Mary Shelley

Maybe the most iconographic moment from the 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

On this date in 1851 Mary Shelley died (born 1797).

Frye in “The Times of the Signs” cites Frankenstein to make a point about the responsibility we bear and the potential we possess with regard to the world we make.

When Blake or Morris or D.H. Lawrence attack or repudiate our technological culture, therefore, they are really saying that if man is too lazy to mould his world according to his real beliefs, and tries to abdicate his responsibilities by trusting to some kind of automated progress, he is actually releasing the most sinister and vicious impulses in himself, and the end of it is logically either the total destruction made possible by modern physics or, far worse, the unending tyranny made possible by modern communications.  Hence the preoccupation of so many writers with the themes of mad scientists and parody Utopias like 1984.  One thinks particularly of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, whose monster is popularly supposed to be a symbol of man’s enslavement to the mechanisms he has created.  Actually, the monster is portrayed with a good deal of sympathy; the many references to Milton’s Paradise Lost in her own story make it clear that the real theme is the responsibility that man takes on when he recognizes the extent of his own creative powers.  If what he creates is monstrous, merely viewing it with horror is hardly enough.  The moral of such fables is that man can never avoid the challenge to examine his own beliefs, his desires, and his visions of society at every step of new discovery.  The future that is technically possible is not necessarily the future that society wants or can accept.  To be fatalistic about this, to assume that whatever can happen must happen, is the way to develop “future shock” into coma.  (CW 27, 355)

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1 thought on “Mary Shelley

  1. Clayton Chrusch

    I like this passage very much. I don’t know anyone who has a wider perspective than Frye. There is no fatalism in him.

    Reply

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