Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Browning's’ Poem of My Last Duchess: Comparative Analysis
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a real breakthrough during the 19th century and classed as a great modern horror story. There are many themes presented and initiated by Mary Shelley throughout the novel, however, in my opinion the themes of Feminism and religion are those mostly prominent and have a great standing point from the beginning of the novel until the end.
Another name for the novel was in fact ‘The modern Prometheus.” This is hugely relevant to the Religious aspect of the novel. Prometheus was a titan in correlation to the Greek mythology he stole from the higher power; from the God’s to give back to mankind, this in parallel to Victor Frankenstein is very similar. In this novel Victor Frankenstein almost valued himself as the higher power as he questions God’s power in creating life. He messes with the construction of life by building a creature from many different human limbs. This in itself is questioning God’s authority and status as if Victor can do what God can do then he is in par with the power that God actually has. Many of his actions throughout the novel question God’s power and status. There is constant biblical referencing throughout the novel in different forms, from quotes up to imagery. Mary Shelley was always a huge writer of the natural world and its beauty which is seen constantly throughout the novel. I believe this is a very important aspect of the novel as a huge theme throughout the poets and romantic writers of the romanticism era were natural beauty. This almost suggests that Mary Shelley was insinuating something much more than nature being beautiful but almost the fact that humans have a naturally beautiful side to them but also it can be human’s that waste the natural beauty of the world and they cannot see it. This show’s through many other poets during the romantic era. For example in Robert Browning’s’ poem of “My Last Duchess.” He creates a character which in my opinion is extremely similar to Victor Frankenstein in the fact of he again believes that he is more superior than God or life itself, we see this in the line “The dropping of daylight in the west.” (Browning. Robert. My last Duchess line 26.) This line is a truly significant to my point as this character seemingly believes that the previous duchess he is talking about should have looked at him over the sunset. Therefore he believes he is in fact more superior than the the sun which of course our world revolves around or human life itself wouldn’t exist. Rather than the world revolving around the sun he believes he is metaphorically the sun therefore the world including the duchess’s attention should be revolving around him. Like Victor Frankenstein He also plays with life itself from the line “That’s my last duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive.” (Browning. Robert. My last Duchess. Lines 1&2.) From the perspective of the reader we immediately assume that the speaker is insinuating he has killed the duchess or got rid of her in some way or another. We assume this is because of his many reasons including her loving nature, animals and blushing from compliments. We understand that the speaker may be emotionally and mentally unstable. As a reader of Frankenstein I ultimately again get the vibe of him being also quite mentally unstable as he explains a lot throughout the novel about his childhood, also what he was like when he was a child he explains “The world.” He says, was to me a secret which I desired to divine.” (Shelley. Mary. Frankenstein. 2:1) This is interesting as from a young age clearly Victor liked the fact of playing God and he probably always had this mentality from a young boy.
Another interesting aspect is the religious imagery throughout the novel, from when the creature is made by Victor He is immediately seen as this horrendous and hideous creature with Victor running from his mistake. In my opinion in parallel to Victor seeing himself as God I believe the creature takes on the character of Lucifer or the devil. This is the way that Victor portrays the creature however, in my opinion, the creature lashed out at those that were closest and most meaningful to his creator, this is similar to the story of Lucifer and God. Lucifer was God’s creation whom was second in command to help God, however he committed the ultimate sin towards God leading to him being cast down to hell. This is a huge biblical illusion throughout the novel as a big inspiration for the novel was the poem by John Milton Paradise Lost. In the novel when the creature is let loose into the world he makes his way into the forest and reads and obsesses over the poem Paradise Lost in which he spectates many similarities between himself and characters in the poem. A major character in the poem Paradise Lost and the first that we as a reader are introduced to is actually Satan who was formerly known as Lucifer, he was one of the most beautiful angels and he famously declared that he would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. This is quite significant the character of Victor as when he discovers his fascination for dissecting human bodies and the secrets of the laws of nature he no longer wants to study in the university but almost wants to form his own laws and ambitions in other words he knows a whole lot more than any of the professors do, this leads to the creation of the creature.
Another biblical allusion that we see in the novel would be that of the creature referring to Adam in the story Adam and Eve. This is in result of after him being created all he wanted from his creator was what Adam had from his creator; God. We see this in the quote “Like Adam I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other aspect.” (Shelley. Mary. Frankenstein. 15.7) The creature gains knowledge and power in which he can hold over his creator, in the creatures eyes Victor is his God. The monster goes on to explain that unless Victor creates a female partner for him then he will go on to carry on killing all of Victor’s family. This is significant to the story as I believe that the creature understands now that he has been created then surely he must have his “Eve” as that’s who God created for Adam. He goes on to then describe his garden of Eden in which he would want to spend time with his newly created Eve. Like Adam all he wanted was a sense of community and belonging.
