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An Exclusive Interview with Mary Shelley, Mastermind Behind “Frankenstein”


Welcome, dear readers, to an extraordinary journey through time and literature. Today, we have the unique opportunity to delve into the mind of one of the most iconic figures in literary history – Mary Shelley, the mastermind behind the timeless classic, “Frankenstein.” As we sit down for this esteemed interview, let us transport ourselves to the early 19th century, where imagination ran wild, societal norms were challenged, and the seeds of groundbreaking Gothic literature were sown.

Mary Shelley, born as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on August 30, 1797, was no ordinary woman of her time. Raised amidst intellectual circles, she was surrounded by some of the greatest thinkers of the Romantic era, including her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. By inheritance, she possessed an indomitable spirit, fueled by a fervent passion for storytelling and a longing for creative expression.

It was in the summer of 1816, during a fateful vacation in Switzerland, that Mary Shelley’s name became etched in literary history forever. Inspired by a ghost story competition among friends, she penned the first draft of “Frankenstein,” a gripping tale that would captivate minds across generations. At just twenty years old, Mary Shelley’s creation would go on to become a cultural phenomenon, resonating deeply with audiences and immersing them in the moral dilemmas of science, ambition, and the essence of humanity.

Today, as we sit here, ready to embark on this extraordinary journey, we have the privilege of witnessing history come alive. Through our conversation with Mary Shelley, we hope to unearth the inspirations that led her to create one of literature’s most enduring and thought-provoking tales. Join us as we delve into the realm of creativity, imagination, and the depths of the human soul – all through the lens of a remarkable woman who defied convention and left an indelible mark on the literary world.

Who is Mary Shelley?

Mary Shelley was an acclaimed English novelist, best known for her timeless masterpiece “Frankenstein.” Born on August 30, 1797, in London, England, she was the daughter of renowned philosopher and political writer William Godwin and feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Tragically, Shelley’s mother passed away shortly after her birth.

Shelley’s upbringing was heavily influenced by her father’s intellectual circles, where she interacted with prominent literary figures of the time. At the age of sixteen, she met Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet who would later become her husband. Their relationship was filled with passion and creativity, shaping both their personal lives and artistic endeavors.

“Frankenstein,” published in 1818, catapulted Mary Shelley into literary fame. The novel explored profound themes such as creation, responsibility, and the consequences of playing god. It continues to captivate readers worldwide with its blend of horror, science fiction, and philosophical musings.

Beyond “Frankenstein,” Shelley’s works extended to other genres, including historical novels, travelogues, and short stories. Her writing showcased her exceptional talent, keen observations, and thought-provoking storytelling abilities.

Today, Mary Shelley is celebrated as a literary pioneer whose vivid imagination and insightful narratives continue to resonate with readers across generations. Her legacy as one of the foremost figures in Gothic literature endures, solidifying her place among the most revered authors in history.

20 Thought-Provoking Questions with Mary Shelley

1.Can you share your favorite 10 quotes from Frankenstein?

Sure, my favorite 10 quotes from Frankenstein are:

1.Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.

2.Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.

3.Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.

4.If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!

5.There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.

6.I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…

7.There is love in me the likes of which you’ve never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied int he one, I will indulge the other.

8.The world to me was a secret, which I desired to discover; to her it was a vacancy, which she sought to people with imaginations of her own.

9.How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!

10.It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.

2. How did you come up with the idea of creating a monster from human body parts?

Firstly, I was living in a time of great scientific and philosophical exploration, known as the Romantic era. This period witnessed remarkable advancements in biology, human anatomy, and electricity, which fascinated me. The concept of reanimating life through scientific means intrigued my creative mind.

Additionally, my upbringing exposed me to discussions on the moral and ethical implications of scientific progress. My parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, were prominent intellectuals who explored radical ideas. These discussions likely influenced my contemplation of the consequences that manipulating life might entail.

