Saturday, 17 December 2011

READING MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN AND JANE AUSTEN'S NORTHANGER ABBEY

 MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN (1818)

frankensteinAfter reading the first page Mary Shelley wrote for her novel, "The creation of the monster", we discussed and analyzed the main themes in Frankenstein and some narrative features. Here are some notes for you.

1.  THE OVERREACHER 


Victor Frankenstein is defined "The Modern Prometheus" in the subtitle of the novel. As Prometheus defied Zeus stealing the fire from him to bring it back to Mankind, the Swiss scientist protagonist of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel defies any natural law and God himself for his great ambition: to create, not to generate, life. To give life to an inanimate body.

Both Prometheus and Dr. Frankenstein are OVERREACHERS, special  types of rebels who

 - try to go beyond the limits imposed to Mankind by God or Nature
-  are moved by a great ambition
 - are always punished with death (not Prometheus, since he was a Titan, a semi-god)



2. THE DOUBLE
There are two examples of  this theme in Mary Shelley's novel. Two characters recognize in an "alter ego" their wrong side, the fawls in their personality:

1. Captain Walton recognizes in Dr Frankenstein his own great ambition, which might lead him to self -exhaustion and death,  and decides to stop his exploration of the North Pole, in order to avoid risking his crew's lives and his own. So Dr Frankenstein is an alter ago/ the double to Captain Walton.

2. Victor Frankenstein recognizes in the horrible creature he has created the embodiment of his own "awful" ambition. This is why he is so terrified by the vision of his "living experiment".




MaryShelley3. Rousseau's idea of "the good natural man" and social criticism


Mary Shelley was influenced by J.J. Rousseau's ideas. Rousseau believed a human being was born innocent and uncorrupt , then the injust social system and its prejudices spoilt and corrupted him. This is exactly what happens to Frankenstein's creature who was naturally good when he came to life but was then turned into a monster and an evil murderer by the prejudices of all the human beings he met, starting with his creator. He was rejected and wronged because of his ugly appearance.


4. SCIENCE AND MORALS

Frankenstein is considered the forerunner of the science fiction genre. The authoress, fascinated by physiology, chemistry and physics, reflects on the relationship between science and morals - something we call bioethics nowadays - wondering what the destiny of someone who overcomes the border might be.

NARRATIVE FEATURES

Frankenstein has a complex structure. It is  an epistolary novel with three different levels of narration, three narrators and different points of view. The technique used is usually called "Chinese boxes".


Frankenstein narrators
Unlikely the many Gothic tales written before, the characters in this novel are not flat and there is a certain psychological insight.

JANE AUSTEN and THE PARODY OF THE GOTHIC VOGUE


Catherine MorlandGothic novels were extremely popular at the end of the 18th century and that taste or fashion involved all social classes. Most of those novels followed the same pattern with few alterations: great importance given to terror and horror – as two different ingredients, since the first was characterised by obscurity and uncertainty and the latter by evil and atrocity; ancient settings like isolated castles, dungeons, secret rooms, mysterious abbeys or convents; supernatural beings like vampires, ghosts, witches, monsters; a triad of main characters including an oversensitive persecuted heroine, a terrifying/ satanic male villain and a sensitive honourable hero. After Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” , very popular Gothic tales were Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (1794) and “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis (1796) .




In the same years Miss Jane Austen dreamt of “living on her pen”, writing her first novels “of manners”.





Between 1795-96 she had finished Elinore and Marianne, later on published as Sense and Sensibility, as well as First impressions then published as Pride and Prejudice. Was she interested in Gothic novels or did she attempt to write one? Since irony and satire were her favourite literary “weapons”, she preferred writing a parody of such sentimental fashionable genre. In 1798 she wrote Northanger Abbey, never published during her life for reasons left unknown, that is in fact an open mocking of the genre.

Young Catherine Morland’s story develops some of  Jane Austen’s favourite themes, the initiation of a young woman into the complexities of adult social life and the danger of imagnation uncontrolled by reason and common sense. Catherine’s mistake is that she imposes the melodramatic values of the gothic novels she reads (i.e. “The mysteries of Udolpho” by A. Radcliffe) on the reality around her, making the boundaries between the real and the imaginary quite uncertain.



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