Evaluation Essay: Critiques of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
This paper assesses the arguments in two critique articles about the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. One of the articles is found in La Belle Assemble’e, and the other is by Walter Scott in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Both these articles advance and support the idea that the deficient and imperfect role of Frankenstein as a creator, as the novel by Shelley depicts, fits the traditional, religious view of God as the only creator and provider of perfect things.
The first criticism of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a piece carried in La Belle Assemble’e, which was a British magazine for women published in the 19th Century between 1806 and 1837. However, there is no direct reference to the specific author of the criticism in the article. The founder of the magazine was John Bell, an English publisher. Initially, the magazine published original fiction and poetry, reviews of theatre and books, serializations of novels, and non-fiction science and politics. Mary Shelley was a notable contributor to the magazine. Besides being a publisher, Bell was a printer, bookseller, and innovator in typography.
The thesis in the critical article is that the novel by Shelley featured bold originality and excellence of language, and carried an underlying moral lesson that the works of man are imperfect (especially relative to those of God), leading to his (man’s) own misery and discomfort. The criticism presents the argument that while a significant share of the society may consider the novel’s primary content and storyline impious (disrespectful to God and religion), the novel presents a moral lesson that the society may find desirable (LBA 1). Perceptions of disrespect to God and religion in the novel’s story may relate to the portrayal of man assuming the role of a creator. The novel depicts Victor Frankenstein as an intelligent man who develops a passion for creation and discovers the secret of life while at the University of Ingolstadt to study chemistry and natural philosophy. Using his acquired knowledge, Frankenstein utilizes old body parts to fashion a creature and later brings it to life (Shelley n.p.). The point of the critical article is that this depiction is potentially disrespectful to religion and to God because it portrays a human being as capable of attaining the skill to create life, and hence rival God as the Creator. It is important to understand this criticism in the context of early 19th Century England, in which religion was a dominant force in the lives of society members. The critical article also argues that the depiction of the creature that Frankenstein “created” in the novel as horrifying, vile, and a monster that is frightful, rather than as perfect creation, is a desirable and preferable lesson for the society. According to the article, the mentioned depiction makes up a positive and desirable moral lesson. The basis of this argument is the idea that compared with God’s creator role, man’s “creation” is imperfect and undesirable. Rather than bringing value and quality, as God’s creation does, any “creation” of man can only bring misery and discomfort to human society. The critical article cites this portrayal as desirable and preferable for society because it does not undermine or contradict the religious view of God.
I concur with the article’s critique of Frankenstein because the portrayal of Frankenstein’s creature as a frightful monster serves to advance the notion that God is the only creator of perfect things. It is important to acknowledge that Shelley’s work is fictional, which allows her to explore creativity and imagination. Nonetheless, while individuals have the freedom of expression and the right to explore their own creativity, it is also important to note that human beings are social in nature. Thus, it is imperative to be sensitive to the views and beliefs of others. In this context, the portrayal of Frankenstein’s created life as imperfect is important to avoid undermining prevailing religious beliefs. The author of the criticism references the nature of Frankenstein’s creature as “a demon” who murders his brother and bride to represent its imperfect and frightful nature. In this way, the author validates the flawed and deficient nature of human creation. This evidence applies properly in the critical article to support the thesis.
A second critique article about the novel is that by Walter Scott in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in March 1818. This critique argues that the novel by Shelley features the use of the supernatural and representations of alterations in the laws of nature to demonstrate the potential consequences of human “miracles” for the human society (Scott 1). The reference to "altered" laws of nature in this context describes the portrayal of a human being (Frankenstein in the novel) as a creator, which contradicts the traditional religious belief that God is the creator. The author of the critical article argues that the satisfaction that human beings derive from the “marvelous” instances of “creation” is less significant relative to the experiences of the effects that these achievements have on human beings as mortals. This argument enhances the idea in the thesis above by promoting the need for human beings to understand that the experience of ‘created’ things in the human society is entirely different from that of the pleasure of 'creating.' It supports the thesis by arguing that the experiences of things that human beings have created are not necessarily desirable despite the sense of human fulfillment in creating them.
This paper demonstrates that the role of God as a creator and the “disrespectful” nature of depiction of man as a creator of life are central issues in the two critical articles about Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. Both articles support the idea that the portrayal of Frankenstein’s imperfection and deficiency as a creator fits the traditional, religious view of God as the only creator and provider of perfect things. This moral lesson is preferable for society because of the widespread view that God has no rival among human beings.
La Belle Assemble’e (LBA). Review of Frankenstein’s novel, March 1818.
Scott, Walter. Review of Frankenstein’s novel. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, March 1818.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Internet Archive, 1818.