During the summer of 1816, I had the opportunity to spend time with friends, including the poet Lord Byron, at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Our conversations often revolved around topics such as the nature of life, the boundaries of science, and even experiments attempting to reanimate the dead. It was during this time that the seeds of “Frankenstein” were sown.

Furthermore, personal tragedy played a significant role in shaping the themes within my novel. The loss of my infant daughter and subsequent feelings of grief and isolation led me to contemplate the boundaries between life and death, the power of creation, and the yearning for companionship.

3. Is there a particular reason why you chose to set the story in Switzerland and Germany?

I selected Switzerland and Germany as the settings for Frankenstein for several reasons. Firstly, both countries held a certain mystique during the Romantic era, which greatly influenced my writing. Switzerland, in particular, was known for its breathtaking landscapes, mountains, and picturesque lakes, providing an ideal backdrop for the dramatic events of the novel.

Additionally, Switzerland and Germany were renowned for their scientific advancements during the time. Switzerland, with its prestigious universities and intellectual atmosphere, represented a hub of knowledge and innovative thinking. This setting aligns with Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of scientific discovery and his desire to push the boundaries of human understanding.

Germany, on the other hand, was associated with the birthplace of renowned thinkers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. It had a rich cultural and intellectual heritage, making it a suitable location for exploring profound themes and philosophical debates within the novel.

Furthermore, the contrasting environments of Switzerland and Germany reflected the duality present in the story. Switzerland presented a harmonious and serene natural landscape, symbolizing purity and tranquility. In contrast, Germany, specifically Ingolstadt, where Victor Frankenstein attended university, represented the dark side of scientific experimentation and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

4. Can you share any insights into the symbolism behind specific characters or events in the book?

One of the prominent symbols in Frankenstein is the creature itself. Victor Frankenstein’s creation represents several themes and ideas throughout the story. On one level, the creature serves as a symbol of the consequences of unchecked scientific ambition. Victor’s desire to play God and create life without considering the ethical implications leads to disastrous outcomes. The creature’s existence also symbolizes society’s rejection of those who are different or perceived as abnormal. It highlights humanity’s tendency to fear the unfamiliar and reject individuals who do not align with societal norms.

Another important symbol in the novel is nature. Nature often acts as a source of solace and rejuvenation for the characters, particularly Victor. It serves as a contrast to the destructive aspects of human ambition and science. Nature symbolizes the inherent goodness and beauty that can be found in the world, even amidst the darkness and despair present in the story.

The character of Robert Walton, the seafarer who discovers Victor Frankenstein’s tale, represents the pursuit of knowledge and the danger of obsession. Walton’s relentless search for glory and discovery mirrors Victor’s own relentless pursuit of scientific advancement. Through Walton, I intended to show how the thirst for knowledge, when taken to extreme lengths, can lead to isolation and loss.

5. Were there any real-life experiences or people that influenced the development of the story?

Personal Experiences: As the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, I grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. The discussions surrounding scientific advancements and ethical dilemmas had a profound impact on my thinking. Additionally, I experienced personal loss when my infant daughter passed away, which further fueled my exploration of themes like mortality and the boundaries of science.

Scientific Enlightenment: During the time I was writing Frankenstein, the Scientific Enlightenment was in full swing. The work of scientists such as Luigi Galvani, who conducted experiments with electricity and dead frogs, and Giovanni Aldini, who experimented with animating corpses, left a lasting impression on me. These discoveries and debates around them played a significant role in shaping the scientific aspects of my novel.

Romanticism and Gothic Literature: The Romantic movement, with its emphasis on individualism, emotions, and the sublime, strongly influenced my writing. The works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and my husband Percy Shelley significantly impacted the tone and style of Frankenstein. Gothic literature, with its fascination for the macabre and supernatural, also inspired the darker elements of the novel.

