The Enlightenment : Mary Shelley 's Frankenstein And The Community Of Readers

2060 Words Dec 14th, 2016 9 Pages
Inscribing the Enlightenment: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Community of Readers

With Frankenstein (1818), Mary Shelley intended to titillate and terrify a readership for whom nothing could be more terrifying than science run amok (Villasenor 4). For most of her audience; God, the Church, the Devil, and the Bible held sway over neither their consciences nor their nightmares any longer. Yet the newly secularized societies of Europe had not lost their fear of the dark; they had simply relocated those fears to the margins of their world, at the limits of the known, that twilight realm of science where divine inspiration mingled with human genius to create both marvels and monstrosities. A simple take on Frankenstein would assert it offers a cautionary tale, a parable on the problem of curiosity unbounded and science unchecked. But the triune narrative structure, the extensive use of history and geography, the layered embedding of myth and motif in this masterwork of modern myth are anything but simple. It registers ambivalence to science and cognition (Ziolkowski, passim), marks the scars of painful modernization (Hoeveler, passim), and explores knowledge as cultural artifact (Rauch, passim), but it does not stop there, nor even with asserting the necessity of the moral integrity of scientists (Rauch, 228). Shelley’s novel inscribes an Enlightened readership, instantiating the precise people absent in the novel who must exist to change the outcome of the tale.

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