Historical Context in Frankenstein College

‘Art is unimaginable without a matrix of culture… it is inconceivable without a history’ .

Stephen Cox’s comment articulates the poststructuralist view that the meanings of a text always derive from its context. Certainly, much of Mary Shelley’s historical context is evident in her novel, Frankenstein. Coming after the Religious Reformation, the Industrial Revolution and the commencement of the Age of Enlightenment and even feminism, the society in which Shelley lived and wrote was characterised by change and questioning, and, like many of her contemporaries, Shelley interrogates the dynamics of society in terms of religion, science, prejudices (racial and physical), sexuality and gender. These interrogations are evident in many aspects of the novel; its plot concerning the concept of man-made life; its hubristic protagonist who meddles with Nature and Science and the novel’s demonstration of the subsequent effects of these two on society and their lessons for society. Arguably, though, it is through the Creature that Shelley offers her readers the most powerful perspective on the injustices and issues within society. As Judith Halberstam suggests, the Creature can be seen to represent Mary Shelley herself, class struggle, the...

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