6. Did you expect Frankenstein to become such an enduring literary classic?

When I first wrote Frankenstein in 1818, I must admit that I did not anticipate its trajectory to become such a lasting and significant piece of literature. At the time, I was a young writer, just eighteen years old, and had no idea that this novel would go on to capture the imagination of readers for generations to come.

While I believed that my story had elements that could captivate an audience, the extent of its impact was beyond my wildest dreams. Frankenstein explores profound themes such as creation, ambition, responsibility, and the consequences of playing god, which have resonated with readers throughout the years. It is this exploration of human nature and the moral dilemmas surrounding scientific progress that I believe has contributed to its enduring popularity.

Additionally, the character of the Monster, who struggles with his own existence and the rejection he faces from society, struck a chord with readers, inviting empathy and reflection on societal prejudices. The novel’s Gothic atmosphere, coupled with its emotional intensity, has also helped maintain its appeal over time.

While I hoped that Frankenstein would be well-received, I never imagined it would achieve the level of recognition and impact it has had over the centuries. Its endurance as a literary classic humbles me as an author and fills me with immense pride to know that my work continues to provoke thought, ignite discussions, and inspire new adaptations and interpretations.


7. How would you describe the central themes explored in the novel?

One of the central themes in “Frankenstein” is the pursuit of knowledge and scientific exploration. The novel delves into the consequences of overreaching ambition and the dangers of playing god. Victor Frankenstein’s relentless pursuit of creating life through science ultimately leads to disastrous outcomes, highlighting the potential repercussions of unchecked scientific advancement.

Another prominent theme in the novel is the idea of responsibility and accountability. Victor Frankenstein’s creation, often referred to as the Monster, raises questions about the creator’s responsibility for their creation. The Monster seeks acceptance and purpose in a world that rejects him, highlighting societal prejudices and the consequences of neglect and abandonment.

The theme of nature versus nurture also plays a significant role in “Frankenstein.” The novel explores the impact of environment and upbringing on an individual’s character and actions. Despite his grotesque appearance, the Monster initially shows signs of innocence and kindness, suggesting that society’s rejection and mistreatment shape his later violent behavior.

8. Did you face any challenges while writing Frankenstein? If so, what were they?

Writing Frankenstein was indeed a challenging endeavor for me. Firstly, as a young woman during the early 19th century, it was uncommon for women to pursue writing careers or be taken seriously as authors. Thus, I faced significant societal barriers and prejudices due to my gender.

Moreover, at the time of writing Frankenstein, I was grappling with personal challenges in my life. The loss of my beloved mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who was an influential writer and advocate for women’s rights, had a profound impact on me. Additionally, the death of my premature infant deeply affected my emotional state during the writing process.

Furthermore, I encountered financial difficulties, which added to the stress and uncertainty surrounding my work. Navigating the publishing industry was not easy for someone like me, especially since I was relatively unknown at the time.

The novel’s creation also presented intellectual challenges. Crafting a compelling story that explored complex themes such as the nature of humanity, scientific ambition, and the consequences of playing god required extensive research and critical thinking. Balancing these ideas while keeping the narrative engaging and thought-provoking was a formidable task.

9. In your opinion, what is the overall message or moral lesson that readers can take away from the book?

One of the central messages in Frankenstein is the warning against the pursuit of knowledge without ethical boundaries. Victor Frankenstein’s relentless desire to uncover the mysteries of life led him to create a being beyond the limits of human understanding. However, he soon realizes the grave mistake he has made by neglecting his creation and abandoning it out of fear and disgust. This highlights the importance of responsibility and the devastating outcomes that arise when individuals fail to consider the implications of their actions.

Another moral lesson conveyed in the novel is the detrimental impact of societal rejection and isolation on an individual. The creature, initially innocent and benevolent, becomes consumed by anger and vengeance due to the constant rejection and ostracization he experiences from society. This emphasizes the significance of compassion and empathy towards those who are different or marginalized, as their mistreatment can lead to dire consequences for both them and society as a whole.

