creates for Walton. Anticipating the arrival of Shelley's children by Harriet, Mary exclaims: "I long [for those children] whom I love so tenderly, then there will be a sweet brother and sister for my William who will lose his pre-eminence as eldest and be helped third at table . . ." (Frederick L. Jones, ed., The Letters of Mary W. Shelley [Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1944], p. 16). Or again: "[And did my love] think "about our home, our babe and his poor Pecksie? But I'm sure you did . . ." (Letters, p. 14). Nothing straightforward here.

16. See Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: Norton, 1950), p. 251.

17. Knoepflmacher, p. 100.

18. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: Walter Scott, n.d.), p. 222.

19. Bettelheim, p. 47.

20. Selma Fraiberg, Every Child's Birthright (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 48.

21. Knoepflmacher, p. 103.

22. Dussinger, p. 49, quoting from Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents.

23. Bloom, p. 125.

24. Hill, p. 335.

Hideous Progeny, Hideous Parentage :
Parent / Child Relationships in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

There are few authors who are as well known for a single literary work as is Mary Shelley for Frankenstein. Although largely ignored by critics for many years, possibly because the very popularity of her novel implied a certain lack of validity or artistry in her work, Shelley is finally being recognized as a significant representative of the Romantic period, as well as a contributor to the thematic and aesthetic concerns of her own and later eras. Paul Cantor has gone so far as to characterize Frankenstein as an interpretation (and criticism) of the central myths of Romanticism, creation and identity, on par with works such as Prometheus Unbound and Keats' Hyperion.

Much of this recent scholarship has focused on the biographical and feminist aspects of the novel. The facts of Mary Shelley's life, particularly her association with the literary figures of her day, certainly lend themselves to biographical criticism, while her position as one of the first widely recognized female authors, daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, presents itself equally well to feminist interpretation. There is, moreover, a certain extremism of characterization in the novel which lends itself equally well to both schools of criticism. A biographically inclined critic, for example, might interpret the omnipresent 'creator' figure of Victor Frankenstein as a representation of either Mary's overshadowing father, political essayist and novelist William Godwin, or her poet husband Percy, or even both at once, while the angelic, yet strangely absent characterization of Victor's fiancé, Elizabeth might be seen as Mary's idealization of her mother (Cantor 108 ; Scott, 172-6). In the same characters, feminist critics have seen Victor's creative genius and subsequent failure as a critique of the patriarchal system, while Elizabeth's empty posturing seem indicative of the Petrarchian abstraction of the female, and perhaps of Mary's sympathies for her mother's revolutionary feminist aesthetic (Ellis, 124-36, Hall 179-89 ; Knoepflmacher, 103-11).

However, I believe these critical strategies fail to completely account for one of the primary foci of the entire work, namely, Victor's rejection of his creation. Victor tells us that his over-riding ambition for a period of two years is to imbue life into dead matter, to become the father of a new race. Why then does he turn his back on his creature, from its first stirrings of life? Critics have argued that Victor's rejection is a result of the essentially flawed nature of his creation : a man, attempting to create life without recourse to the usual methods and, most significantly, without female involvement, who turns from his creation when he sees that it has soured without the 'gentling' influence that a female such as Elizabeth might bring to it (Youngquist, 347-52) . Biographically, some have also seen the episode as Mary's portrayal of the distaste which a poet feels for his own work, once the process of creation is over - there is ample evidence that Percy himself suffered from this revulsion . However, while these arguments are valid, I believe they fail to completely account for Victor's behavior, because while his rejection of his creature is, itself, central to the novel, it is also merely the most prominent example of a pattern of parental rejection which pervades the work and, indeed, Mary's entire life. Without relying upon a strictly biographical or psychological interpretation, I wish to argue that Victor's rejection of his creature is a reflection of William Godwin's rejection of his daughter Mary, and that it is this theme of dysfunctional child/parent relationships which truly drives the work. There is an overarching sense that to the many 'child' figures in the novel that there is some standard of value which is being held against them, which, pass or fail, they cannot possibly understand. Children in the work seem to be out of control of their own identities, and, while certain children in the work may be more or less obviously rejected, molded, or absorbed by their parents, there is always some moment of judgment or condemnation which creates a tension between parent and child, usually at a point when the child is first asserting itself beyond parental and familial boundaries. In effect, Frankenstein is a novel of 'teen angst', as experienced by Mary Shelley herself, and as she saw its symbolic and cultural implications.

