One of my most pathetic memories is being 17 years old, sitting in a Melting Pot with my sister and her boyfriend, explaining the plot of Frankenstein, and having my eyes fill up with tears. Clearly, Mary Shelley’s book had an unusual hold over me, since when you think of Frankenstein, you probably aren’t crying. Here’s the problem: I read Frankenstein for AP English Literature, and our teacher taught it to us in a way which emphasized Mary Shelley’s issues with her mother.
Here’s what I remember: Shelley’s mother was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, a feminist goddess who died while giving birth to Mary, her second child. Mary grew up cherishing her mother’s memory, but as she grew up, it appears that she became resentful at the fact of her mother’s death, which to her felt like an abandonment. She wrote Frankenstein when she was 18 years old, and while it’s remarkably sophisticated for such a young writer, there are emotions present within the narrative which speak to her despair at being “abandoned”.
The way we examined it in my class, we saw that Mary’s mother could be the inspiration for Victor Frankenstein, who is so repulsed by his monster that he immediately flees from it and dismisses his part in its creation. Eventually, when the Creator and Creation meet once more, the monster says, “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.” I still think you can read this part and see it as Mary wondering why human beings are allowed to create life if they are only going to desert what they create. In other words, I read the book and see a young girl simply asking her mother why she wasn’t there for her.
The death of Mary’s mother wasn’t anybody’s fault, but I can see how Mary might feel betrayed by her loss. The book makes me emotional because even more than anger or bitterness, the Monster is characterized by a simple longing for the person who was supposed to love him the most. It’s that loneliness and despair that upsets me the most, and I think the Monster’s emotions are written so poignantly that it’s only natural to wonder if there is a real-life inspiration to his characterization. I realize that there are far more scholarly interpretations and I don’t doubt that they are credible, but I’ll always read the book and see within it the yearnings of a grief-stricken daughter.