Frankenstein also prompts reflection on the theme of the blurred line between creator and creation. This is exemplified through the complex relationship between Victor and his creature. The novel questions the boundaries of responsibility and accountability, raising philosophical and ethical dilemmas about the role of humans in shaping the lives they create.

In essence, the overarching message of Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pursuing scientific advancement without considering the moral and ethical implications. It serves as a reminder that humanity must exercise prudence, responsibility, and empathy in the face of ambition and the desire to tamper with the natural order of life.

10. Are there any autobiographical elements hidden within the narrative?

While it is natural for readers to speculate about the presence of autobiographical elements in a writer’s work, it is important to clarify that “Frankenstein” is a work of fiction and not a direct reflection of my own life. However, like any writer, I inevitably drew inspiration from my personal experiences and surroundings.

One could argue that certain aspects of my life may have indirectly influenced the narrative. For instance, the loss of loved ones in my life, including my mother who passed away shortly after my birth, could have shaped my exploration of themes such as loss, grief, and the desire for knowledge.

Moreover, my relationship with Percy Shelley, my husband and renowned poet, likely influenced the portrayal of relationships and the dynamics between characters in the novel. The struggles and complexities of human connections are explored throughout “Frankenstein.” Additionally, the theme of the pursuit of knowledge and the consequences it brings might have been influenced by my intellectual circle, which included philosophers such as William Godwin, my father, as well as Percy Shelley himself.

Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that these parallels are speculative at best, and it is crucial not to conflate the characters or events in the novel with my own personal life. Although some elements may have been subconsciously inspired by my experiences, the narrative of “Frankenstein” primarily exists as a separate creation, distinct from my autobiography.

11. How do you think Frankenstein’s monster reflects society and humanity?

Frankenstein’s monster serves as a reflection of both society and humanity in several ways. Firstly, the monster symbolizes the consequences of playing god and tampering with nature. Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to create life demonstrates the dangers of unchecked scientific progress and the potential consequences it can have on society.

Secondly, the monster’s experiences highlight the significance of compassion, acceptance, and empathy within society. The rejection and mistreatment that the monster endures exemplify the prejudice and fear that often arise when someone is different or does not conform to societal norms. This reflects the reality of how society tends to marginalize and discriminate against those who are perceived as outsiders.

Furthermore, the monster’s yearning for companionship unveils the innate human desire for connection and belonging. His loneliness and isolation echo the universal need for social interaction and acceptance. By depicting the monster’s longing for companionship, I aimed to emphasize the importance of human relationships and the damaging effects of isolation on individuals.

Lastly, the monster’s development throughout the novel challenges the notion of inherent evil or monstrosity in individuals. Despite his initial acts of violence, the monster becomes increasingly aware of his actions and shows remorse for the pain he causes. This evolution suggests that individuals should be judged by their intentions and actions rather than their external appearance.

12. Why did you choose to tell the story through multiple narrators?

Firstly, employing multiple narrators allowed me to present different perspectives and provide a well-rounded view of the events occurring within the novel. By using various narrators such as Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature himself, I aimed to offer diverse interpretations of the story. Each narrator brings their own biases, emotions, and experiences, providing contrasting viewpoints that enrich the narrative and deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters and their motivations.

Secondly, using multiple narrators enabled me to explore the theme of subjectivity in a profound way. Each narrator has their own unique voice, which reflects their individual backgrounds and influences. Through these distinct points of view, readers gain insight into the complex nature of truth and perception. The differences in how the narrators interpret events highlight the subjective nature of reality, emphasizing the fallibility of human observation and memory.

Additionally, employing multiple narrators allowed me to enhance suspense and build tension throughout the story. As the narrative unfolds through various perspectives, the readers are kept engaged and intrigued by the different angles from which the story is revealed. This technique creates a sense of mystery and anticipation, drawing readers deeper into the intricate web of the plot.

