Questions for study with ideas for answers
Q: Frankenstein is described as a Gothic novel. What are the
ingredients, which define this type of work?
Ideas: Gothic novels are usually set against a backdrop of mystery and foreboding. The action usually takes place in
wastelands, such as the Arctic ice, or on bleak mountaintops. Where Victor conducted his experiments they were either in his eerie lodgings in Ingolstadt or in his remote dwelling on the Orkney Islands.
In every good Gothic tale, there is a strong element of the
supernatural. Shelley demonstrates this in the actual creation of the monster, where the hint is that Victor harnessed the forces of nature such as lightning, to give the spark of life to the collection of
body parts he had assembled. This creation had a supernatural link with its creator, and vice versa, and whenever they were close to one another, they sensed the other’s presence.
The appearance of ghosts is also a key element, and before Victor embarks on
his crusade of vengeance he goes to the graves of the innocents killed at the hands of the monster to commune with their spirits and seek their approval for his quest.
There is also a need to shock the reader, and it is said that when Lord
Byron first heard Shelley’s tale, he ran from the room screaming. No doubt this was due to his fertile imagination.
Although Shelley holds back from giving precise details of the actual creation of the monster, she does not spare the reader regarding the description of the finished product. It should be noted that the thought of bringing to life a dead body would have made the average reader in the 19th century feel very uncomfortable.
Many of the main characters in Gothic tales are flawed, and this brings an
element of sub-normal behavior to the plot. Victor was clearly a spoiled child, who developed an unhealthy passion for his experiments in Ingolstadt. Often the characters provide a link between the
natural and supernatural worlds, and this was certainly true of Victor and the monster in this tale, as both seemed to have a 6th sense.
One of the key elements of the story is Victor’s state of mind. Show how the events in the story affect his behavior.
Ideas: Shelley deliberately provides a detailed study of Victor’s childhood, as this has a direct bearing on how he acts in
He was clearly a precocious child, doted on by both his parents who provided
for his every need.
This even went to the extent that they provided him with a playmate that was groomed to be his wife. He also showed a strong desire to learn, and perhaps his father should have channeled this passion, rather than allowing Victor to read all types of books suitable, or not. Victor’s view on life, therefore, was that anything was allowable, and he could flaunt the conventions of that time. This makes him arrogant and self-centered.
When Victor arrives at University, his arrogance and thirst for forbidden
knowledge drives him to conduct illegal and evil experiments without having any consideration for the consequences.
To him, it is almost a game and he still acts in an immature manner. This turns out to be a dangerous game as it becomes an obsession, and his main desire is to boost his ego and the monster he creates becomes a talisman. When it is too late, he realizes the wrong he has done and shirks all responsibility by allowing the monster to disappear into society. During the experiment, Victor became obsessive and had no thought for himself, his health, his family or his friends.
Victor adopts the head-in-the-sand attitude until the monster inflicts the
first act of tragedy by killing his brother, William. Victor cannot face up to his responsibilities and confess his crime in creating the monster. This leads to the further innocent death of the housekeeper
The years of constant work in Ingolstadt have had a long-lasting effect on
Victor’s powers of reasoning and judgment.
Although physically recovered, his mental reasoning is flawed. In some strange way, he still hopes to escape from the monster, and he does not realize that he is forever linked with the creature. Vainly he hopes to be able to shake the monster loose, and although he promises to create a mate, it turns out he doesn’t intend to keep this promise.
Only with the death of his wife at the monster’s hands does he resort to
obsessive behavior by pursuing the monster with a view to destroying it once and for all.
In your copy of the novel, you will note that there is a Preface, which was written for the 1817 publication by Shelley’s husband, Percy and also an Introduction to the 1831 publication written by the author herself. What are the purposes of these?
Ideas: It was through Percy’s support that Mary was persuaded to expand her original short story, and publish Frankenstein as a Gothic novel.
At this time there were not many Gothic novels around, and Percy was keen to put Frankenstein in the context of other works. He wished to make sure that the reader would not dismiss the story as pure fantasy, but to provide it with an element of authenticity, hence the framing of the story. He also emphasizes that it is not just a gory tale, but also a look at human nature. He also wished to ensure that it was distinguished from romantic novels of that time, and although Frankenstein has elements of passion and logic, it also has supernatural overtones, and involves remote and desolate settings. The Preface also provides a story as to how the novel came into being and mentions the happenings in the summer of 1816 in Geneva, Switzerland, with Lord Byron and company.
Mary Shelley’s Introduction of the 1831 publication gives further
information concerning the gathering of five writers in Switzerland during the summer of 1816, which included her husband Percy, Lord Byron, Lord Byron’s mistress who was also Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairemont,
and John William Polidori who wrote The Vampyre’s Tale, published in 1819.
Mary’s purpose in this Introduction was to stress that it was her husband who encouraged her to write this work, and as such she has affection for the work, particularly since her husband’s death.
Therefore, without Percy’s encouragement, Frankenstein, would never had gone
It had started as almost a joke, as all five writers had agreed to write a ghost story, but Mary’s work outshone the rest, and Percy saw the worth of her work, and so he was determined that she should expand it into a novel. She also gives details of her own childhood, so that the reader can see how this mirrors the happenings in the novel itself. She states “I busied myself to think of a story, a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.” She clearly succeeded in this, but wished to stress that this was just an experiment on her part, and not to be repeated. Although it is evident that this was her forte, she was born before her time, and perhaps the general readership were not ready for this type of work. Shelley: “And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper.”
Shelley also gives details about minor alterations made to the work since
its original publication, but stressing that they mainly related to style and not content.
Q: ‘Frankenstein’ has three main storylines. What are they?
Ideas: Firstly, there is Robert Walton’s story, which frames the other two narrations, and takes the form of letters to his
He has for many years wished to navigate a route joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Arctic, or the North-west Passage. He, like Victor, is determined to succeed at all costs, even perhaps at the cost of his crew, who are on the verge of mutiny. He is portrayed as a lonely man who can find no company in his crew. Victor briefly provides this companionship and Walton’s quest is interrupted by the rescue of Victor. At the end of Victor’s life, he gives Walton the warning to curb his ambition or it may have dire consequences. This is the only spark of hope that comes out of this novel.
Secondly, the main storyline is Victor’s tale, his emergence from a blissful
childhood into the dark world of experimentation with the forces of life and death.
Thirdly, and perhaps the most difficult storyline to appreciate is that of
Although he is far more violent than Victor, he perhaps obtains more sympathy from the reader, being the object of rejection and prejudice to those with whom he came into contact. He was a ‘child’ so far as experience was concerned, abandoned at ‘birth’ to face the hardships thrown at him by society. Faced with total rejection, his only aim in life becomes the destruction of Victor, his creator, but this must be done slowly so that the misery suffered matches his own.