In 1816, Mary Shelley, a young British novelist, wrote what would become one of the greatest bestsellers of all time: Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. But in this philosophical novel, hides the dark side of the Enlightenment. This 18th century cultural and philosophical movement, which promotes rationalism, individualism, and liberalism, sees its modernist vision of the world being criticized.
Mary Shelley’s story
More than 200 years ago, the writer wrote her great masterpiece, Frankenstein, near Geneva. If today, it is one of the symbols of the Halloween party goes by Halloween Frankenstein, this philosophical novel aims above all to offer a rational and critical reflection on the experimental science of the Enlightenment through the Promethean myth of the cadaveric monster.
Born in 1797, Mary Shelley, daughter of a feminist and an anarchist philosopher, was educated according to the rules set out in Emile by JJ Rousseau. This book offers a “ new education system ” through the imaginary character of Emile, whom the author presents as a model student. Rousseau’s work has had a great influence on education in Europe, as far as America.
Mary and her husband, the young poet Percy B. Shelley, admire the philosopher and his desire to link human nature with society and the expression of the sensitive. It is therefore influenced by these precepts that the author writes the first version of her philosophical novel.
An Apocalyptic atmosphere
In April 1815, terrible volcanic eruptions occurred on the island of Sumbawa, located in Indonesia. The Tambora eruptions, which killed nearly 700,000 people, were the cause of global climate change. Everywhere on earth, a gigantic cloud is spreading which blocks the sun’s rays from the world. This stratovolcano sprayed into the stratosphere 60 million tons of sulfur dioxide and ash. The year 1816 saw no summer but instead, frost and snow were present. Unleashed nature created many torments, for example by contributing to the famine that struck Switzerland between 1816 and 1817.
It is in this end-of-the-world atmosphere that Mary Shelley‘s anxieties and insomnia intensify. With her husband and her half-sister Claire Clairmont, they feed their morbid reverie by evoking all kinds of stories, like that of the inventor Erasmus Darwin who, at the end of the 18th century, galvanized corpses to measure their irritability. nervous. It is alongside monsters and ghosts that Mary decides to write a story of specters according to the Gothic tradition.
Following the cultural ardor of the 1750s caused by the rediscovery of medieval architecture, the Gothic Romanesque, which sees the supernatural as an alternative path to knowledge, is experiencing tremendous success. The Cartesianism, rationalism and progressive optimism of the Enlightenment are then shaken by the expression of the torn sensibility of the modern individual.
The development of science
In the 17th century, with the Enlightenment movement, comes a real boom in the scientific spirit with the theorization of a new method: the experimental method. This only considers true what has been proven by experience. Humanity is facing a veritable scientific revolution as many established truths are called into question.
At the same time, Galileo proposes the hypothesis of heliocentrism in opposition to geocentrism. It is the Earth that revolves around the sun and not the other way around. The latter is no longer considered to be the center of the universe and the foundations of the society of the time are shaken. This century is also marked by many scientific advances such as the theorization of the evolution of species which will pave the way for Darwin, or the construction of the laws of gravitation by Isaac Newton.
But this century, where science and philosophy take a flight to ensure the progressive emancipation of humanity, hides a completely different face. The universalist dream of the happiness of humanity through truth, beauty, and goodness collapses in favor of an imperialist nightmare.
In addition, enlightened thought is challenged because carnal and individual values have been replaced by inhuman conceptual abstractions. From a political point of view, the rationalism promoted by the Revolution is accused of having built delusional values doomed to turn against its designers. It is this modern notion of the world that Mary Shelley denounces in her story.
After completing the writing of her work, Mary Shelley published it anonymously in London in 1818. Its French translation would come out three years later: Frankenstein ou le Prométhée moderne. In 1831, it was reissued under its author’s name, offering a final version with 309 variants.
The hero of his book, Victor Frankenstein, is introduced as the demiurge of the Enlightenment. Son of one of the “ most distinguished families ”, he practices anatomical science to grasp the causes of death and attempt to give life. He dreams, like God, of creating a Man. To do this, he searches slaughterhouses and dissection rooms to collect all kinds of cadaveric debris that may be useful to him at the birth of his creature. 8 feet high, the latter is a mass of reanimated dead flesh.
When she finally opens her eyes, the scientist is torn between his emotions, wonder and repulsion. Disgusted by his work, Victor flees his laboratory, abandoning the monster, orphaned from his first breath. The creature then finds itself alone, wandering in nature and maddening crowds.
As she sets out to discover the world and the sensations it gives her, she meets a blind musician who welcomes her with kindness. The beast suffering from immense loneliness then finds in man a sweet comfort. Over time, the creature becomes human by learning to speak, read and decipher feelings.
Overwhelm in the face of loneliness
Miserable in his forced solitude, the monster reproaches its creator, Victor, for having given birth to it. He then wishes to be compensated by the scientist by asking him to animate a female creature so that he can flourish. Thus, he could live in “communion with a being in every respect like [him]”. Victor Frankenstein gives in to his request and, three years after animating his first creature, he breathes life into his second. But faced with his latest creation, he becomes aware of his actions.
If the two beings do not repel each other but, on the contrary, attract each other and decide to unite and procreate, mankind will be plunged into terror and biological chaos. . His responsibility for the birth of this chaos grieves him and leads him to destroy what he had just created. Faced with the horror of this spectacle, the creature, doomed to live with the heavyweight of her loneliness, under a surge of fury, goes off to kill her creator’s fiancée.
At the end of a long chase, the creature and the creator sink, each in turn. Like Prometheus who steals fire from the gods, the Enlightenment is punished for their scientific follies. Placing itself outside the human race erected by god, the creature then embodies the moral monstrosity that separates science and ethics.
But despite its frightening appearance, the creature remains less monstrous than the foolishly presumptuous scholar. Shelley’s work, therefore, illustrates the reversal of progress against humanity according to Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men (1755), which criticizes the philosophers of the Enlightenment and their belief in progress. moral and human.
Modern Day Addoptaions
Having such in-depth and gore details about Frankenstein. Hollywood has made movies and used Frankenstein as a character adaptation.
Here is the list of a few movies based on Fracanstine.
- Frankenstein (1931)
- The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Gods and Monsters (1998)
Frankenstein Halloween is one of the famous theme for decades. No matter how long it has been passed there will always be a little Frankenstein knocking on your door for candies. The name Frankenstein has become a synonym for Halloween and is widely associated with monsters. In fact, Halloween is not complete without Halloween Frankenstein.