13. Are there any specific literary works or authors who influenced your writing style or the creation of Frankenstein?

There are indeed several notable influences on my writing style and the development of Frankenstein. Firstly, my exposure to the works of my parents—Mary Wollstonecraft, a renowned feminist writer, and William Godwin, a political philosopher—greatly shaped my understanding of literature and intellectual discourse. Their radical ideas and progressive outlook influenced my own thoughts and creative endeavors.

In terms of literary works, one significant influence on me was undoubtedly John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton’s exploration of the fall of mankind and the moral complexities surrounding it resonated deeply with me. Frankenstein can be seen as a modern Prometheus figure, much like Satan in Paradise Lost, challenging the boundaries set by the divine and facing the consequences of his actions.

Additionally, the Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion, nature, and the individual imagination, had a profound impact on my writing style. Poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley (my husband), and Lord Byron inspired me to explore the sublime, the supernatural, and the power of human emotions within my narrative.

14. What role does science and technology play in the novel, and what message were you trying to convey about them?

In “Frankenstein,” science and technology are central themes that play significant roles in shaping the narrative and delivering a broader message. Through Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of scientific knowledge and his creation of the Creature, I sought to explore the consequences of unchecked scientific ambition and the potential dangers of playing god.

Throughout the novel, I highlight the immense power and responsibility that come with scientific discoveries. Victor’s passion for creating life through scientific means leads to disastrous consequences, as he fails to consider the ethical implications and neglects his duty as a creator. The Creature’s existence becomes a reflection of the negative consequences resulting from a lack of moral responsibility in the pursuit of scientific progress.

Furthermore, the novel questions the boundaries of science and the blurred line between the natural and the artificial. Victor’s experiments push the limits of human understanding and challenge the established order, leading to a clash between the natural and unnatural. This raises concerns about tampering with nature and the potential repercussions that may arise when humans attempt to manipulate it.


15. How did you come up with the name “Frankenstein” for both the scientist and the creature?

Firstly, it’s important to note that “Frankenstein” is the surname of the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who creates the creature. Initially, I chose this name because it sounded fittingly Germanic and conveyed a sense of strength and solidity, which aligned with the character’s ambitious nature.

Regarding the creature, he is referred to as the “Frankenstein monster” or simply “Frankenstein” by many readers and popular culture. Although I never explicitly named the creature in the novel, this association has emerged over time. This connection is due to the fact that the being is the creation of Victor Frankenstein and is closely linked to his identity. Thus, the creature is often called Frankenstein as a way to symbolize their shared existence.

It’s worth noting that referring to the creature as “Frankenstein” is technically inaccurate since Frankenstein is the creator, not the creation. However, this colloquial practice highlights the blurred lines between the two characters and underscores the central theme of responsibility for one’s creations.

16. Can you talk about the significance of nature and its portrayal in Frankenstein?

In Frankenstein, nature plays a vital role, serving as both a backdrop and a powerful force that greatly influences the characters and events. Nature is depicted as a source of solace, tranquility, and inspiration, contrasting with the destructive consequences of human ambition and scientific hubris.

Firstly, the natural world serves as a sanctuary for some of the characters, providing them with solace and healing. For instance, Victor Frankenstein frequently seeks solace in nature, finding comfort and peace when surrounded by its beauty. Immersed in nature, he often contemplates his actions and finds temporary relief from the burden of his guilt and turmoil.

Nature’s role also extends beyond solace, as it acts as a powerful juxtaposition to the artificiality and arrogance associated with scientific pursuits. While Victor delves into forbidden knowledge, creating life through unnatural means, nature remains untouched by human interference. This contrast highlights the potential dangers and consequences of tampering with natural processes, suggesting that humans should respect the boundaries set by nature.

