Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ~ فرانكنشتاين وخوف الحامل

–Self-Expression of the Pregnant Mother’s Fears

Art Mash: pen and ink Zentangle artwork

Ruwayda Jassim Muhammad

Department of English College of Education for Women
University of Baghdad


یظھر البحث أنّ ماري شیلي، في روایتھا فرانكشتین ، قد عبـّرت كأم حامل عن مخاوفھا وقلقھا على طفلھا ومن خلال ما یحدث للمخلوق الذي أوجده العالم . في ھذا البحث یُنظر إلى المخلوق كضحیة ولیس كوحش كما ھو المعتاد أن ینظر إليه.  وللوصول إلى ھدف البحث، صنفت ھذه المخاوف تبعاً لما ھو موجود في نص الروایة وتبعا ً لما له علاقة بالخبرات الشخصیة لماري شیلي.

The paper shows that Mary Shelley, in her novel Frankenstein, expresses, as pregnant mother, her fears and worries about her child through what happens to the creature that the scientist makes. In this paper, the creature is viewed as a victim rather than as a monster as it is usually viewed. To achieve the aim of the paper, these fears are classified according to what the text reads and in relation with Mary Shelley’s personal experiences. 


Frankenstein (1816) is an impressive novel known as a story of terror, and many critics and movies present it to mean so. But, Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851), in her preface in the revised edition of 1831, describes the novel as: “one which speaks to the mysterious fears of our nature”.(1) [emphasis added]. That is, she does not intend it to be just a story of terror, but a story which fathoms inner obscure fears which are in the nature of any human being. Mark Rose points out that Mary reveals that the story “affords a point of view to the imagination for delineating of human passion,”(2) but she chooses the story of the monster because this way is “more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.”(3) The idea of the novel came to her in a dream and her brain is at unrest till the dream gave her a start – point, as Ernest A. Baker says.(4) Actually, it is a waking dream of a “hideous phantom” as Mary Shelley states.(5) It is acknowledged that the dream work is “day’s residue … the stuff of ordinary experience is reconstructed as an element in the work’s fantastic scenario”, as Freud asserts.(6) In other words, the fearful image that she dreams of and sticks in her mind, which becomes the idea of a novel, is urged by Mary Shelley’s experience and, as it is revealed by her, associated to fears and passions. To assign this experience, Sandra M. Gilbert asserts that recently a number of writers have noticed the relation between Mary Shelley’s “waking dream of monster – manufacture and her own experience of a wakening sexuality, in particular, the horror story of maternity”; for the novel is a “female fantasy”(7). So, Mary Shelley’s fears are the mother’s fears. More precisely, they are the pregnant’s fears. Thus, Kim A. Woodbridge considers Frankenstein” the first articulation of a woman’s experience of pregnancy and related fears” not only in English literature but in Western literature.(8) Gilbert affirms this fact, saying – in 1815, 1816, 1817; Mary Shelley was “almost continuously pregnant, confined, or nursing”(9), so that, the book was written while Mary Shelley was either a pregnant or expecting pregnancy, as the novel was written in 1816. Kim sums up Mary Shelley’s most effectual experiences in life in: “pregnancy and childbirth as well as death was an integral part of Mary Shelley’s young adult.” (10). By this, all the attributes to see the horrifying creature, which is mostly called a monster because of its appearance, are intended by Mary Shelley to express; as she calls them, “mysterious fears”. The paper aims to fathom these fears. Mary Shelley’s fears or worries as a pregnant mother can be classified into two main fears: one of them is her fear of bringing a child who suffers from loneliness; the other is her fear of losing the child. Concerning the first fear, Margret Stonyk believes that Mary “shows obsession with the theme of loneliness.”(11) 

I. The Fear of Bringing a Lonely Child:
In Frankenstein, this theme is very clear, because the creature complains of his suffering of it throughout the whole novel. To bring a lonely child is expected when at least one of two circumstances takes place, as the text of the novel is susceptible to and as the author’s life or intention reads – either the mother dies, or the child is rejected. 