Another aspect of the novel in my opinion is the way in which women are presented. I believe this is highlighted more also because the novel is of course written by a woman. During the 19th century opportunities for women were extremely limited as they led their lives in a male dominated society. On many occasions Mary Shelley almost had to excuse her work in result of not overshadowing for example her partner Byron or the fact that she was not intending on making any money from her work it was just in some way a hobby during her spare time. Shelley portrays this throughout her novel for example showing the fact that women are more of a possession rather than a partner, this is highlighted especially in an earlier point where the creature believed that Eve should be created for Adam therefore he needs his Eve, this is the creature then forcing a subjective and objective role onto the uncreated female creature meaning that she would be created for his own possession for him to almost do as he pleases with her. In other words he already had her life mapped out for her before she was even created.
There are more similarities between the creature and Victor than either of them actually realise metaphorically speaking Victor has created another side to himself in the creature as one main similarity is that Victor also decides Elizabeth’s fate in that she will marry Victor and they will be together after he has went on his journey of discovery. It’s also crucial to understand that Shelley shows the fact that women have to depend heavily on the men to get by in their life. The story is narrated by men only, this shows that no woman in the novel has in Shelley’s view enough substance to speak which is true reflection of the time period as it’s known that Mary Shelley almost lived in her husband’s shadow with his work being seen and respected. The character of Elizabeth is seen in Victor’s eyes as the most perfect woman for him and in general. As a reader you cannot help but believe this is in result of the fact that she seemingly takes the role of Caroline; Victor’s mother who passed away, by being a woman who stays at home looking after the children and waiting for Victor’s return so she can marry him and be his wife. This leads onto when Elizabeth is killed by the creature it is hard to then feel the sadness that victor is feeling due to her character not receiving much light during the whole of the novel in comparison to all of the male characters.
The aspect of subjective and objective roles in men and women are very similar in conjunction with the roles in again My Last Duchess from Robert Browning. The narrator which we assume of course is from a wealthy and well respected background , we think this as it seems he is at some sort of gathering in which he is talking with a fellow male, we assume the fate of his last duchess in consideration to one of the last lines in the poem “I gave commands; then all smiles stopped altogether.” (Browning. Robert. My last Duchess.) this automatically makes the reader believe that she is dead and also the fact that he had power and control over her life, whether she was allowed to live or not, this is the horrendous ending to what we believe was a life of unnecessary demands in which the speaker would give his duchess. He takes on the subjective role when talking about his last duchess for example the possessive pronoun “my” is used throughout the poem in lines like “Thats my last duchess painted on the wall”. I believe something that lies behind the speaker’s anger and disgust in regards to his previous duchess was that he feared her capability of questioning his masculinity for example in the line “she looked on, her looks went everywhere.” (Browning. Robert. My last Duchess.) and the line “she thanked men.” (Browning. Robert. My last Duchess.) This suggests that she had some sort of power over he speaker and he was afraid if she had the capability to be the typical seducing woman then she would be able to commit adultery and ultimately make a fool out of him. During the 19th century any man whom was cheated on or whose wife would commit adultery was seen as a cuckold; the ultimate shame and demasculinize description a man of time could have. Another way that he wouldn’t want a woman to in some way take away his masculinity is when he explains “who’d stoop to blame.” (Browning. Robert. My last Duchess.) from the verb to “stoop” I assume that he means rather than asking politely his duchess to stop what she is doing in her actions or explain why she is angering him he would rather put a stop to it himself ultimately by killing her. This means that he still has that power over the duchess even in death. This point is similar throughout quite a few of Browning’s poetry when it comes to the male role wanting to keep their power and masculinity over women as we also see it in his poem “Porphyria’s Lover.” where we believe Porphyria is a woman of high class and status with the speaker being a secret lover of her’s. She holds the subjective role throughout the whole poem up until he strangled her with her own hair. Then with her in death the roles switched with him taking on the subjective role in the fact now she is dead he always holds the power over her and he head her life in his own hands just like the duke.
Browning is like Shelley and many other writers of the romantic period he likes to include the natural environment throughout his poems, he executes this specifically by using pathetic fallacy in his poems. Porphyria’s lover begins with the line “The sullen wind was soon awake.” (Porphyria’s lover. browning . Robert. Line 2) and “It tore the elm tops down for spite.” (Porphyria’s lover. Browning. Robert. Line 3) the weather is personified as well as setting the mood for the poem which we can assume is going to be quite dark and unsettling, in way I believe that the weather in this poem is almost a alter ego of the speaker. This is extremely similar to what Shelley like’s to do in her work including Frankenstein however with the weather and natural beauty being a huge diversion for Victor Frankenstein.
In conclusion the romantic period in writing was one that changed writing for many writers as Frankenstein was rather revolutionary in the fact that it was a female who had written the first major gothic novel that truly scared many people and is still legendary in today’s modern day horror and writing. With poets in the likes of Byron, Browning and wordsworth being quite legendary in the fact of bringing other forces into their writing rather than just religion as many poets, In the likes of Wordsworth liked to move away from bringing religion into his writing and focus on mainly nature and a humans natural ways.
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