Study Guide

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in Ecocriticism

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

"It's alive!" Yes, doctor, it's alive and it's ugly and it wants to kill you. Why? Well, the creature in Frankenstein is created by unnatural means. It has no mother. So the message is: mess with the way nature procreates, and it bites back.

Nature often shows up in people's lives with teeth, actually.

In fact, cataclysmic weather phenomena were gnawing at Mary Shelley just as she created this story. Which is important information to use in analyzing this text, so far as ecocritics are concerned. See, Ecocriticism loves to investigate the effects of the state-of-the-natural-world on human stories.

And that analytic lens is particularly powerful when turned on Frankenstein. You might even say that nature helped co-author this novel. The summer weather of 1816 was crap, to say the least. Snow fell in Philadelphia on July 4th. Europe experienced the entire year without a summer.

It was just cold and wet and miserable. There was very, very little sunshine. Weird, right?

These conditions were fallout from an 1815 volcano explosion in Indonesia. When this volcano, named Tambora, erupted, its ash cloud cooled the whole earth. And that made the weather miserable in a lot of places for a long time afterwards.

As you'll see if you read the novel—and trust us, you should—these harsh conditions crop up all over the environments Shelley creates in Frankenstein. So it's time to get radically interdisciplinary, dearies. Take a little historical geology, a little volcanology, and a heavy dose of gothic literature and shazzam: you've got one of the greatest monster stories of all time.

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