Mary certainly seems to have had sufficient examples from her own life of the potential cruelty of parent-child relationships. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, and it might be expected that she suffered from some sense of responsibility and guilt for that death. She was certainly well aware of her mother's influence and notoriety ; during her childhood, Mary used to escape from her household to her mother's grave in St. Pancras churchyard, to read and study (Spark, 19), and during the early wanderings after their elopement, she and Shelley would read Mary Wollstonecraft's works, as well as those of Godwin (Spark, 29-30). Mary's consciousness of her mother's distinction can be seen not only as an inspiration for Mary's literary career, but as an example or standard which she, and those around her, often compared her to (Knoepflmacher, 92-3). In terms of Frankenstein, Paul Youngquist notes that, while her novel is not a direct extension of her mother's work in feminism, it is nevertheless a reply to that work, specifically Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (Youngquist, 339-56). The constant comparison, or at least association, with her mother, as well as her own literary ambitions must have created in Mary a need to live up to her mother's reputation, and it is this sense of implied competition between parent and child which is so pervasive in Frankenstein.

Mary's relationship with her father was also extremely troubled. Godwin's ideas of child-rearing seem to have been extremely pragmatic, and therefore presumably burdensome to the romantically minded Mary. In a letter to Mr. William Baxter, dated June 8th 1812, Godwin sketched out some of his conceptions:

...There can never be a perfect equality between father and child, and

if he has other objects and avocations to fill up the greater part of his

time, the ordinary resource is for him to proclaim his wishes and

commands in a way somewhat sententious and authoritative, and

occasionally to utter his censures with seriousness and emphasis.

It can, therefore, seldom happen that he is the confidant of his child,

or that the child does not feel some degree of awe or restraint in

intercourse with him. I am not, therefore, a perfect judge of Mary's

character. I believe she has nothing of what is commonly called vices,

and that she has considerable talent...

...I hope you will be aware that I do not desire that she should be treated

with extraordinary attention...I am anxious that she should be brought up

(in this respect) like a philosopher, even a cynic. It will greatly add to the

strength and worth of her character....She has occasionally great

perseverance, but occasionally, too, she shows great needs to be roused.

(Spark, 15-6)

Clearly, Mary's decision to elope with Percy Shelley just two years later, in 1814 would hardly have fulfilled Godwin's wishes for his daughter to behave "like a philosopher, even a cynic", and the two clashed bitterly over her resolution. Although he was somewhat mollified by Mary's marriage to Shelley in 1816, Godwin's disapproval was always a source of tension in Mary's life.

Of course, Mary had another example of parental rejection and condemnation immediately available to her. Her husband Percy was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, a well-to-do squire, and therefore might have been expected to have some financial support in his writing and other activities. However, Sir Timothy instead condemned his son's lifestyle and withdrew Percy's funding, hoping that financial pressure might make him somewhat more tractable. Not until after Percy's death did Mary and Sir Timothy have any sort of reconciliation, and not until the ascendancy of Mary's son, also named Percy, would Sir Timothy's support become significant, and even then she was forbidden from bringing her husband's name and works forward into public view during Sir Timothy's lifetime (Spark, 181).