A. Being Lonely after the Mother’s Death:
Ann K. Mellor, in Don Narco’s book, Readings in Frankenstein (2000), emphasizes the close identification the teenage author must have felt with the troubled creature character that Frankenstein brings to life and then abandons.(12) Gilbert affirms this assertion, saying that reading and writing is one of the basic means of Mary Shelley’s self – definition in the early years of her life, because she never knew her mother and her father rejected her after her elopement with Percy Shelley.(13) Also, her feeling of loneliness and deprivation of parental needs was intensified when her father remarried to Mary Jane Clairmout, who is not her intellectual equal, thus, “the stepmother established a conflictual relationship to Mary Shelley whose only reprieve was to move to Scotland to be educated by a friend of her father.”(14). Her worry of being dead after her delivery and having a neglected lonely child is intensified by another sample of an indifferent and irresponsible father. It is her husband Percy Shelley. Throughout her consecutive pregnancies and the death of five of her children, her husband continued to have affairs, as Arthur Paul Patterson mentions.(15) Moreover; Kim refers to the event of Mary Shelley’s first child’s death, i.e., Clara’s death and how Percy Shelley behaved saying that Mary wrote at that day a letter to her friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg asking his help because Shelley did not seem to care that the child died and even he went out with a friend, leaving her alone with her grief.(16) Her father’s incapability of compensating for the loss of her mother left her lonely. She went to her mother’s grave almost every day – she read and wrote and even met Shelley there(17). Her sens of deprivation and orphanhood is poignant. For this, her works show obsession with another theme, that is, motherlessness. And orphanhood to the extent that whenever she can include one of the orphans in the narrative, she does so, as Gilbert says.(18) Mary Shelley’s painful experience of motherlessness is activated in pregnancy; for, as Barbara Fry Waxam states, in her Papers on Language and Literature (1987), that the “woman initiates how close she is to death even as she is carrying life and feeling the pulses of the creative process in her own body.”(19) Mary Shelley’s orphanhood and loneliness can be traced in the creature that the scientist Frankenstein brings to life. The way this being is brought to life fits the circumstance of a new – born child who loses his mother at birth and has a negligent father. Frankenstein, as a parent, appears selfish and irresponsible for the creature. When he recognizes the contrast between the picture he dreams of and the real picture he brings to life, he runs away from his laboratory leaving the being alone while he has just opened his eyes for the first time. Returning, he finds the creature has escaped; thus, he expresses his relief: “I couldn’t believe that so great a good fortune could have befallen me… I clapped my hands for joy.”(20) The creature walks here and there; completely lost and ignorant of whatever surrounding him. It is only when the creature kills Frankenstein’s brother William and asks him for a companion of his kind that Frankenstein’s conscience is awakened by the creature’s plea. He wonders: “Did I not, as his maker, owe him all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow?” (21) Frankenstein’s description of the first moment of the creature’s birth shows the state of a new – born child who instinctively turns towards his parent, especially the mother, for help: “He held the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds… one hand was stretched out seemingly to detain me”.