Frankincense, a novel first published in the year 1818, stands as the most talked about work of Mary Shelley literary career. She was just nineteen years old when she penned this novel, and throughout her lifetime she could not produce any other work that surpasses this novel in terms of creativity and vision. In this novel, Shelley found an outlet for her own intense sense of factorization, and her desperate struggle for love. Traumatized by her failed childbirth incidents, troubled childhood, and scandalous courtship, many of Shelley life experiences can be seen reflected In the novel.
When discussing the character and development of the monster, Shelley launches an extensive discussion on the need for a proper environment and education for a child’s moral development. When we explore the novel in depth, we can see that it exudes the true horror of childbirth felt by Shelley, and articulates the fears and anxieties she had regarding her reproductive and nurturing capabilities. Shelley life was marked by a series of pregnancies, miscarriages, childbirths, and deaths.
Her firsthand experience of a bereavement started early In her life, when her mother died when she was eleven days old, because of a puerperal fever contacted cause of childbirth. This marked her first encounter with pregnancy and related complications, but unfortunately, it was not the last one. When she grew up, she had a scandalous affair with the married poet Percy Shelley, and their first child was born prematurely and did not survive. In total, she had four childbirths and life- threatening miscarriage, before the age of twenty-five.
Only one of those children, Percy Florence Shelley, survived and outlived her. A pregnant Harriet Shelley, the first wife of her husband Percy, drowned herself due to the affair between Mary and Percy (Battlement, 2006, p. 25). So we see that, the author of this novel has had undeniably horrific experiences and tragedies associated with childbirth and pregnancy. Thus, by the time this story took form in Shelley mind, she had already lost a child and her mother due to pregnancy complications. She had a six month old baby during that time, and SIX months later she was conceived with her third baby.
Hence, creation, nurturing, and loss of a new life, was prominent among her thoughts when she penned this novel. Frankincense is undoubtedly the first literary work to talk about the pregnancy anxieties. While searching for the underlying theme in this novel, it is also important to understand why the theme was concealed. In that era, writing about such subjects was taboo, and in a field dominated by male authors, pregnancy and the related subjects had hardly found mention In the mainstream literary works. Before creating the monster, Victor has many doubts about his ability to create a life form. But my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to as man” (Shelley, 1818). Overcoming his doubts, he started working on creating a human life for ‘nine’ long months, Just like a woman carrying a life in her womb, and eve birth to his creation on a dreary November night. Victor by creating a baby without a mother feminizes himself, and this shows that the real subject of the novel is about the anxieties associated with the childbirth (Hoverer, 2000, p. 12) The irony found in the novel is that, Victor is frightened of his creative potential through his own creation (Sherwin, 1981, p. 900).
He created a living being and immediately recognized the blunder he had done. During the creation process of the creature, Victor did not take the time to work out the details of its gigantic proportion and what might be the consequences. Neither does he think whether the life produced by him would like to live a life captured in a monstrous body. His lack of patience and vision cost the creature a normal life. He takes one look at the creature and decides to desert him. “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavourer to form? The creature has to endure miseries and hardships galore because he was abandoned by his creator. The life of the monster can be related to the motherless life led by Shelley. Shelley mother too left her as soon as she was born, and as a result, she ad quite an arduous life. Combined with her father’s financial woes, her tumultuous relationship with her stepmother meant that Shelley did not have an ideal childhood, which would have had a serious impact on her personality. She had to put up with a lot of miseries when she grew up, and was subjected to lifelong condemnation from the society because of her affair with the married Shelley.
In a similar way, Victor’s monster was subjected to hate and ridicule from the society around him because he did not get the nurturing he deserved. He did not get education and was left to take care of himself. Wherever he went people were scared by him, and he is confused about his existence. When troubles invaded his life, he had no one to guide him and in the process of self-education he made some wrong decisions that proved fatal, both for him and the others. He yearned for counsel and a family to belong to.
Since he did not get this from his creator, he tried to substitute him with the family of the De Lackeys in the forest. Mary Shelley firstborn daughter represents monstrosity in two different ways – the monstrosity of an untimely death and monstrosity of being an illegitimate child, which was quite scandalous during that era. The author’s grief is reflected in the lamentation of Victor over his mother’s death. The two birth-related deaths in her life, made Shelley yearn for elemental procreative power, Just like Victor Frankincense in the story (Lehman, 1992, up. 9-50) “These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. ” (Shelley, 1818). Victor’ grieving over his mother’s death and his urge to produce a new life to compensate the loss suffered by him, in many ways relate to he tragedy of Shelley, who had lost a mother and daughter. Giving birth to a monster (psychological) is an unconscious fear many women carry when they are pregnant, according to Dry. Almond.
Almond believes that Shelley was concerned that any child she produced might carry some of the repressed, destructive characters she herself possessed. Like the doubts Shelley had about her nature of the child she might bear. The dream, which gave Shelley the idea to write this novel, further throws light on the fears she had in her mind about the sort of child she will give birth to (Tomato, 2009, p. 22). In the novel Victor hates his creation from the moment he sets his eye on it, and even wishes that he could destroy it. L gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I has so thoughtlessly bestowed” (Shelley, 1818). Thus, the creature starts his life Journey not Just devoid of parental affection, but also as a bearer of the wrath of the parent. The novel is more concerned with the Journey and development of the creature than that of the emotional turmoil of Victor. This stresses the fact that the heart of the novel is the light of the children growing under lack of nurture, and what they might turn out to be once they grow in such an environment.
Shelley relationship with her husband was also perceived to be strained during the time the novel was conceived. The loss of their infant daughter, while it caused Mary immense grief, it did not perturb Percy as much. He did not share the grief with her, nor did he do much to console her. He was disappointed with the gender of the child, and once the child succumbed to illness, he moved on with his life without helping his wife to cope with the grief (Battlement, 2006, p. 24). This incident too could be beneath the characterization of the creature, which did not get its required attention and affection from its father figure, Victor.
The resentment of the monster when Victor abhors him elucidates Shelley sentiments towards Perry’s rejection of her child. “Oh, Frankincense, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy Justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam” (Shelley, 1818). The creature’s attempt to self-educate itself is Shelley way of showing that succumbing o the ruse of humanities is the road to humanitarian for the monster. The monster created by manmade science becomes a challenge to humanities and the laws that govern it.
Though he has the feelings off human he is shunned by the world based on his appearance. Thus, the novel challenges the anthropological foundations of humanities and asserts that nature and not nurture form the personality and character of a person. References Battlement, A. F. (2006). Why did Mary Shelley Write Frankincense? Journal of Religion and Health, Volvo. 45, No. 3, 419-439. Tomato, B. (2009). Mary Shelley Frankincense: an orphaned author’s dream and Journey toward integration.. Modern Psychoanalysis. Volvo. 34 Issue 1, 117-135.