Mary was certainly in a position to sympathize with her monster over the cruelty and (at least perceived) injustice of parental rejection, and, as other critics have pointed out, there is much evidence to support an identification between Mary Shelley and the monster in her novel. In marrying Percy, Mary may have believed she was acting within the confines of Godwin's views of marriage and relationships, as expressed in some of his writings (Spark, 22). Similarly, the creature is chastised for elements in its makeup (its physical deformity and misanthropic aggressions) which are truly the result of its creator's shortsightedness. More than merely the painful separation brought about by rejection, both Mary and the creature display a sense of betrayal in their reactions to their antagonistic parents.

The sense that Mary's childhood identity may have been largely predetermined by parental inclinations is evident in one of William Godwin's letters. Asked by an acquaintance about his methods of child-raising (perhaps inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft's essay On the Education of Daughters), Godwin replied :

Of the two persons to whom your inquiries relate, my own daughter

is considerably superior to the one her mother had before. Fanny,

the eldest, is of a quiet, modest, unshowy disposition, somewhat

given to indolence, which is her greatest fault, but sober, observing,

peculiarly clear and distinct in the faculty of memory, and disposed

to exercise her own thoughts and follow her own judgment. Mary,

my daughter, is the reverse of her in many particulars. She is

singularly bold, somewhat imperious and active of mind. Her desire

of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she

undertakes almost invincible. My own daughter is, I believe, very

pretty. Fanny is by no means handsome, but, in general,


(Spark, 15)

As much as Mary may have exhibited these characteristics in her later life, it is difficult to believe that her personality was so fully developed in her early teens, when this letter was written. In particular, the care with which Godwin compares her to her half-sister Fanny, apparently linking the differences in the circumstances of their births to the differences in their character, indicates that Godwin's assessment is more indicative of his own wish for a literary and intellectual heir to himself and his dead wife than anything else. The pressure which such predispositions and conceptions must have put upon young Mary may be compared to Victor's creation of his own 'child'. In both cases, a single parent, attempting to mold a perfect child and heir as a tribute to their own intellectual power, is unable to successfully set the course for his offspring, and is dismayed by the result.

The detailed history of Victor's childhood provides several similar cases of early differentiation and characterization. Victor confesses that his earliest pursuits were dedicated to learning "the secrets of heaven and earth", while Clerval "occupied himself...with the moral relations of things" (Shelley, 37). While these predilections alone might have led them to their respective futures in science and poetics, Mary Shelley goes to some lengths to detail the effect of parental intrusion on these developing lives. The Frankensteins are definitely not the demanding and tyrannical parental archetypes seen in Percy Shelley's Prometheus Unbound or The Cenci; Victor declares, " We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed." However, Mary Shelley soon points out that a beloved parent is actually more influential on his or her children than a tyrannical one. Upon finding his son engaged in reading, the elder Frankenstein looks "carelessly" at the title of the book, and remarks, "Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash." (38). Victor then explains that, had his father explained why he found Agrippa to be "sad trash", the matter might have ended there. Instead, intrigued by his father's very dismissal, Victor sets out to read not only the entire works of Agrippa, but those of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus as well. Parental condemnation, delivered without explanation, is presented as the surest way to confirm a child in his or her behavior. Similarly, Clerval's literary and educational aspirations are repeatedly denied by his father, who, quoting The Vicar of Wakefield, maintains "I have ten thousand florins a year without Greek, I eat heartily without Greek." (59). 'Eat heartily' he may, but he also alienates his son until he eventually capitulates.

Victor's adopted sister, Elizabeth Lavenza, goes through a similar process of 'molding', although in her case, it is the influence and objectification of her fellow children which determines her character. Paul Cantor and others have pointed out the semi-incestuous affection which the young Victor showers on his "more than sister", an affection characterized primarily by possessiveness: "I...looked upon Elizabeth as mine - mine to protect, love and cherish. All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own." (35) As a child, her purposes are primarily decorative: "The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine-dedicated lamp in our peaceful home...She was the living spirit of love to soften and attract..." (37), and as an adult, she seems to be little more. Her primary purpose in the novel is as the victim and object of the struggles between Victor and his creation (Youngquist, 341).