(22) These lines have a double – agent aim. They show the creature as a pathetic child who yearns for the help of his parents in addition to showing Frankenstein as an indifferent parent. What is worse, he is not only indifferent; his attitudes toward the creature are hostile. When he talks about the creature, shortly after his birth, he says: “the demoniacal corpse” (23), and “my enemy” (24); whereas the creature is like any new – born child, is void of any memories and experience of his own. He suffers from hunger, coldness, and fatigue of too much walking aimlessly. His words are expressive: “I knew and could distinguish nothing; but feeling pain invades me on all sides; I sat down and wept.” (25) It is very apparent that the author intends to portrait a pitiful character of a child not of a monster as critics usually call and view. She shows how this parentless creature is completely self – educated. He explores his world through sensations – he learns that drinking from the stream will remove his thirst and eating nuts will rid him of hunger and that trees is a good shelter against sun heat and light. Through observation, trail and error he distinguishes the sound of the birds and attempts to imitate their songs but he is disappointed by his rough voice. When the De Lacey start to teach Safie French, the creature takes part in these lessons with full eager through a knotehole. Throughout all this process of self-education, he is parentless, friendless, and homeless.The creature recognizes this puzzling reality. He is one of his unique type , thus he wonders: “But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days , no mother blessed me with smile and caresses. I had never yet seen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I?” (26) This is a quintessential question. It is of a primary importance for him to understand who he is, and to know his origin and history– he reflects: “of my creation I was absolutely ignorant.” (27) Obscurity of his nature and origin agonises him profoundly. He recognizes that he is different; but he cannot understand why he is so, or why he has no family. All this bewilderment is created by the scientist. He brings this being to life, but he denies his role as a parent and as the sole responsible for this being’s guidance, education, and protection. His abandonment of the creature, leaves him nameless and he has none to give him a name. His namelessness is part of his obscure reality. Kim affirms this reality, saying: “the absence of a name denies the monster the knowledge of which he is his familiar origins, and a connection to successive generations.” (28) The need for such knowledge about the self is significant as in the theory of the psychological development of identity, as Eric Erikson states: “individuals are faced with finding out who they are, what they are all about, and where they are going in life,” adding that they need to find an answer to the question “who am I ? ” (29) Unfortunately, the creature has no name, nothing to trace, and none to tell or refer to the answer of such a pivotal question. For this, he remains lost. When he finds no answer, he resolves to one conclusion: “was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?” (30) Having an origin and a history is essential because being ahistorical is the core of loneliness. This fact is affirmed by Jules Henry: “throughout human history man has struggled not to be alone… and his struggle has found expression in the ordering of society around kinship.”(31) It is explicable that the creature’s asking Frankenstein to construct a mate for him expresses his need for companionship and presents the solution for his loneliness. It is an implicit need for someone to found a history for a new race, or it can be comprehended as a looking for a mother rather than a mate (32). Both ideas are logical and they end in one conclusion: one needs someone to belong to and needs an origin. The mother refers to the origin; the mate refers to the need for someone to found an origin. Did Mary Shelley think of a human being who may one day be brought to life through one parent, as it is nowadays tried through cloning? If it is so; then, she anticipates the psychological as well as the social problems which such a being may face in life. She puts before the psychologists and sociologists a picture she views about such a future scientific attempt, because she suffered a lot from parentlessness. Non – belongingness is the essence of the creature’s loneliness and alienation. Though the creature is rejected by whoever he interacts with; but it is Frankenstein’s rejection that instigates his sense of vindication against mankind. His vengeance on Frankenstein is carried out by brining death to his dearest people – killing his youngest brother, his friend, his fiancé, and causing death to his cousin and his father and finally to him. This destructive way is the best to cause pain to Frankenstein similar to that he causes to the creature – being lonely. 

