Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was destined to be an enigma. She was born August 30, 1797 in Somers Town, England to two highly intellectual, unorthodox, but profoundly influential parents. Her father, William, was a historian, journalist, and philosophist. He was a champion of utilitarianism, an advocate of anarchism, and was best known for his published works which attacked political institutions and aristocratic privilege. He was extremely influential during the Enlightenment Period and through his connections Mary would be introduced to many of the most prominent philosophers, authors, and poets of the time. This in turn would lead her to meet her future husband. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a writer, philosopher, and activist whose main passion was women’s rights. In her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she contends that women are equal to men in everything but education, and she believed that the practice of social order was irrational. Her thoughts and views were revolutionary at the time and would be an enormous influence on the young Mary.
Unfortunately, Mary would only come to know her mother through her writings. Wollstonecraft would die from complications from childbirth only eleven days after Mary’s birth. The legacy she left behind would become a comfort to her young daughter and would inspire her to become a writer. After the death of his wife, Godwin, would be overwhelmed with the task of raising Mary and her two sisters, Wollstonecraft’s children from previous relationships. His frustration would lead to a quick marriage. He would marry, Mary Jane Clairmont, a cold, aloof woman who did not relate well to Mary. Mary was cheeky and headstrong which did not sit well with her new stepmom. Clairmont would favor her children over Mary and her sisters and would not allow them to be formally educated. Therefore, Mary would be educated at home in domesticated chores, but would spend all her free time at her mother’s grave reading her writings and those of her father’s contemporaries.
Mary’s father’s marriage would be the biggest catalyst to Mary’s development as a person and as a writer. At 18, had Mary blossomed into an educated, confident, and well-spoken young woman. Her knowledge and interest in her parent’s beliefs and works helped to draw her closer to her Father, who relished engaging her in lively debates of philosophy. This time would become a pivotal point in Mary’s life. Her father would offer entertain many of the most interesting figures of the day. One of their frequent guests, was poet Percy Shelley. Though Percy was married, he would connect with Mary over poetry and a shared admiration of her Mother and Father’s work. Mary embraced Percy Shelley as the epitome of her parent’s ideologies. The two would become inseparable but would face extreme resistance to their relationship, especially from her Father. The couple eloped, and Mary would be estranged from her father for several years. Though the couple seemed to adore each other their relationship was often tumultuous and the next few years was wrought with tragedy. Percy’s wife was pregnant and committed suicide while pregnant with his child. The couple tried to gain custody of Percy’s other children but were denied due to their affair and Percy’s lifestyle. In a matter of two years Mary’s sister would commit suicide and Mary would give birth to two babies that would die as infants. After all the losses the two decided to travel to Switzerland.
The summer was marred by terrible weather caused by a huge volcanic eruption in Indonesia. The couple often were holed up in their chalet with other poetic colleagues including Lord Byron. It was during one of these nights that Mary Shelley’s most famous work would be inspired. Byron would challenge everyone to a ghost-writing contest. Mary was up to the challenge. After a dream Mary conceived one of the most iconic novels of all time, Frankenstein. Many of the tragedies that Mary experienced are expressed throughout novel. It can be said that Frankenstein is a parallel of Mary Shelley’s tragic life.
Shelley’s gothic novel, Frankenstein, begins aboard a ship en route for the North Pole. The captain of the ship, a man named Walton, through correspondence with his sister discloses how his crew recovered a man at drifting at sea. The letter reveals the identity of the man to be Victor Frankenstein. The letter discloses the details of the rescue, and how as Walton attempts to nurse him, Victor begins to chronicle his story. The story begins with Victor recounting his idyllic childhood and introducing his loving family including Elizabeth, a beautiful girl adopted by the Frankensteins. Victor describes to Walton the special friendship and love he has for Elizabeth and introduces his best friend, Henry Clerval. Frankenstein relates how even before he turns seventeen he loses his mother to scarlet fever and this leads to him traveling to Ingolstadt to study. Grief stricken Victor dives into the study of “natural philosophy” with a mad fervor, studying the secrets of “life” with such ardor that he totally alienates his family. He works day and night searching for the secrets he seeks. Finally, one night he finds what he has been looking for. The secret to bring forth a new life. With the ambition to produce a new, benevolent race, Victor creates his first creature. Though the experiment is a success, the creature is so gruesome that Frankenstein decides he must not advance his experiments any further and must leave the monster behind.
Victor desires for the monster to just disappear and become a bad dream, but he discovers that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered and he sees the monster haunting the murder site. Victor is sure that the monster is guilty of the murder but knows that it would be pointless to tell. An adopted family member, Justine Moritz, is accused of the crime, convicted, and executed. Victor overcome with despair hikes into the Alps. He begs for the beauty and majesty of nature to heal him of his guilt and grief. It is not to be, because out of the majesty of the mountains the monster appears. The monster expresses the anguish and exclusion he has suffered due to his gruesome appearance. He only longs to be accepted and loved and he knows that he will never be accepted by humanity. The monster communicates to Victor the rage he feels due to his isolation, and people’s failure to recognize his humaneness. The monster appeals to Victor as his creator to create him a companion. At first hesitant, Victor eventually concedes. Through his father’s wishes Victors becomes engaged to Elizabeth but tells him he must take care of something in England before they can wed. Victor travels to a remote island and sets about creating the female companion. Victor’s conscious begins to get the better of him, and he worries that the female might become more lethal than the first. Victor realizes that the monster is watching him. The sight of the monster petrifies him, and he decides to dismantle the female. The monster pledges revenge and vows to be with Victor on his wedding night. Victor throws the remnants of the female monster into the ocean. Upon returning to land, Victor finds out that he has been accused of murder and learns that it is his friend Clerval. He knows that the monster is to blame. Totally distraught, Victor has a nervous breakdown and is inconsolable for several months. Victor’s father comes to his aid. He recovers and returns with his father to Geneva. Victor and Elizabeth marry but on their wedding night the monster murders Elizabeth, and Victor’s father succumbs to grief soon after. Victor sets out to enact revenge and rid the world of the monster. He pursues the monster all the way to the Artic and becomes trapped on the ice and here is where Walton’s story began. As Walton continues the letters, he describes how despite his best efforts he is unable to save Victor, who passes soon after being rescued from the ice.
The final letter details how Walton comes upon the monster lamenting over the body of Victor. Walton alleges that the monster possesses no feelings of remorse, but the monster claims that its life has been the most tragic, and he has suffered the most by far. Victor’s death cures the monster’s desire for vengeance and he sets out to end his life.
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