However, Elizabeth is also a primary example of another element of childhood identity in Mary's novel : social class or breeding. Victor's mother, having been reduced to poverty during her own father's later years, habitually descends upon the houses of the poor to dole out money and act, as Victor puts it, as "the guardian angel to the afflicted" (33). On one of these errands of mercy, she encounters Elizabeth for the first time:

She found a peasant and his wife, hard working, bent down by care and

labour, distributing a scanty meal to five hungry babes. Among these was

one which attracted my mother far above all the rest. She appeared of a

different stock. The four others were dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants; this

child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and

despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction

upon her head. Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless,

and the lips and the moldings of her face so expressive of sensibility and

sweetness that none could behold her without looking on her as of a

different species, a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp

in all her features.

p. 34.

We are hardly surprised to find that this radiant creature is also an aristocrat, the orphaned child of a Milanese nobleman. It is a scene which recalls the rescue of Victor's mother herself from poverty, following her father's death in Lucerne, and underscores one of the assumptions of literature which Mary Shelley faces in her novel: that worth, particularly hereditary nobility, can be recognized by physical characteristics.

This notion that physical features are indicators of internal qualities is a pervasive element in Frankenstein and its ancestors, and relevant to the discussion of judgmentality, as it provides one of the customary bases for rejection or acceptance. Greek mythology, the foundation of the Prometheus myth, is rife with characters such as Pan and Medusa, whose grotesque bodies accommodate equally grotesque natures. However, in Frankenstein's most influential precursor, Paradise Lost, Milton reverses the traditional mirroring of internal and external ugliness. Northrop Frye has suggested that the romantic era may be typified by a reversal of the traditional distinction between Augustine's angelic heights and Dante's hellish depths ; heights and airy creatures become sources of misery, while caverns and caves become sources of solace. Prometheus Unbound, or Blake's Urizen, with their sky-dwelling tyrants and cavern-born saviors provide perfect examples of this reversal. It might be suggested that Romance, particularly in the context of the gothic, is typified by a similar reversal of ugliness and beauty, & the sympathy due to each. In Frankenstein, as in Paradise Lost, there is not necessarily a direct correspondence between external and internal beauty - in the case of Milton's Satan, quite the reverse is true. Therefore, while Mary is striking a familiar chord in her readers with Victor's protestations of his monster's hideousness, she is also aware that there is room for, even a necessity for, re-interpretation of this traditional device. In short, Mary is denying her protagonist's primary excuse for his behavior: physical repulsion at the hideousness of his 'child'.

By dividing the child-figures in the novel (and, as much as possible, those in Mary's life) into inner and outer aspects, we may begin to see some of Mary's purpose in her presentation of child-parent relationships. The easiest case to examine with this model is that in which the exterior and the interior follow the traditional pattern of direct correlation. Elizabeth is both physically and spiritually beautiful, and as we have seen, Mary Shelley takes care to stress the association between these two aspects: it is her "angelic" features which distinguish her, not her angelic behavior. However, there is some suggestion, even in this most traditional of cases, that the association between inner and outer beauty is more a function of the viewer's expectations and needs than a quality inherent in Elizabeth herself. When Victor aborts his plans to create a bride for the monster, the creature revenges itself upon Henry Clerval. When the stricken scientist returns to Geneva for his marriage to Elizabeth, he describes her in terms completely unlike those in which she has heretofore been portrayed:

The sweet girl welcomed me with warm affection, yet tears were in her

eyes as she beheld my emaciated frame and feverish cheeks. I saw a

change in her also. She was thinner and had lost much of that heavenly

vivacity that had before charmed me; but her gentleness and soft looks

of compassion made her a more fit companion for one blasted and

miserable as I was.

p. 181.

