The romantic educators typically placed the blame for an adolescent's misconduct at the door of a negligent (though often well-meaning) parent. Shelley herself subtly indicts Victor's parents in exactly this way; and she suggests an even subtler subtext of family conflict in the letters Walton writes to Margaret. At this point in the narrative, he has not been home for five years; he will finally return home after yet another year passes, when he is summoned by his father upon William's death.
The young scientist is thirteen, on the threshold of adolescence, when the struggle to break free of his parents and to become his own man begins in earnest. There is the suggestion that Alphonse disapproves of his son's grief as a dilatory tactic.
Not all fathers welcome their child's ascendant power, with its accompanying suggestion that their own is on the wane. In fact, strong sense of parental disapproval informs the father/son reactions throughout the novel.
But what has somehow eluded proper treatment is the resultant real subject of this "monster tale": the failure of human beings to "parent" their offspring in such a way that they will be able to take part in society rather than retreat into themselves.
An emphasis upon the proper assumption of parental responsibilities was part of the age: Maria Edgeworth and Hannah More had, through their educational treatises, influenced Walter Scott's Waverley themes, and Mary Shelley in turn bowed in his direction by allowing her husband to send him presentation volumes of Frankenstein the month the novel was published anonymously.
Surely no one needs to be reminded that Frankenstein is a book largely reminiscent of Mary Shelley's own troubled family relationships; and in support of the point, one need only turn to George Levine and U. Knoepflmacher's excellent collection of essays, The Endurance of Frankenstein, to find the matter well documented.
That an author's life becomes translated into her fiction is hardly news on any account. 49, quoting from Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents. Mary Shelley implicates this tension through her fascination with "the tale of the sinful founder of his race whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise" (p. She revised the second version of her novel to emphasize Victor's lack of important formative stage; the first version allows the elder share his son's interest in science, whereas in the second, Victor is left on his own. my father had taken the pains to explain to me [modern science] . Indeed, as Victor describes his father, we come to see a parent who loves only conditionally: his justice is a "virtue" which renders it necessary "that he should approve highly to love strongly" (p. The need to win approval from judgmental parents can at times compel the child toward excellence; but it can also be perverted into disastrous extremes, in which the child transforms his Promethean aspirations for success into those of overreaching and surpassing his parents at the cost of everything else. No father would claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs." That after the "birth" he feels "guilty of a crime" comes, therefore, as no surprise to us -- he has usurped his father's place in the hierarchy. In fact, when the exuberant youth tries to discuss his reading with his father, Alphonse Frankenstein carelessly glances at the title page and exclaims, "My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash" (p. In one of Victor's rare insightful reflections, he explicitly criticizes his father's execution of his parental role: "If . Victor has ambitiously planned that "a new species would bless me as its creator and source . No wonder then that he finds his interior self "in a state of insurrection and turmoil" (p. His father had taken great precautions to ensure that his son disdain supernatural horrors (p. Victor compensates for the sense of smallness his father has imparted by usurping his parents' powers as creators, but also by issuing forth a child whose physical nature will be inferior, in size, to no one. Instead, his exclamation that he has turned a murderer loose upon society (p. But Frankenstein is not alone in needing to dethrone his parents. He worries not whether there is justice for individual man, but whether he will be treated justly. But more important than any family conflicts outside of the protagonist's is Walton's relationship to Margaret, that maternal sister who has apparently failed to be responsive to her younger brother's needs. Oh, that some encouraging voice could answer in the affirmative! In one sense, then, Victor's exaggerated (and therefore unmistakable) neglect of his progeny serves merely as a bolder-than-life projection of the novel's other, more oblique family conflicts. Anticipating the arrival of Shelley's children by Harriet, Mary exclaims: "I long [for those children] whom I love so tenderly, then there will be a sweet brother and sister for my William who will lose his pre-eminence as eldest and be helped third at table . He somewhat cynically reminds her, for instance, that of his efforts at poetry, she is "well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment" (p. The parental failures are emblematic for those people unwilling to fulfill their duties to society at large: just as the hunter, that mythical image of a strong and protective father, reacts incorrectly and injures his charge's rescuer, so even the priestly fathers respond insensitively to their children's needs. Harold Bloom, The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: Univ. Shelley insists that man can live only through communion with others; solitude, for her, represents death. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London: Walter Scott, n.d.), p. Through his continual exaggerations of familial love, Victor Frankenstein reveals to us the inadequacy of the homelife that belies his oft-fevered protestations of attachment. Perhaps the inevitable ambivalence concerning our own childhood creates a suspension of critical acuity in our reading Victor's story, but a close study of the text undercuts severely his insistence upon the perfect home. Critics have generally fallen for his defenses: Kate Ellis basically accepts his myth of the happy home; That Victor insists upon remembering "the best of all possible worlds" is the psychological defense of an only child (as he was for a long time) who maintains a love/hate relationship with his parents because he senses that they share an affection that in some way excludes him. There is no mention of the inevitable sibling friction; instead, these siblings were "strangers to any species of disunion or disrepute. When, for instance, Henry Clerval asks Victor if they might talk "on an important subject" and Victor reacts with some anxiety, his friend quickly surmises that the scientist might be fearful to speak of his own home. hardly know how ill you have been and are uneasy at your long silence" (p. Victor responds: "How could you suppose that my first thought would not fly towards those dear, dear friends whom I love and who are so deserving of my love? Before proceeding, Clerval reassures his friend: "I will not mention it if it agitates you; but your father and cousin . " Both Clerval and the readers have some reason to doubt Victor's insistence. Or again: "[And did my love] think "about our home, our babe and his poor Pecksie?