A Life Lived in Fear

Volume II: Chapter One

Volume III: Chapter Four

Volume III: Chapter Five

Volume III: Chapter Six

1818 Text of Frankenstein

Caroline Beaufort-Frankenstein

Map of Minor Characters

The New Frontier

Author's Letters

Contemporary Response

Contemporary Work

Romantic Era Timeline

Romanticism Links

San Jose State University Department of English

Citations and Sources



THIS site is the final project for a Romanticism course at San Jose State University, using Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 edition of Frankenstein as the main text.The collective student web-sites examined and critically analyzed the personal writings of Mary Shelley, various personal and public writings of her contemporaries, and the general historical context around which Frankenstein was written. 

“NOTHING is more painful to the human mind, than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows, and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.” 

The feelings Victor Frankenstein describes in the above quote are symptomatic of madness. And while at this moment in the text, Victor claims he is unafraid, he is lives his entire adult life in fear. It began with his mother’s death, with the fear of mortality. Gradually, he grew afraid of what he became in the feverish period he was at school. More afraid of himself, than the monster he creates. Victor, egoist that he is, eventually translates this fear of self into a fear of being found out. Loved ones are dying all about him, but Victor cannot take the necessary steps to defend them without villainizing himself. 

The bulk of content for this site was created through an examination on the theme of fear, running throughout the text .  The 1818 text of Frankenstein was used as the version for the study.  While not exclusive to these chapters, this site is responsible for Volume II: Chapter One, Volume III: Chapter Four, Five, & Six.  The first of this set begins the fear of discovery Victor feels, allowing Justine Moritz to die.  The last three chapters of the book represents the culmination of Victor's struggle with fear, ending it all by giving a full account to Walton and promptly dying at the hand of the monster he created.  In some small way, Shelley must have meant for her readers to have been reconciled with Victor Frankenstein for the brutal silence he kept up.  It is, however, unconvincing.

The class set out to analyze the minor characters of Frankenstein of which Caroline Beaufort-Frankenstein was one.  It is Mrs. Frankenstein's death that causes her son, Victor, to become so feverishly set on "curing" mortality.  His mad attempts to harness the power of life can most accurately be tied to this formative development in Victor's psyche. 

Victor eventually develops a different sort of fear, one in which his own self-preservation becomes important.  It is for this reason, among others, that an examination of a similarly themed text was performed.  The New Frontier correlates to Victor's fear for self-preseveration in that an entire generation of super-heroes has to come together to fight an enemy that threatens the existence of all they know.  Moreover, the "last stand" the super-heroes  perform is similar to Victor's final fight against the monster.  At least, thematically it is similiar.  Victor loses his battle, but Shelley seems to hold out the hope that even in death, Victor has conquered the monster.  The yellow-eyed being claims he shall never again return to the land of men.

Three examinations were done on writings contemporary to the writing of Frankenstein itself.  Reviews of Frankenstein proved unfovorable in their reaction toward the work, ironic given its critical importance today.  In the work of the Banim Brothers,  writer contemporary to Mary Shelley, it was found a deep-rooted tension between the English and the Irish people - one which was just beginning to foment itself into war and riots, and eventually the violence of the mid-to-late 20th century.  Finally, in Mary Shelley's own letters, there was a sense of fear - perhaps fed by preconceived notions regarding their relationship.  However, it seemed that Shelley, while drawing from her own experience to write Frankenstein, seemed to feel a degree of fear herself.  Partly at her husband's prolonged absences, but also over the loss of her children. 

Frankenestein is not simply the first science fiction novel or a prominent work by a female author in a time when it was not prudent to be both a female and a writer.  Rather, it is a tale that is deeply reflective of the human condition, of fears about technology, mortality, progress, loneliness, and the alluring, yet frightening power of free will.  Essentially, Shelley introduced a type of novel form that expresses universal human ideas and fears.  It remains one of the most prominent early English novels to do this; this is why Frankenstein has lasted despite critical disdain and juvenilic prose.  It is a great novel, and it is great only for the truth that lies therein.