17. How would you respond to those who argue that Frankenstein is a cautionary tale against ambition or playing god?

Frankenstein can indeed be seen as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition and the dangers of playing god. The character of Victor Frankenstein serves as a warning of the consequences that arise from unchecked ambition and the pursuit of scientific knowledge without ethical considerations. His relentless desire to push the boundaries of science and create life ultimately leads to his downfall and the destruction of those he holds dear.

In writing Frankenstein, I aimed to explore the moral implications of scientific progress and the responsibilities that come with wielding such power. By creating a being out of disparate body parts and imbuing it with life, Victor Frankenstein oversteps the natural boundaries and disrupts the order of life and death. The Creature, abandoned by its creator, becomes a symbol of the dangerous outcomes that can result from irresponsible experimentation and the rejection of moral responsibility.

Moreover, the theme of playing god in Frankenstein also highlights the importance of empathy and human connection. Victor’s creation is initially a blank slate, but it is his isolation and mistreatment that cause him to become vengeful and destructive. This aspect of the novel emphasizes the significance of compassion and the necessity for humans to take responsibility for their actions and creations.

18. How did the reception of the book at the time impact you personally, and how has it changed over the years?

At the time of the book’s publication in 1818, the reception had a significant impact on me personally. Initially, the novel was met with mixed reviews, ranging from enthusiastic praise to severe criticism. Some praised the novel for its originality and thought-provoking themes, while others were critical of its perceived lack of moral values and dark nature. The fact that the novel was published anonymously added an element of mystery to its authorship.

Personally, the reception affected me in various ways. On one hand, I was pleased that my work sparked discussions and resonated with some readers who appreciated its deeper meanings. However, the harsh criticism and negative reactions also undoubtedly impacted me emotionally. Being a young female writer in a male-dominated industry, the reception may have influenced my confidence as an author. Nonetheless, the fact that the novel garnered attention, whether positive or negative, indicated that it had made an impression on readers.

Over the years, the reception of “Frankenstein” has evolved significantly. As time went on and the novel gained recognition, it began to be seen as a timeless classic and a seminal work of Gothic literature. Scholars and readers alike started to appreciate its complex exploration of scientific ethics, the nature of humanity, and the consequences of playing God. It became celebrated for its innovative narrative structure and psychological depth.

19. Are there any particular scenes or moments in the book that hold special significance for you?

One particular scene that stands out to me is when Victor Frankenstein brings his creature to life. This moment not only marks the culmination of Victor’s relentless pursuit of knowledge and ambition but also introduces the central theme of creation and its consequences. It embodies the power and potential of science while simultaneously raising ethical questions about the limits of human creation.

Another significant scene is the encounter between the creature and the blind De Lacey family. It highlights the creature’s longing for acceptance and companionship, as well as his capacity for empathy and understanding despite his horrifying appearance. This scene explores the themes of isolation, prejudice, and the inherent goodness within individuals, forcing readers to question their own perceptions of beauty and humanity.

The tragic climax of the novel, where Victor’s loved ones pay the ultimate price for his reckless actions, holds immense significance. It serves as a reminder of the destructive nature of unchecked ambition and the consequences of playing God. Through this moment, I aimed to caution against the dangers of unbridled scientific progress and the responsibility we bear for our creations.

20. Finally, can you recommend more books which share similar themes with Frankenstein?

I would be delighted to recommend more books that share similar themes with Frankenstein. Here are a few suggestions:

Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley: While not directly related to Frankenstein, this dystopian novel explores the dehumanizing effects of technological advancements and experiments on human nature.

The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde: This philosophical novel raises questions about the pursuit of eternal youth and beauty, echoing Frankenstein’s exploration of the dangers of tampering with nature and the consequences of unchecked desires.

The Stranger” by Albert Camus: It explores the theme of existentialism through the perspective of an emotionally detached protagonist named Meursault. Set in colonial Algeria, the story delves into Meursault’s life as he navigates the mundane routines amidst a society driven by social norms and expectations.

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