B-Being Lonely after Being Rejected: 

The second circumstance that Mary Shelley might have thought of to cause the child’s loneliness is to be deformed. It is either that she intends to attribute this deformity to a scientific error, or it is a mere fear of having a deformed baby. She puts it in this way affected by the spirit of science which was impressive for an intellectual artist like her. It is acknowledged as M.K. Joseph says that in her introduction to the novel Mary Shelley recalls the talk about Erasmus Darwin, who “had
presented a piece of vermicelli in a glass case till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion.” (33) Perhaps, Mary Shelley associated what Erasmus Darwin experimented with what usually happens when a foetus is created inside the mother’s womb. They are possible fears of the pregnant reflected in Frankenstein especially that the novel is acknowledged to be a book of pregnancy as mentioned before. The author’s imaginative faculty enables her to encapsulate these fears in the way Frankenstein constructs the creature and its appearance. Her anxiety lies in the maddening scientific ambition that may cause, through some errors, disfiguration or any other harm to the new generations. She is afraid of the limitless overreaching of the scientific pursuit especially when the uncontrolled urge for experimenting turns the scientists blind to the moral or humane standards, then they go awry and cause disasters. Her fear did not lie in the dangers of biological experiments only, but may move to chemical and physical ones. It is said that she was informed of Humphrey Davy whose experiments emphasised the electrical and chemical in a process of galvanisation which is said to be the key of life (34). Thus, her fears are understandable; they are not alien to nowadays pregnant mothers’ fears of atomic radiation. Frankenstein’s “grandiosity” as Patterson calls, (35) makes him intoxicated by the dream of constructing an artificial man. The ecstasy of such an achievement leads him to a heedless work. He is so absorbed in the glory of the moment of its completion and too eager to satisfy the fire of the hurricane of unguarded confidence of the self to the extent that he does not consider the mean filthy origin of this being, that is, the limbs of the dead; he has no patience to conjunct slowly, carefully, and attentively with delicate parts; hence, he makes it gigantic and misshapen. The author makes this error very clear to the reader through the scientist’s words: “as the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed. I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature.” (36) [emphasis added] The beauty of his dream is put in reality as a being of an enormous size, and “his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath” (37) The result is so catastrophic – a horrifying creature, so that the scientists’ elation turns into horror and disgust. Moreover; Frankenstein continues in his selfishness and incapability of undertaking his responsibility – first: as a scientists who should deal wisely with unexpected results, second: as a father who should accept his child no matter how ugly or misshapen he is. Regardless of these duties, Frankenstein rushes out when he is sure that the creature is alive and opens his eyes. It is a problem for the child to be deformed, so that Frankenstein duplicates the problem, thus, the creature becomes the scientists’ victim because he is left parentless. 

The creature is roaming here and there, looking for someone who knows him, who has kinship with, but he is really lost. Abhorred by his father, he resorts to other people; he tries to have a social life but his frightening appearance makes his attempts in vain. He is initially tender, well – intentioned, and loving, but he receives rejection, disgust, and harm. In his first attempt to gain warmth of the social life he deprived of and to know how people live socially, he starts watching the De Lacey family through a knotehole. He loves those people and starts helping them secretly by gathering wood for them. When he decides to attach himself to them by revealing himself, he is beaten, thus he runs away to the forest. He is not only unwanted but attacked. When he, without hesitation, rescues a girl from drowning, he is rewarded by being shot. The creature hides himself until his shoulder heals by itself without any help. Even when he kills William, Frankenstein’s brother, he does not intend this violence. He notices the child, he feels tenderness toward him and decides to take him as a “companion,” (38) and thinks he can teaches him. It is an attempt to have someone to live with – if he has none to care for him, he chooses someone to care for. Yet, William is terrified, he calls the creature the “hideous monster”(39) and mentions his relation to Frankenstein. At that moment, the creature’s decision of revenge on Frankenstein is urged and he kills the child. It is natural that the creature longs to social affiliation but his ugly terrifying aspect creates this problematic social reality. The creature’s plight lies in his shockingly disgusting and abnormally enormous carriage. The deformity that Frankenstein forms is not only in the shape but even in the creature’s voice. He is unable to talk – when he tries to talk as he hears the De Lacey talk, he prefers to be silent: “I wished to express my sensations in my own mode but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.”(40) When the DeLacy reject him aggressively, they actually reject his foreign body, his imposed gender which acquires the monstrous appearance. So that, he realizes that he is unable to belong to mankind, he burns the family’s cottage and murders Frankenstein’s brother in demonic rage. He has none to belong to, thus, he feels that even Satan is better than him: “Satan has his companions, fellow – devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.”(41) Yet, Satan’s unique ugliness is similar to his, thus, he chooses Satan to belong to: “many times I consider Satan, as the fitter emblem of my condition.”(42) Denied of the mother, the father, and any social relationship; the creature has no self – awareness. He does not know how or who he is till once he beholds his picture reflected on the surface of a pool and realizes how he is strikingly grotesque. He realises the monstrous appearance which causes the people’s horror. He tells Frankenstein about this pain: “I was besides endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome… When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me.”(43) Now, he is aware of his uniqueness in deformity and odiousness. This is the crux of his loneliness and misery; and now turns to be the crux of his violence. He turns to be a machine of destructiveness that Frankenstein feels unable to stop. He is abused, hence he turns into an abuser. He assures to Frankenstein this fact saying: “this was the reward of my benevolencer!… Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.”(44) So, Mary Shelley’s fears include within this state the fear of having a child who will be an abuser; moreover, a criminal. As if she wonders amidst her anxiety: how is it if I bring a criminal to this world?
Shuddered by his repulsive shape, he knows that the barrier between him and the others is indivisible since it is based on his nature. He is completely outcast and this is the sole solution of his problem of loneliness and alienation. Thus, he reproaches Frankenstein bitterly and demands constructing a mate for him. He asks for a mate similar to him in his ugliness and abnormality because he needs a companion who accepts and loves him. When this desire is unsatisfied, because Frankenstein destroys the mate he has started to form; the creature murders Frankenstein’s fiancé, Elizabeth.By this, Mary Shelley’s fears are justified because such a being, with such poignantly painful reality, will never be happy or develop psychologically or socially as a normal human being. 

