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PS: “Transformations of Literature”, SS 2009/10


Jens P. Dräger, M.A.
Osman Nuri Uzun, 1185377, ERASMUS

THE INFLUENCES OF WILLIAM GODWIN’S NOVELS ON MARY SHELLEY'S


FRANKENSTEIN
William Godwin is the father of Mary Shelley. He is a writer just like Mary Shelley.
Mary lived with her father, they talked together, they read together, they spent the whole life
together in the same place. With these relationships in their life, it is thought that Mrs.
Shelley’s Frankenstein is affected by the novels of Mr. Godwin. First, I will give some
examples how Mrs. Shelley’s reviewers analysed Frankenstein about the influences of Mr.
Godwin’s novels.

“To the contemporary reviewers, the book was clearly a product of the Godwinian
‘school,’ a connection made manifest by the dedication: ‘To William Godwin,
author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, etc.” (qtd. in Walling 48).

“It is formed on the Godwinian manner, and has all the faults, but many likewise of
the beauties of that model” (qtd. in Allen 20).

“Our readers will guess ... what a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this
work presents. - It is piously dedicated to Mr. Godwin, and is written in the spirit
of his school” (qtd. in Allen 20).

“Frankenstein, can be interpreted as a form of misreading and rewriting of the texts


by her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin” (qtd. in Bann 17).

As we see in the reviews, it is thought that there are some influences of Mr. Godwin’s
novels upon Frankenstein, and so, the primary purpose of this study is to analyse the
influences of William Godwin’s novels upon Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in view of genre,
point of view, setting, plot, characters and tone.
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GENRE
Frankenstein, as a literary genre, is a gothic novel. In Frankenstein, there are many
gothic elements such as some words “the corpse of (his) dead mother... a shroud enveloped
her form... the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel”, some places “the Swiss
Alps, the Northern ice, Atlantic” and unknown things “the creature dies or not at the end of
the novel”. When we look at the Mr. Godwin’s Caleb Williams, there are also some gothic
words such as “corpse, death, prison, cruelty, violent, go and hang himself and gravestone”.
Also, there are some similar concepts in both novels such as sociological, psychological and
sentimental. In Frankenstein, the situation of Victor Frankenstein after being killed of his
brother and some relatives by the monster shows us clearly these concepts. For Caleb
Williams, we can see these concepts in the situation of Caleb after being accused of him
murdering. With these similarities between Frankenstein and Caleb Williams, it is stated that
Caleb Williams is an imaginative background of Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein as seen in the
example below:

“Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), which Mary read twice in 1814 and again in
1816, and his St. Leon (1799), which she read in 1814, is clearly form part of the
imaginative background of Frankenstein” (qtd. in Florescu 170).
POINT OF VIEW
When we look at the point of view of Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein, we see that Mrs.
Shelley used a first person narrator in her novel, but this first person narrator changes through
the story. Mrs. Shelley first introduces us Robert Walton. Then, it changes from Robert
Walton to Victor Frankenstein to Frankenstein’s monster, and last, it comes back to Robert
Walton. By this narrator changing, the characters describe their confession by themselves. We
can look these examples for the confession in Frankenstein. First one is for Victor
Frankenstein, and the second one is for his monster.

“I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But now crime has
degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no
misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of
my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled
with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and majesty of goodness. But it is
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even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and
man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone” (Shelley 213)

“But, it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have
strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured
me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that
is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even that
irremediable ruin” (Shelley 214).

On the other hand, Mr. Godwin also used a first person narrator in his novel The
Adventures of Caleb Williams, but he did not change the narrators through the story. He used
a fixed narrator for his novel. Also, the characters described their confession, but not by
themselves. We can look at this example for confession below:

“I have told a plain and unadulterated tale. I came hither to curse, but remain to bless. I
came to accuse, but am compelled to applaud. I proclaim to all the world, that Mr.
Falkland is a man worthy of affection and kindness, and that I am myself the basest
and the most odious of mankind! Never will I forgive myself the iniquity of this day.
The memory will always haunt me, and embitter every hour of my existence. In thus
acting I have been a murderer ‘a cool, deliberate, unfeeling murderer’. I have said
what my accursed precipitation has obliged me to say. Do with me as you please! I ask
no favour. Death would be a kindness, compared to what I feel!” (Godwin 226).

