The Themes, Styles, And Techniques Of Mary Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was a widely-known author that created the famous novel Frankenstein and was the daughter of the well-known feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary gained an interest in writing ever since she was young, and developed an even greater interest when she married her late husband, Percy Shelley. Although Mary’s mother passed away at an early age, she developed many writing techniques and political ideas from her mother’s experience (Badalamenti 420).
Mary Shelley had lived a wonderful life with Percy and she lived with him during the period of his greatest poetic achievement (Feldman 287). Mary not only helped Percy with his writing, but also gained most of her ideas from unpublished literary manuscripts that she began assembling and transcribing directly after his death (287). Mary made a secret promise to herself to continue his writing and make sure that his name would be remembered for the great works of poetry he created (288). Although Mary never completed Percy’s biography, she released Percy’s Posthumous Poems which eventually led to conflict between Mary and her in-laws (288). While Mary was writing about Percy, she discovered a lot more about his younger days then she had ever known before and realized how great of a poet her husband really was (288). Mary developed a love for romanticism and realized that she wanted to write more about the power of her own imagination and began digging deeper into her early life (293).
Mary even writes “the idea of my unhappy, wandering father was the idol of my imagination. I bestowed on him all my affections; there was a miniature of him that I gazed on continually; I copied his last letter and read it again and again … I repeated with transport those words ‘One day I may claim her at your hands” (Moore 210). This quote shows Mary’s true love and affection for her late husband and showed that she would do anything to make sure that his name doesn’t die in vain.
Although the height of Mary’s romanticism occurred after the death of her husband she developed a taste for it during arguably the worst part of her life (Bunnell 75). Mary began developing her famous Mathilda after the deaths of her two children who were only one and three at the time (75). Mathilda had a strong theme of romanticism that allowed the reader to really understand the emotions that Shelley was going through at that time in her life, which led to many readers focusing on the message behind the story rather than the writing itself (76). Charlene Bunnell explains Mathilda to readers by stating “if we put aside Shelley’s personal experience and read the work as her first-person narrator’s memoir, then the theatrical rhetoric and intense subjectivity clearly reflect Mathilda’s artistic sensibility rather than Shelley’s” (76). Although many say that Mathilda wasn’t written as well as many of Shelley’s other works it displays Shelleys expertise in creating a character in an extremely dramatic piece of work and depicts the dangers that the characters go through by a strong use of emotion and illusion (76). In the story Mathilda is a twenty year old woman whose mother passed away due to her being conceived and has a father who abandoned his parental role (76). Mathilda realizes later in the story that her father comes back sixteen years later and tells her that he loves her and wants to marry her (76). Mathilda’s father eventually passes away and she is left on her own once again and begins to write down everything that she does and has done in the past (76). While Mathilda’s psychological health deteriorates and her physical capabilities are more limited, she begins by reading her last memoir out loud and eventually passes away (76). The strong use of Romanticism in throughout the book can clearly be related to Mary’s early life and really shows the reader the hardships that some people have to go through in their life (77).
