Education In Frankenstein By Mary Shelley Essay, Research Paper
Education as most people think of it today, where men and women are schooled
at the same facilities and taught the same subjects, is not the type of education that is
displayed in Frankenstein. In this novel by Mary Shelley, the reader can see the
differences in the Victorian education which each sex is privileged to. The novel also
clearly presents the main character, Frankenstein, as the most classically educated
character in the novel and displays the struggles he copes with because of his mental
acuity and desire for knowledge. The movie version, directed by Kenneth Branaugh
presents a slightly altered view of Victorian education. Although many facets of teaching
coincide directly with the novel, several instances in the film contradict the view of
education prescribed by Mary Shelley. The novel puts forth the opinion from an early
age, Frankenstein has a desire and thirst for knowledge. This coupled with the death of
his mother causes the misuse of knowledge and creation of Frankenstein’s monster. The
movie, however presents Frankenstein’s education in a somewhat different light. The
film chooses to portray Frankenstein’s education as something he can easily be pulled
away from until the untimely death of his mother. Then, his education becomes an
obsession, something he cannot be pulled away from.
Mary Shelley presents the readers with a distinction of the education of the sexes
in Chapter II of the novel, “I was capable of a more intense application, and was more
deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge. She busied herself with following the aerial
creations of the poets; and in the majestic and wondrous scenes which surround our
Swiss home. . . she found ample scope for admiration and delight” (Shelley 18). This is
how the “education” of women is defined. Frankenstein says of his own education,
“While my companion contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent
appearance of things, I delighted in investigating their causes. The world was to me a
secret which I desired to divine” (Shelley 18). Shelley gives plenty of examples in this
chapter as to how the education of men and women differ. The movie, however speaks
very little about the differences.
The only markable difference we see is the scene in which Frankenstein is
conducting experiments and working in his home laboratory when his mother comes,
praises his accomplishments and rushes him away from them to come dance with the
ladies (Elizabeth does this exact thing later in the movie). The things ladies choose to
busy themselves with in the film is dance and music, while men are hard at work in the
laboratory (women are their distraction).
Another difference between the novel’s education and the film’s education is
shown in Frankenstein’s motivations for education. In the novel he seems to always have
a steady thirst for new and exciting things, the death of his mother only heightens his
interest in the creation and destruction of life. His education becomes and continues to
be his primary focus, whereas the film presents this in a different light.
The film shows Frankenstein as someone who enjoys knowledge, but also as a
person who can easily be persuaded to pay attention to other aspects of life. In a scene
mentioned previously, he is easily pulled away from his studies twice by ladies (his
mother and Elizabeth). Frankenstein changes forever, as he does in the novel, with the
death of his mother. His primary focus is to recreate life.
So, though the differences are slight, the education presented in the novel by
Mary Shelley and the film adaptation by Kenneth Branaugh are somewhat different. The
book reveals much more about the education of women in Victorian England. The film
shows them only as interrupters of study and dancing fools. The film and novel also
shows a slight difference in Frankenstein himself. His motivation in the novel appears to
always be present and is only heightened by the death of his mother. While in the film,
he enjoys his education, but does not take it quite as seriously until the death of his
mother. It could be said the timings of heights or his educational curiosity are just
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, dir. Kenneth Branaugh, perf. Kenneth Branaugh, Helena
Bonham-Carter, TriStar, 1994.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.. 1994. 18.