It is significant that Victor finds the cause of Elizabeth's morbidity in his own emotions, rather than seeing it as her own reaction to Clerval's death. As much as Godwin may have projected his own desires for a successor onto his daughter, Elizabeth is molded by Victor's need for a perfect companion to complement his own moods. In a way, Victor has already become Elizabeth's surrogate parent, in his possessive, protective position towards her, a role which we can only assume would become even more apparent with the consummation of their marriage, with all its patriarchal associations of the husband as his wife's protector and supervisor. His application of the pathetic fallacy stresses his own over-internalization of the world around him, but also calls all judgmentality into question - particularly the judgmentality applied by parents to their children, and what this may reveal about parental motivations, rather than children's shortcomings.

The reader is already aware that, as a parent figure, Victor leaves much to be desired. His abandonment of his creation is, he protests, a result of his extreme horror at the creature's physical form: " that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room..."(56). However, he has also asserted that while composing his creature, he had "selected his features as beautiful" ; only after the creation is complete, is he able to recognize the monstrosity of his creation. As with so much that Victor asserts, the reader must try to see past a screen of Victor's own preconceptions - the monster offers no violence, and, in fact, slips quietly off somewhere, presumably to die. Only later cruelties, we discover, serve to fashion a monstrous interior to match the hideous exterior of the creature, whose beginnings are positively pastoral. The only excuses we can make for Victor's abandonment of his 'child' are the same short-sighted ones which must be offered for the death of the innocent Justine in the next chapter: shortsightedness, and the lazy inability of parents (or society in general) to look beyond the most convenient course of action, or the most self-serving judgment.

By the time the creature does decide to live up to its fearsome exterior, the reader is in a position to doubt any assessment made by Victor, or any other authority, as to the validity of judging another creature. For example, all of the adults concerned protest loudly about the innocence of the child William, and the disastrous unfairness of his death - yet they are willing to see Justine committed to death without raising more than a few token protestations. William himself, furthermore, is not the innocent and angelic creature we have been led to expect. Rather, upon encountering the monster for the first time, his reactions mirror those of his brother Victor : "He struggled violently. 'Let me go,' he cried; 'monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go or I will tell my papa.'" Unable to flee as Victor did, William promptly resorts to the other standard he has been taught to judge people with, his social class: "'Hideous monster! Let me go. My papa is a syndic - he is M. Frankenstein - he will punish you. You dare not keep me.'" (136). If not justified in his murder, the monster at least confirms what Mary Shelley maintains throughout the novel : the urge to judge and condemn is too easily come by, and almost always for the wrong reasons.

Since Mary Shelley has pointed out that traditional methods of judging characters in literature, such as external appearance and social status, are unreliable, we must begin to question on what basis all of the child characters in this novel are being judged, and why. There is a consistent pattern of judgment, condemnation and subsequent rejection or destruction which parents direct against their children: Henry's father's denial of his son's education, the elder Frankenstein's summary condemnation of Justine, who lives as a child under his protection, and, of course, Victor's denial and rejection of his creation.

As mentioned before, some critics see this pattern of parental judgmentality as Mary's reply to the condemnations of her own father. While it is certainly probable that Mary identified with the creature's fate, the pattern seems too pervasive to be explained solely in such personal terms. It is also possible to argue that this removal of children from their parents sphere, whether through rejection or through death, may have been Mary's way of dealing with the death of her own children, and her subsequent fears for her later children. The most telling argument for this position is the fact that, at the time of the composition of Frankenstein, Mary's own son William was undergoing a difficult infancy. The notion that she could have introduced a child character with the same name as her own son and then had him savagely murdered without some measure of self-torture or misgiving is ridiculous (Knoepflmacher, 93) . However, while Mary may indeed have been fearfully anticipating the death of her own child in this scene, such an interpretation does not account for the repeated theme of judgment and condemnation which surrounds William's death. Not only does William denounce the monster for his ugliness, but the monster then returns the favor, condemning William to death on the basis of his relationship with Victor, which leads to the trial and unjust death of Justine. While the incident must have held particularly personal resonance for Mary Shelley and her fears for her child, it seems most significant in its relationship to the broader themes of the novel.

