Pregnancy, childbirth, as well as death, played an integral role in the young adult life of Mary Shelley. She mothered four children a miscarriage that almost lead to her death, all before the age of twenty-five. Only one of her children, Percy Florence, survived to adulthood and outlived her. In June of 1816, when she had the waking nightmare, which became the catalyst of the tale, she was only nineteen and had already had her first two children. Her first child, Clara, was born prematurely February 22, 1815 and died March 6. Mary, as any woman would be, was devastated by this and took a long time to recover.
The following is a letter that was written by Mary to her friend Hogg the day that the baby died. 6 March 1815 My dearest Hogg my baby is dead â€“ will you come to see me as soon as you can â€“ I wish to see you â€“ It was perfectly well when I went to bed â€“ I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not wake it â€“ it was dead then but we did out find out till morning â€“ from its appearance it evidently died from convulsions â€“ Will you come â€“ you are so calm a creature and Shelley is afraid of a fever from the milk â€“ for I am no longer a mother now.
Mary What is informative and devastating about this letter is that Mary turned to Hogg because Percy was so unsupportive. Actually Percy didn’t really seem to care that the child was dead and even went out with Claire, leaving Mary alone to suffer in her grief. William, Mary’s second child, was born January 24, 1816. William died of malaria June7, 1819. Subsequently, at the time that Mary conceived of the story, her first child had died and her second was only 6 months old. There is no doubt that she expected to be pregnant again and about six months later she was.
Pregnancy and child rearing was at the forefront of Mary”s mind at this point in her life. Frankenstein is probably the first story in Western literature the expresses the anxieties of pregnancy. Obviously male writers avoided this topic and it was considered taboo and in poor taste for a woman to discuss it. Mary”s focus on the birth process allowed men to understand female fears about pregnancy and reassured women that they were not alone with their anxieties. The novel expresses Mary’s deepest fears; What if my child is born deformed?
Could I still love it or would I wish it were dead? What if I can”t love my child? Am I capable of raising a healthy, normal child? Will my child die? Could I wish my own child to die? Will my child kill me in childbirth? Mary was expressing her fears related to the death of her first child, her ability to nurture, and the fact that her mother died having her. All of this is expressed in Victor Frankenstein”s complete failure in parenting. For approximately nine months Victor Frankenstein labored on the creation of his “child”.
Finally on a “dreary night in November: he witnesses the “birth”: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. ” Frankenstein pg. 51 Instead of reaching out to his child, Victor rushes out of the room disgusted by the abnormality of his creation. When the creature follows after him, Victor runs away in horror completely abandoning his child. While creating his child, Victor never considered whether this creature would even want to exist. He also didn”t take enough care with the creature”s appearance.
He could not take the time to make small parts so he created a being of gigantic size. Victor never considered how such a creature would be able to exist with human beings. He did not take time with the features either and created a being with a horrifying appearance. Unable to accept his creation, Victor abandons his “child” and all parental responsibility. He even wishes that his “child” were dead. “I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I has so thoughtlessly bestowed” pg. 87
The creature, himself, realizes that a child that is deprived of a loving family becomes a monster. The creature repeatedly insists that he was born good but compelled by others to do evil. Mary Shelley bases this argument in Rousseau”s Emile and Second Discourse. Mary”s account of the creature”s mental and moral development follow the theories of David Hartley and John Locke. Mary Shelley read Rousseau”s Emile in 1816. Rousseau stated that: “God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil. ” Rousseau specifically attributed moral failings to the lack of a mother”s love.
Without mothering and a loving education ” a man left to himself from birth would be more of a monster that the rest. ” Thus, Mary Shelley is suggesting that a rejected and unmothered child can become a killer, especially a killer of its own family. There is definitely a strong link between the novel’s plot and the events of Mary Shelly’s life. Writing this novel may have been a way of dealing with the pain that would have plagued for lengthy periods of her life. The strongest links are: – Birth – Death – Rejection