II. The Fear of Losing the Child:

The second fear that almost assails Mary Shelley is the fear of losing her child, because she is inflicted by many children’s deaths. Sumeet Patnaik emphasises that the deaths of her children affect her life deeply to the extent that after the death of her children Clara and William, she and Shelley went through estrangement.45 Also, Kim affirms this, saying that Mary never fully recovered from the trauma of the first child’s death, that is, Clara’s death.(46) Self – expression of the author’s experience is stressed by Paul Sherwin in his “Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe,” saying: “to argue thus is not to deny that Mary Shelley, as mother and mourning mother, was ideally suited to preside over the account of Frankenstein’s fearful literal creation.” (47) [emphasis added]. The child’s death may take place before its birth, that is, as an abortion – it is acknowledged that she had a “miscarriage,” as it is mentioned previously. Abortion is said to be a motife in the novel(48). The creature himself describes himself as: “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion to be spurned at, and kicked and trampled on.”(49) Or; it is the death after birth, and this is clear in the creature’s vulnerability to different kinds of hurt. It is worth mention that the creature’s plea to the old De Lacey is: “now is the time! – save and protect me!… Do not desert me.”(50) His life is threatened by all those whom he interacts with; and even by the supposed father till he perishes out of his fatal pursuit of the creature. Further, his feeling of low self – esteem and the lost identity can be an impetus of suicide: “cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly be tortured? I know not.”51 Also, after killing William, the creature reflects: “I… Sometimes resolved to quit the world and its miseries for ever.”(52) This tendency is expected because “the quest for identity can ‘make’ a person or ‘break’ a person.”(53) The author foreshadows the uttermost destructive pains of deformity. The creature’s disappearance at the end is made ambiguous by the author. ‘Might he survive?’ seems the wonder that embodies Mary Shelley’s fear of losing the child and it’s the wonder that the reader raises at the end of the novel about the creature’s destiny. Yet, this destiny seems closer to death rather than survival as the villagers think, and as the creature himself says to Walton after Frankenstein’s death: “polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse … I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt.”(54) Presenting such a theme – the pregnant mother’s fears, Mary Shelley colours the novel with universality as these fears are universal rather than personal. 


