In his Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine article, reviewing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), Walter Scott introduces the idea, that the novel, dealing with the supernatural, as a possibility for personal reflection. Scott advocates questioning the morals and conventional train of thought by submitting a character of an ordinary man to extraordinary ordeals (14). As Scott maintains in his review, the necessity to demonstrate the effect of challenges and tribulations befalling an ordinary human being is primary to the novel, dealing with the supernatural.
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Sir Walter Scott, one of the most influential and prolific writers of his time, was considered a renowned poet and, later, author of fiction, both reputed and knowledgeable (Mayer 1). The interest of the reading public, expressed for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was characteristic of the final years of the Regency era, as scientific and technological advancement was on the rise. Yet, new developments ushered in the fascination with the provoking and the mysterious that was later embraced by the Gothic of the Victorian era in the literary world. The novel became the solid means of impressing the reader with the tales of the supernatural and transporting him or her into the otherworldly environment.
Distinguishing between the two ways of navigating the narrative, Scott maintains that the author’s foremost goal is to describe the character modeled on an ordinary man. The importance lies with the character’s feelings and behavior under the straining circumstances, instead of attempting to dazzle the reader with the marvelous and the supernatural in the story (Scott 15). Scott’s point of view is easy to agree with, as the narrative in Frankenstein presents a variety of challenges, social, ethical, or scientific in their origin.
In his article, Scott uses examples from the leading works of literature and theatre of his time (Scott 15), as he seeks to illustrate the point he makes in his review. Besides, Scott draws his parallels from the introduction to the novel. His vocation and personal involvement in the literary world as a poet and a writer add credibility to his judgment, allowing an insight beyond his métier of a mere critic.
To extend Scott’s idea, the importance of ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances as the basis for the reader’s self-reflection is supported through the depiction of the law and its enactment in some novels (Parrino 26). In Frankenstein, the understanding of justice and human rights is mirrored through the trial of Justine. As a servant, unlawfully accused of murder and subsequently submitted to a trial (Shelley 76), Justine represents a small cog in the judicial machine, unable to change her own fate. At the same time, Victor is presented with a substantial moral dilemma of averting her verdict by coming forward with the truth (Shelley 74), yet he chooses to keep his silence. Thus, he consciously affects another character’s life, influenced by his self-interest. The episode provokes the reader to pass judgment on either the characters or the circumstances, pondering his or her personal views at the same time.
According to Parrino, there are two approaches to the law in the novel that Shelley allows the reader to witness (26). The first one is the imperfection of law, brought about by its arbitrary nature, thus condemning an innocent person and inflicting a punishment that is entirely unjust. The second approach is the reassertion of rights through fair trial and the redeeming of a character, previously considered a criminal. Thus, the legal system is exposed, with the capital punishment at the center of it (Parrino 27). Heavily influenced by the writing of her father, William Godwin, who addressed the issue of the law in his novels and essays, Mary Shelley included the most poignant of the questions in Frankenstein. In doing so, she provided yet another instance of self-reflection for her readers, allowed them to question themselves, and created a partition among them, polarising their views.
With that duality of views on the subject of justice, the reader is left to concur with his or her own ideas on the matter. The intrinsic desire for justice leaves the reader, wondering if anything could be done in case of a similar situation befalling him. As with so many choices presented throughout the novel, the reader is inclined to opt for one side or the other. The continuing provocation allows the reader to evolve, as the narrative unfolds, centering the attention on the essential human experience.
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The novel raises a number of questions, each defined by a difficult choice to take into consideration. It juxtaposes human to divine, nature to nurture, taking responsibility to denial. Scott’s article shifts the focus from the monster and the preternatural, pictured almost grotesquely for the sake of a reader’s thrill. Instead, Scott insists that the human beings and the actions they carry out are the driving force behind any elaborate narrative, embellished with the supernatural. Through self-reflection, the reader’s interest is inadvertently directed to the characters’ motivation, evoking compassion, or indignation within a much larger emotional specter.
Mayer, Robert. Walter Scott and Fame: Authors and Readers in the Romantic Age. Oxford UP, 2017.
Parrino, Maria, et al. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1818-2018. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020.
Scott, Walter, et al. Frankenstein and the Critics. Enhanced Media, 2016.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Vintage, 2016.