However, while children may be at the mercy of their parents, the reverse is also often true - there are many instances where the child figure holds the power of life and death over their parents' heads. It has already been mentioned that Mary's mother died in childbirth, for which Mary might have felt some responsibility. In similar circumstances, the young Elizabeth Lavenza is responsible for the death of her adopted mother when she lies sick with scarlet fever. Unwilling to stand off while the child recuperates, Caroline rushes to the child's bedside and contracts the illness which kills her (42-3). The young Elizabeth is abjured to take Caroline's place regarding the younger children, usurping the parental role - a substitution which is underscored by Victor's dream, in which he sees Elizabeth transformed into the image of his dead mother. The power which children hold over their parents is not always so negatively portrayed, however: the elder De Lacey, blind as he is, is completely dependent upon the assistance of his children for his survival, and the young Caroline Beaufort is certainly instrumental in prolonging and preserving the life of her father, before he succumbs to poverty.

Nor are the children in the novel unaware of the power they can wield over their parents. The monster, for instance, is quite well aware of the fact that the traditional hierarchy of parent and child has been reversed:

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself

unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you

believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the

light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your

master; obey!"

p. 160

Mary's own father was similarly 'at the mercy' of his children. Godwin was often financially embarrassed, and relied upon support from Percy and Mary, even as he condemned them for their lifestyle. Muriel Spark points out that Percy and Godwin were merely bringing into effect a social and economic plan of which they both approved, in which the son of the wealthy squire Sir Timothy supported the works of the statesman and essayist Godwin ; a relationship between a patron and his supported artist, rather than between a man and his father-in-law (Spark, 9,48). It is unknown whether Mary believed in the actualization of this system, however, and based on letters in which she repeatedly lamented Godwin's effect upon the young couple's rather weak finances, it seems unlikely she could have approved.

This seems to imply that Mary had a rather dim view of parent-child relationships, which so often in her novel, as in her life, are predicated upon antagonistic power struggles. However, she was also aware that children are introduced to their most positive relationships through their parents. Victor and Clerval are introduced to the angelic Elizabeth through the agency of Mrs. Frankenstein, and Victor often notes her salubrious effect upon himself and his comrade. As has been noted, Victor interprets this introduction to Elizabeth as a preset made to himself, and his eventual intention to wed her provides the culmination of this idyll. The monster is similarly dependent upon his parental figure for a mate:

..."You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the

interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you

alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right which you must not

refuse to concede."

p. 138

The fact that Victor 'alone' can fulfill the monster's need for love is significant. The creature is not asking for a reconciliation with his creator, instead promising to flee into the wilderness if this wish is granted. The monster has, in effect, gone beyond the need for parental affection, having rejected those bonds with the murder of William. Yet he still relies upon his unreliable father for anything like romantic fulfillment, and Victor agrees that it is 'within his power' to bestow that fulfillment.

This dependence upon the parental figure for romantic fulfillment may also be said to be true of Mary's relationship with Percy, since she was introduced to the poet through his association with her father. Like Victor being chastised for reading Cornelius Agrippa, Mary may have perversely found the censure of her father to actually be a spur for her actions.

It is the denial of these introductions to mature relationships which is destructive to the parent. Victor's creation is furious when he is denied his bride, and swears that if his wish is not satisfied, Victor will be destroyed (160-1). Mary was not able, and perhaps not willing, to destroy Godwin for his condemnation of her relationship with Percy in so direct a fashion, but she was responsible for something which he actually may have feared far worse: notoriety. "What I have most of all in horror is the public papers," he confessed in his letter to Mary on the event of Fanny's suicide, and it was just this horror which she aggravated, directly or inadvertently, by eloping with Percy and fleeing her parents' home. The monster takes his revenge by inserting himself into Victor's most private relationship, the marriage bed, claiming "I shall be with you on your wedding night" - in effect, taking from Victor that which the creature himself desires, a mate. Mary's revenge was to insert herself into Godwin's public existence, creating the scandal he always sought to avoid.