As we see above, Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mr. Godwin’s Caleb Williams are
very similar to each other as both used the first person narrator, and the characters described
their confession in both novels.
SETTING
The dominant atmosphere of Mrs. Shelley’s novel and Mr. Godwin’s novel is gothic.
First, the atmosphere is introduced by the state of mind of a major character such as Caleb
Williams and Frankenstein. They were subjected over a period of years to the pursuit of some
relentless fiend or their own conscience. The atmosphere is then developed by the setting.
Mrs. Shelley and Mr. Godwin used a large part of Western Europe and British Isles as a
setting element in their novels. Also in their novels, they used the time which they lived in.
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When we look at Mr. Godwin’s Caleb Williams, Caleb was virtually a prisoner in the
gloomy home of his master. When he escaped and fled from place to place, he went through
the dark forests, and hid in small apartments in ruined sections of London. The state in his
mind is reflected in the setting.
For Mrs. Shelley’ Frankenstein, it is very similar to Mr. Godwin’s Caleb Williams in
view of characters’ fleeing. Mrs. Shelley first shows us Robert Walton. He is farther and
farther away from the public; he is alone, in spirit, on the icy northern seas. The vastness of
the ocean, the gloom, the ice are physical reflections of the situation of plot and character. For
Victor Frankenstein, he spent his two years in graveyards, charnel houses, and his laboratory.
All these are the reflections of Victor Frankenstein’s state of mind as a setting element. For
Victor Frankenstein’s monster, he travelled through the dark forests and hid in a house in a
village. He lived in the North Pole, and he was alone like Caleb Williams. These escapes
show us the state of mind of the monster. Generally, both Mrs. Shelley and Mr. Godwin were
good at using setting in many different ways.
PLOT
In plot section, first, I will tell about Mr. Godwin’s novel. Caleb Williams becomes
an exciting adventure story with the flight pursuit theme in it. The feeling of guilt pursues
Falkland almost as relentlessly as he pursues Caleb. To the end of the novel, Caleb finally
determines to stand his ground. He refuses to flee and goes to the courts. When this new news
takes place, Falkland confesses everything and he dies three days later. Later, Caleb becomes
regretful and horrified when he recognizes what he has done.
For Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein, she used also the same themes in Frankenstein. The
flight pursuit theme is obvious in Frankenstein. The monster pursues the steps of his creator,
Victor Frankenstein, until the creator turns and pursues the monster to the Arctic wasteland.
The monster kills his creator’s relatives such as Victor Frankenstein’s brother and his wife.
Then, Victor Frankenstein becomes angry to the monster. Victor Frankenstein begins to look
for the monster every where, but as he grows weaker and calmer, recognition comes. He just
tried to create a human being, but it results with the destruction of everyone which he loves.
When he sees his error or crime, He becomes very regretful about his actions, and he tells
everything to Robert Walton. At the end, Victor Frankenstein dies, and Mr. Walton turns his
ship to south, and the monster goes north to make his own funeral pyre.
The plot structure of Frankenstein is very close to that of Caleb Williams. The
similarity between Frankenstein and Caleb Williams is no greater than the others as it is seen
in an example given below:
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“It seems possible to single out a number of probable influences exerted on


Frankenstein by Godwin’s novels. First, and perhaps most obvious, is the theme of
pursuit in Caleb Williams (1794), a theme also markedly present the final chapter of
Frankenstein. Second, from Caleb Williams again, Mary may have derived her
concept of the pathos of a criminality which is really the consequence not of
individual viciousness but of social corruption” (qtd. in Walling 49).

CHARACTERS
First, I will tell about the characters of William Godwin’s Caleb Williams. There are
two major characters in Caleb Williams. First one is Caleb. He is accused by a crime. He is
put in prison, and then he escapes. He begins to flee. He passes in dark forests, lives in small
apartments in ruined regions of London. Second one is Falkland. He is guilty person. To the
end of the story, he accepts his crime, and he tells everything to Caleb, and he dies three days
later. This connection between the two characters is very similar to Frankenstein’s characters.
In Frankenstein, there are also two major characters. First one is Victor Frankenstein.
He is very keen on his subject. He succeeds in creating a creature, but this new creature brings
deaths to his life. Because of these deaths, he pursuits the monster, but he understands his
error or his crime to the end of the story. He tells his story, and he dies just like Falkland.
Second one is the monster of Victor Frankenstein. He cannot take part in public, so, he begins
to live outside of cities. He usually flees from people. He lives in dark forests, and he stays in
cots in some villages. This character also is very similar to Caleb.
When we look at the characters of both novels, they are very similar to each other
because the characters’ acts, actions, sociological and psychological conditions are
represented in the same way. In summary, the characters carry the same responsibilities in
both novels.
TONE
The dominant tone of Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mr. Godwin’s Caleb
Williams is didactic. When we look at Caleb Williams, it represents us the injustices of
English social and political life and the bad conditions of prisons. Also, it shows us the results
of human errors or crimes and their confession to their actions. In Frankenstein, it represents
us the limitations of human power and actions. Victor Frankenstein tries to create a man
which is immortal, but this creature becomes ill-equipped to care for. At the end, this monster
brings deaths to his life and his relatives.
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CONCLUSION
In conclusion, the writing career of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was developed
primarily under the guide of her father, William Godwin. She was an affectionate, intelligent
woman, but her intellectual power to create needed the exciting of a more marvellous force
than her own. This force she derived from a number of literary friends, especially from Mr.
Godwin. As we have seen, Mr. Godwin’s primary object in his novel also became the object
of Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lastly, there are so many influences of the Mr. Godwin’s
novels upon Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein in view of genre, point of view, setting, plot,
characters and tone.
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WORKS CITED
Allen, Graham. Shelley’s Frankenstein. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.,
2008.

Bann, Stephen. Frankenstein Creation and Monstrosity. London: Reaktion Books Ltd,. 1994.

Florescu, Radu. In Search of Frankenstein. London: Robson Books Ltd,. 1996.

Godwin, William. “Caleb Williams.” 11323. Gutenberg Ebook. 2 August 2010.


<http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/11323>.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Penguin Books,. 1994.

Walling, William A. Mary Shelley. Boston: Twayne Publishers., 1972.