Although readers see a lot of romanticism in Matilda, there are clear parts of Valerga that display a significant amount of romanticism (Kelley 625). Valerga may not have the same personal feelings that Matilda gives but it gives a great representation of how romanticism can be everything from depressing topics, personal issues, and connections between people (626). In the story Castruccio Castracani is a military leader and comes across the fictional fortress of Valperga where he meets the “love of his life,” and claims that she is the most beautiful girl he has ever seen (627). Castruccio eventually gives the young woman an option between staying with him and devoting herself to him, or staying with her political liberties and remaining at the castle of Valperga; The woman chooses to stay at the castle and is killed by the army (627). The woman being killed by the army not only reflects on how romanticism can be dark and even depressing at times, which shows how Mary’s early and late life really affected her writing (627). Soon after Mary developed Valperga she received many mixed thoughts from her audience and many people were surprised with how graphic and in detail it was written (Moore 208). Many people believed that the story was written in a dark or serious story that “intrigued and horrified her readers” (208). William Goodwin states that he was “appalled by the tale….. if it were ever published it would need a preface to prevent readers from being tormented by the fall of the heroine” (208). Although both Mathilda and Valperga were both seen as dramatic and romantic styled passages, many believe that Mathilda displayed a much harsher and deeper meaning to many of its readers (208). Many people believe that Mathilda displayed a strong sense of female power and was one of Shelley’s first hint towards feminism in her writings (208). Many well-respected authors and enthusiasts believe that Shelley tried to incorporate a piece of feminism in this work in remembrance of her mother who she lost at birth (208). As many people know, Mary loved to base her writing off of childhood memories and different stages of her life that helped her become where she is now (208). Although Mary didn’t fully know her mother, she definitely knew the impact she had on many women during that era because of her stance in politics (209). In Mathilda, Mathilda, displays a powerful role for women to be powerful actresses rather than submissive victims (209). Kathleen A. Miller tries to explain how Mathilda’s character is not only affecting other characters in the story because she is a woman, but it also affects women in the real world and it truly shows them that they could become whatever they want to be if they truly push for it (210). As Julie Carlson suggests, by writing her life story on her deathbed, Mathilda links writing to death from the start of the novella; imminent death and her special status as victim has given her the license to write ‘what she could not say while living’ about the taboo of father/daughter incest and how her father was oblivious ever since her birth (210). Mary does a great job relating her loneliness of losing her husband and her kids to the way that Mathilda feels lonely or misplaced in Mathilda (211).
Mary Wollstonecraft died during the birth of Mary, yet had already been influencing her life since birth (211). Mary even states that her main reason for creating Mathilda was for the better of women’s rights and to almost promote helping women gain rights (214). Mary also says that the main focus of her works are based around women gaining more rights and wanted people to realize how many women are sexually abused, victims that never speak out, and women who are constantly oppressed for their beliefs (214). Mary states that she wanted to put herself in the place of the main character to help people better understand what it feels like to be in an unsafe situation (214). The main character, Mathilda, plays a role that not only makes young women intrigued but scared at the same time because of how real Mary makes most of the events in the book (214). Mary claims that she needed to make the character as realistic as possible to allow for many young women to realize that they need to stand for their rights and to not be scared in what they believe in (214). This new style of writing allows for many feminists to expose the idea of feminism throughout the world, which allowed for young women and even men to join the movement (214). Ever since the publication of Shelley’s Mathilda, critics have torn this work apart because of the “taboo tale of sexual victimization” and “sexual threats” to young women and is a scare rather than a message that Shelley was intending to send (212).
Although Mathilda and Valperga were famous works that Shelley created, her most infamous work was Frankenstein. Mary began developing Frankenstein after receiving ideas from Brockden Brown’s Wieland (Steinman 128). Mary began developing ideas from this story by noticing the different techniques that a Brown used to try to engage his reader to their highest potential (128). Mary began becoming obsessed on how her audience perceived her works and realized that she needed to create something out of the ordinary and something that would make people glued to the book (128). Mary created Frankenstein in remembrance of Percy Shelley and the hardships that they had to overcome during their relationship (Badalamenti 419). This novel was meant to describe Mary’s intimate connection with not only a Percy himself, but also his works (419). Mary explains that she wished she had showed more love to Percy before he passed and that she feels like it is all her fault (419). Mary shows many different styles of writing throughout this novel and she even tells the reader that the main cause for the book is her love for her husband (419). This novel creates two different styles of theme that include making the reader feel extreme emotions towards the protagonist, while at the same time the plot of the novel suggests that Frankenstein was not man made and