However, if the parent indulges the child's need for positive, loving relationships, there must be a consequent weakening or destruction of the parent/child bond. In a way, Frankenstein is a story of parental 'empty nest' syndrome ; and an argument for parental release of their children's affections. It would be reading too much into the text to assume that this latter message is directed explicitly at William Godwin - but it is not too much to assume that this is part of the intent. Godwin is reported as having 'doted' upon his daughter, and his letters certainly indicate that he held her in a higher regard than any of his other children.

This is also in some ways a reinforcement of the idea that children come to their ideas of love and relationships through their parents: if they are given good examples, and given the freedom to develop on their own when necessary, they develop consequently positive romantic relationships. The Frankensteins allow Victor and Elizabeth to develop and mature at their own pace, sending Victor off to college when he chooses to go, and their relationship (Victor and Elizabeth's) is consequently positive, or at least positive within the traditional strictures of nineteenth-century marriages, however short-lived. The monster, by contrast is provided with no positive 'role-model' for his relationships with others, and consequently, against his own best efforts, develops into a beast (Moers, 104-5). Years before the connection would be made in the popular consciousness, Mary Shelley is pointing out that the children of child-abusers become themselves child-abusers...and that further, children given no example of positive romantic relations find it impossible to develop romantic relations.

The perfect child development story in Mary Shelley's view is one of repetitive cycles, in which parents assist their child in development, then progressively release their authority as the child develops external bonds and relationships to replace those of the parents. The most positive family group in the novel is the De Lacey's, with its elder generation passively supported by younger generations which have taken over the active, productive, and providing roles. Older generations provide wisdom and guidance without interference in the relationships of their children. For Mary Shelley, who had so much difficulty with her own childhood, and so much disappointment in the deaths of her own children, the conception of herself passing on her role to a new generation must have seemed ideal. In this light, Frankenstein displays not so much the revolutionary aesthetic of Percy Shelley, typified by the destruction of parental authority figures in Prometheus Unbound, as the evolutionary aesthetic of an idealistic young mother-to-be, who wants nothing more than for the natural cycle to be consummated.

Works Cited

  • Cantor, Paul. Creature and Creator ; Myth-making and English Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1984).
  • Ellis, Kate. "Monsters in the Garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois Family." in The Endurance of Frankenstein, George Levine & U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press (1979).
  • Fisch, Audrey A., Mellor, Anne K., and Schor, Esther H., eds.. The Other Mary Shelley ; Beyond Frankenstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1993).
  • Hall, Jean. "Frankenstein : The Horrifying Otherness of Family." Essays in Literature, V. 17, n.2, (Fall, 1990).
  • Kiceluk, Stephanie. "Made in His Image: Frankenstein's Daughters." Michigan Quarterly Review, V. 30, n.1, (Winter, 1991).
  • Knoepflmacher, U.C. "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters." in The Endurance of Frankenstein, George Levine & U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds. Berkeley: University of  California Press (1979).
  • Moers, Ellen. "Female Gothic." in The Endurance of Frankenstein, George Levine & U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press (1979).
  • Rajan, Tilottama. "Mary Shelley's Mathilda: Melancholy and the Political Economy of Romanticism." Studies in the Novel, V. 26, n.2, (Summer, 1994).
  • Scott, Peter Dale. "Vital Artifice: Mary, Percy, and the Psychopolitical Integrity of  Frankenstein." in The Endurance of Frankenstein, George Levine & U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press (1979).
  • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein ; or, the Modern Prometheus. United States: Signet, (1983).
  • Spark, Muriel. Mary Shelley. United Kingdom: E.P. Dutton, (1987) (revised text of Child  of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Shelley, originally published 1951)
  • Youngquist, Paul. "Frankenstein: The Mother, the Daughter, and the Monster." Philological Quarterly, V. 70, n.3, (Summer, 1991).

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