Images of the monster

Monsters and society

In his book In Frankenstein's Shadow (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), Chris Baldick shows that, during the nineteenth century, the story of Frankenstein and his monster was adapted to a number of purposes:

  • One of these was to represent the kind of monstrousness of behaviour created by the French Revolution: the crowd itself was represented as a monster, a fearsome being composed of disparate parts, a force created by the thinkers behind the Revolution, but now out of their control
  • In England, the image of the uncontrollable monster was attached to any large grouping threatening the political status quo, including the working classes, the Irish Nationalists, the Trade Unions and even the inhabitants of Birmingham!

Images of the monster in literature

Images of the monster can be found in writings by the prophetic historian and social commentator Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), both in The French Revolution (1837), and in his many comments on the growing strength and articulation of the mass of industrial workers and their increasing political demands.

The novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) inherited from his reading of Carlyle a strong sense that society was becoming mechanised so that people were beginning to be transformed into a robotic state.

Elizabeth Gaskell also uses the image of the monster in her novel Mary Barton (1848), which is about industrial interest in the rapidly growing city of Manchester. Like many other writers, she tends to confuse the name of the monster with that of his creator, but the force of her comment is clear:

‘The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a soul or a knowledge of the difference between good and evil.' (Mary Barton, chapter 15).
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