rather not known how he was made (419). Badalamenti suggests that Mary shelley includes a tremendous amount of emotion in Frankenstein to specifically cope with the loss of her husband and allow other readers to feel her emotions personally (419). This is a common theme that we see in Shelley’s works and it truly makes Shelley’s works very different from any other author’s work. Badalamenti states “Decoding is the chief tool used in this attempt to divine Mary Shelley’s motives. It is a means of finding the unconscious meanings hidden by substitution, a defense used to consciously express an emotionally charged but unconscious issue that would be unbearable were its real meaning open to conscious view. In summary form, decoding is a means of finding the implicit emotional meanings of a substitution or encoding” (419). This quote explains the way that Shelley incorporates emotions into Frankenstein. The beginning of the story Frankenstein was originally created because Mary couldn’t fall asleep one night and finally awoke and began writing the novel (423). At first Mary had developed a simple story but was eventually pushed to turn it into a novel by her husband Percy (423). Mary was pushed to turn it into a novel because of how intrigued Percy was and she trusted her husband because she believed that he was a better writer than her (423). Mary eventually procrastinates about finishing the story yet seems to not be able to give up the memory of the dream that she had that allowed her to begin writing the novel in the first place (423). Mary eventually has the birth of a daughter and immediately begins thinking of the night of that nightmare and how she can relate emotional moments from her life into important parts of stories (424). Mary began writing Frankenstein quite literally and made most of the characters emotions in the story extremely similar to what she was feeling at that time (424). Since the beginning of the story, there has been a clear and present theme of Romanticism that truly allows the reader to feel all of the emotions that the characters feel (Shug 608). Shug explains how he believes that Frankenstein is not only a genius piece of work, but it also is a great example of a narrative that uses the theme of a Romanticism to complement how well the story is actually structured (608). Shug states “the novel’s three narrators are in the same position that Shelley herself is in: each of the narrators confronts events from a particular vantage point and a limited perspective; each tries to force the listener into participation in his vision, just as Shelley seeks to force the reader into participation in hers; and each seeks to do
internally in the novel what Shelley tries to do for the reader: to use narrative to establish a sense of order, of logic and rationality” (608). Shug does a great job by showing that the characters in the story are truly meant to resemble Shelley’s personal life and special parts of her life that have stuck with her forever (608). Shug also states that he believes that Shelley drew specific themes and styles from previous poems that both her and her husband have written and actually use that writing technique to engage the reader (608).
Many of Mary’s famous works incorporate something about her husband whether they are good or bad things. In most of her works she references the time when he took a trip across the Bay of Spezia to clear his mind after Mary had a miscarriage (Sawyer 15). This trip was especially important for growth in Mary’s them because it allowed Mary to reflect on the entirety of her life and really bring out the memories that she has had throughout her life (15). The miscarriage that Mary had made her realize the importance of becoming closer with the people that you truly love and allowed her to incorporate different styles of writing into her works (15). Mary also developed a love for Shakespeare due to her father’s love for him (15). Shakespeare was an especially important writer at the time because he was one of the first major authors to incorporate personal events or feelings into their writing (15).
- Badalamenti, Anthony F. “Why Did Mary Shelley Write Frankenstein?” Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006, pp. 419–439. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27512949.
- Bunnell, Charlene E. “‘Mathilda’: Mary Shelley’s Romantic Tragedy.” Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 46, 1997, pp. 75–96. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30210369.
- Britton, Jeanne M. “Novelistic Sympathy in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 48, no. 1, 2009, pp. 3–22. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25602177.
- Feldman, Paula R. “Biography and the Literary Executor: The Case of Mary Shelley.” he Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 72, no. 3, 1978, pp. 287–297. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24302120.
- Kelley, Theresa M. “Romantic Temporality, Contingency, and Mary Shelley.” ELH, vol. 75, no. 3, 2008, pp. 625–652. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27654628.
- Moore, Melina. “Mary Shelley’s ‘Mathilda’ and the Struggle for Female Narrative Subjectivity.” Rocky Mountain Review, vol. 65, no. 2, 2011, pp. 208–215. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23073192.
- Pelo, Florence Boylston. “Some Unpublished Letters of Mary Shelley.” The North American Review, vol. 204, no. 732, 1916, pp. 727–740. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25108979.
- Sawyer, Robert. “Mary Shelley and Shakespeare: Monstrous Creations.” South Atlantic Review, vol. 72, no. 2, 2007, pp. 15–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27784706.
- Schug, Charles. “The Romantic Form of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 17, no. 4, 1977, pp. 607–619. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/450311.
- Steinman, Lisa M. “Transatlantic Cultures: Godwin, Brown, and Mary Shelley.” The Wordsworth Circle, vol. 32, no. 3, 2001, pp. 126–130. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24044776.