Egotism, Personal Glory, and the Pursuit for Immortality

The desire to make history to discover what remains undiscovered, or to know what remains unknown is a timeless human goal. Although many have failed to realize this dream, a very few have been wildly successful in its pursuit. The immortality afforded these select few has, of course, only served to encourage those who come after. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein is a literary meditation upon this intensely human desire here exemplified by the title character's quest for personal glory by means of scientific discovery.

Both Victor Frankenstein and the Arctic explorer Robert Walton, whose letters open the novel, possess an insatiable thirst for privileged knowledge of those things that are unknown to the common man. Shelley presents their stories as being in some sense parallel to each other: each is a failure, and each suffers from the same fatal flaw. Walton, a voyager, explores the secrets of the natural earth, in the company of a crew of men on the same mission. Victor works in solitude to penetrate secrets of a metaphysical nature: namely, the principle of life. Though they explore entirely different realms, Walton and Victor are both bound by a common cause. Each longs to further the knowledge of...

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