THE BOOK OF 25 – CHAPTER 14
The Enlightenment 1637-1848, was not a set of ideas but more it was a set of values. At its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals. There was a degree of similarity between competing philosophies creating a philosophical hybrid, not unlike a monster. It’s considered that Shelley’s Frankenstein was “cusping” on both periods of ideological philosophy. The terminology (1) “Enlightenment” does not represent a single movement or school of thought, for these philosophies were often mutually contradictory or divergent.
Frankenstein’s Monster is a product of the Enlightenment and a romantic parable, of intertwining monstrous thinking, circa 1637-1848. Dr. Victor Frankenstein, was a brilliant student of natural philosophy, akin to, Mary Shelley’s husband the noted poet and philosopher, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The two, one fictional, one real, merged into each other in Shelley’s’ imagination.That places Frankenstein at 1818, right in the middle of a complex artistic, literary, and intellectual movement in a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. At the Villa Diodati, Mary Shelley was fascinated by her husband and Lord Byrons’ conversations, as they were discussing galvanism. Shelley had become interested in Luigi Calvani’s experiments with electric shocks that made dead frogs’ muscles twitch. Later, Mary stated that she got the story from a nightmare, in which she saw “the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with a uneasy, half vital motion.” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein )
Frankenstein, is set in Europe in the 1790’s, begins with the letters of Captain Robert Walton to his sister. These letters form the framework for the story in which Walton tells his sister the story of Victor Frankenstein and his monster. Victor Frankenstein’s thoughts and actions, where by pursuing natural philosophy to its fullest degree of precision you arrive at the extremist of ultimate principles. Therefore learning, if not by precepts, at least by example, how dangerous, is the acquirement of this knowledge. Frankenstein, followed through on his philosophy, he went to extreme lengths but it reveals more than what we thought, he created a Monster. The word or idea of a monster means “omen“, and also meaning a “prodigy” or “miracle. Let’s examine the monster. Frankenstein, constructed a giant man, 8 feet tall with superhuman strength and endurance. He harvested body parts that he took from corpses, If the monster, stood for the conflicting ideas and mutually contradictory or divergent philosophies of the Enlightenment? And you went against, this, Enlightenments’ core, by critically questioning, its traditional institutions, its customs, and morals to create, an omen, a warning. You have then created a monster, or become one.
A monster, is generally morally objectionable, physically or psychologically hideous, and or a freak of nature. Mary Shelley’s – Frankenstein is a work that mirrored her life and times. She was of the Romantic period, but borne out of the Enlightenment and her philosophies and that of her husband, created Frankenstein and its monster. The tale is a fictional allegory to a period that was called the enlightenment but in reality was dictated by forces that were very dark. The eloquent John Wilson Croker wrote in Quaterly Review (January 1818) that “the dreams of insanity are embodied in the strong and striking language of the insane, and the author, notwithstanding the rationality of his preface, often leaves us in doubt whether he is not as mad as his hero.” (Croker 377). Frankenstein’s’ monster cusped both worlds of the living and the dead, providing an arc into the enlightenment’s movements quest for absolute knowledge.
- Cusping (k sp/ ing) A transitional point or time
- Galvanism [ˈgælvəˌnɪzəm] Medicine) Med treatment involving the application of electric currents to tissues
- Phantasm (f n t z m) Something apparently seen but having no physical reality; a phantom or an apparition
- Allegory ( l -gôr , -g r ) The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form
- Philosophy (f -l s -f ) Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelly, Dover
- The Portable Enlightenment Reader, edited by Isaac Kramnick, Penguin.
- Quarterly Review 18, John Wilson Croker, (January 1818): 379-85