1 Mary W. Shelley, “Introduction,” Frankenstein (London: J.M. Dent and Ltd., 1912), p.ix. All citations from this novel are from this edition.
2 Mark Rose, “Introduction,” Science Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Mark Rose (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice – Hall, Inc., 1976), p.2.
3 Ibid.
4 Ernest A. Baker, The History of English Novel, Vol. V (New York: Barner and Noble, Inc., 1929), p.217.
5 Shelley, p.ix.
6 Paul Sherwin, ” Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe,” PMLA, 96, No. 5(1981), p.899.
7 Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Mad Women in the Attic: The Women Writer and the Nineteenth – Century Literary Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979), p.224.
8 Kim A. Woodbridge, “The Birth of a Monster,” (Kim Woodbridge Site, 1996. URL: http:// www. kimwood /maryshel/ birth.shtml) April 23, 2002.
9 Gilbert, p.224.
10 Woodbridge, “The Birth of a Monster.”
11 Margret Stonyk, Nineteenth – Century English Literature, ed. A.Norman Jeffares (London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1983), p.61.
12 Lyle Penner, “A Review of readings on Frankenstein,” (Watershed Online, 1996. URL: http://www.watershed.winnipeg. /literature /frankenstein / readingsonfrankenstein.html) March 20, 2005.
13 Gilbert and Gubar, p.223.
14 Arthur Paul Patterson, “Who was Mary Shelley? Under What Circumstances Did she Write Frankenstein?” (Watershed Online, 1996. 

URL: http://www.watershed. frankenstein/ fag1.html) April 23, 2002.
15 Patterson, “What Sources Influenced Mary Shelley in Crafting Her Story?” (Watershed Online, 1996. URL: http://www.watershed. frankenstein/fag3.html) April 23,2002. 

16 Ruth Bushi, ” ‘The Author Is Become a Creator God ‘ (Herder). The Deification of Creativity in Relation to Frankenstein.” (Kim Woodbridge Site, 1996. URL: http:// www. April 4, 2002. 

17 Gilbert and Gubar, p. 223. 18 Ibid.
19 Bushi, ” The Author”.
20 Shelley, p.55. 

21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid.
28 Woodbridge, “Mary Shelley and the Desire to Acquire Knowledge: As Demonstrated in the Novel Frankenstein (Kim Woodbridge Site, 1996. URL: http:// www. /maryshel /life.shtml.) March .2005 ,27 

29 “The Quest” (Free Essays. CC. URL: http:// February 9, 2002. 30 Shelley, p.25. 

p.155. p.52. 

p.55. p.105. p.126. p.124

31 Joseph Hortag and J. Ralph Audy, The Anatomy of Loneliness. (New York: International University Press, 1980), p.97.
32 Gilbert and Gubar, p. 236, p. 243.
33 M.K. Joseph, “Introduction,” Frankenstein by Mary W. Shelley (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p.ix. 

34 Patterson, “What Genre of Literature Best Describes the Frankenstein Tale? “(Watershed Online, 1996. URL:
http://www.watershed. /literature/ frankenstein/ fag2. html) April .2002 ,23 

35 Patterson, “What Is The Central Theme of Frankenstein?” (Watershed Online, 1996. URL: http://www.watershed. literature/ frankenstein/fag4. html) April 23, 2002.
36 Shelley, p.45. 

37 Ibid.
38 Ibid.
39 Ibid.
40 Ibid.
41 Ibid.
42 Ibid.
43 Ibid.
44 Ibid.
45 Sumeeta Patnaik, ” The Last Man and the Order of Society: How Mary Shelley’s Use of the Plague Serves as a Metaphor for the Failure of the Utopian Ideal?”, (Kim Woodbridge Site, 1996. URL: http:// www. ) April 2, 2005. 

46 Woodbridge, “The Life of Mary Shelley,” (Kim Woodbridge Site, 1996. URL: http:// www. life. shtml.) March 27, 2005. 

pastedGraphic_2.png pastedGraphic_3.png

p.51. p.105. 

p.105. p.136. 

p.124. p.149. 

47 Sherwin, p.899.
48 “Spark Notes: Frankenstein: Key Facts”, (URL: http:// March 20, 2005. 

49 Shelley, p.241.

50 Ibid. p.142.

51 Ibid. p.143.

52 Ibid. p.152.

53 ” The Quest”.

54 Shelley, p.242.


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