What is Mary Shelley's relationship to the Enlightenment?

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What is Mary Shelley's relationship to the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment broadly means the new wave of ideas and attitudes which surfaced during the late seventeenth an eighteenth centuries. They attempted to break free from old ideas and institutions such as the Catholic church. The Enlightenment had many facets, it was involved in science, philosophy, religion, politics, society, economics and nearly every other aspect of life. A number of philosophers during this time were interested in the notion of "the state of nature", this is a hypothetical situation of what human life was like before society was formed. It was argued that in the state of nature the human soul was fully exposed, this could help the present society to create a peaceful, harmonious and virtuous framework to live in. The conceptions of the state of nature varied greatly, from Hobbes' bloody war against all to Rousseau's belief in the noble savage - satisfied with the most basic requirements.

        Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818. It is about a young scientist who manages to create a living monster. However, the monster is then left to its own devices and cast out of society. The monster becomes bitter and takes revenge on its creator. The book can be seen to have a number of interpretations, it was written towards the end of the Enlightenment period and so draws from this way of thinking. It can be seen as an argument against the advancement of science and a kind of proleptic for scientists such as Einstein, or comment on the French revolution. It is however best interpreted as an argument for the Enlightenment and what it stands for.

        The hometown for Frankenstein is Geneva, a city widely considered to have been an Enlightenment 'hotbed' with philosophers such as Rousseau residing there. It was also considered democratic ( an Enlightenment desire ) for its time. Mary Shelley was English and so it appears unnatural to set the story here and not , for example, in London.

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        The two main characters in the book are Victor Frankenstein, the creator and the monster. These two characters appear to possess the goodness of the Enlightenment period and the neglect of the 'Pre-enlightenment' period. They are both well educated from books, but because the type of books read are so different, they become very different people.

        Victor Frankenstein is a Pre-enlightenment scientist. His work is based on people such as Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), Paracelsus (1493-1541) and Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) who were alchemists and magicians. There are continual references to the uselessness of these scientists, for example, Victors father refers to ...

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