Shelleyan monsters: the figure of Percy Shelley in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Peter Ackroyd’s The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
This thesis will examine the representation of the figure of Percy Shelley in the text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). My hypothesis is that Percy Shelley represents to Mary Shelley a figure who embodies the contrasting and more startling aspects of both the Romantic Movement and the Enlightenment era. This I will demonstrate through a close examination of the text of Frankenstein and through an exploration of the figure of Percy Shelley as he is represented in the novel. The representation of Shelley is most marked in the figures of Victor and the Creature, but is not exclusively confined to them. The thesis will attempt to show that Victor and the Creature can be read as figures for the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements respectively. As several critics have noted, these fictional protagonists also represent the divergent elements of Percy Shelley’s own divided personality, as he was both a dedicated man of science and a radical Romantic poet. He is a figure who exemplifies the contrasting notions of the archetypal Enlightenment man, while simultaneously embodying the Romantic resistance to some aspects of that zeitgeist. Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in the novel by contemporary authors, biographers and playwrights, who have responded to it in a range of literary forms. I will pay particular attention to Peter Ackroyd’s, The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (2011), which shows that the questions Frankenstein poses to the reader are still with us today. I suggest that this is one of the main impulses behind this recent resurgence of interest in Mary Shelley’s novel. In particular, my thesis will explore the idea that the question of knowledge itself, and the scientific and moral limits which may apply to it, has a renewed urgency in early 21st century literature. In Frankenstein this is a central theme and is related to the figure of the “modern Prometheus”, which was the subtitle of Frankenstein, and which points to the ambitious figure who wishes to advance his own knowledge at all costs. I will consider this point by exploring the ways in which the tensions embodied by Percy Shelley and raised by the original novel are addressed in these contemporary texts. The renewed interest in these questions suggests that they remain pressing in our time, and continue to haunt us in our current society, not unlike the Creature in the novel.