Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.
Robert Walton, an explorer to the North Pole, describes his expedition in letters to his sister in England, Mrs Margaret Savill. The expedition takes on board a wretched man pursuing his runaway monster at the sledges pulled by dogs. The man, Victor Frankenstein, intimates his story to Walton to serve him as a moral if he succeeds, or a comfort if his expedition fails.
Walton feels confident about his success, claims he will kill no albatross, so that he would not end up a wretched man (hints at S. T. Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner").
Frankenstein experiences an extraordinary happy childhood. Gets involved first with alchemy, then with natural science. Leaves his native Geneva to study in Ingolstadt. Discovers the key to life. A constant scientific work gravely damages both his physical and psychical health, but manages to give life to the monster. About 3 meters tall, in a human shape, made of dead corpses. Frightened Frankenstein hides from his hideous monster and it leaves his dwellings. He falls gravely ill and is attended by Henry Clerval, his friend, for several months.
William, Frankenstein’s younger brother, is murdered. Justine Moritz, a poor good girl and a friend of the family, is convinced of the crime and hanged. Frankenstein holds the monster responsible for the murder and finds himself responsible for the loss of two innocent lives and for the evil the monster is yet going to cause. Seeks to isolate himself from the society and find comfort in highland nature. There he meets the monster. Cannot effectively destroy it because he endowed it with superhuman power. The unhappy monster, refused, and isolated from the society, seeks Frankenstein’s help. Frankenstein follows it to its cave to hear its story.
Quotes Colerige's "Mariner", the sinner trying in vain to escape from his guilt. Puts emphasis on the human relationships which deteriorated while Frankenstein was working in his creation. This marks his scientific concern was unhealthy because it prevented him to cherish the relationships to his family. Paralell to the solitary explorer Walton who also expresses the need of a friend in his letters.
The characteristically Romantic colourful description of the mountain nature and the concept of the powerful, soothing nature. Emphasis on one's responsibility for his or her actions.
The monster finds himself abandoned and helpless at its birth. He finds a hiding in a forest, eats fruits and roots. With no evil intentions he comes out of the forest when he runs out of food. Women and children fear him, men beat him. He settles in a little wooden shelter adjacent to a poor family's house. By a detailed observation he learns about the common course of men's lives. He feels pity about the sadness and poverty of the family, gets emotionally attached to its members, and helps them by supplying wood for fire.
De Laceys, the family, cheer up at the arrival of Saphie, a Turkish woman. De Laceys used to be respectable residents in Paris, but Felix, son of the now blind old father, helped to get Saphie's falsely accused father out of prison. They were deprived of their property and exiled in Germany. Saphie's father prevented her to marry Felix because of his Christian faith, she ran away to live with him in secret.
Together with Saphie the monster learns to speak French, the family language, and to read and write. Discovers books: Milton's Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Autobiography, and Goethe's The Sorrows of the Young Werther. Prepares himself to meet the family and hopes to be accepted despite his unspeakable ugliness. Talks to the blind father, but is surprised by Felix, Saphie, and Agatha, Felix's sister. Felix beats the monster to draw him away. When he approaches the house again, the family moves away. Out of the disappointment his wrath grows, he burns down the empty house, and leaves for Geneva to find his creator. He learns about his origin from the diary in the pocket of the jacket he took from Frankenstein.
On his way he saves a little girl who fell into a river, but the man accompanying her shoots him. Such a gratitude for his help throws him into a hatred of the whole humankind. He comes across William and intends to make the supposedly prejudice-less child his friend. The boy calls him bad names and reveals his identity. The monster strangles him to make Frankenstein suffer. He takes the boy's miniature because he is moved by the beauty of the depicted woman. Mad with loneliness and desperate about his creating but fear in women, he puts the miniature into the pocket of a sleeping woman to make the beauty suffer. Finishing his story, the monster asks Frankenstein to make him an Eve, a woman like him.
The monster finds parallels between himself and Milton's Adam (the only living creature of its kind) and Milton's Satan (envying others their everyday sociable lives).
The monster is not born evil. Realises the presence of evil first on hearing the sad story of de Laceys. Strongly inclines to virtue, according to the example of "his" family. An unfortunate treatment makes the creature evil.
Narrates his story with extraordinary suggestiveness, evokes both sympathy and horror.
Continuation of Frankenstein's Narrative
The monster explains he is evil because of his being unhappy and promises to disappear in uninhabited parts of world with his future partner. Frankenstein finds the monster capable both of reasoning and emotion and accepts his demand. Frankenstein leaves with Henry to the bleak Orkneys to make a female monster. After realising the two might have children to destroy the whole mankind, he destroys his work. The monster, who followed the progress of his work, warns him he would be with him on his wedding night. Frankenstein is arrested for the murder of Henry and spends several months in prison gravely ill before he is announced innocent.
On his wedding night, it is not Frankenstein, who dies, but his bride Elizabeth. His father dies of grief. Frankenstein is haunted by guilty feelings about the death of William, Justine, Henry, Elizabeth, and his father, feels like dying, but realises he is condemned to live. Declared insane, pursues the monster on his own. The monster laughs at him, teases him, and makes him follow as far as to the North Pole. There the dying Frankenstein finishes his story and makes Walton swear he would overtake his task of pursuing the monster after his death.
A strong parallel with Milton's story of the creator having to cope with his creation mastering its creator.
Major motif of the passionate desire for revenge on parts both of the creator and his creation.
Walton finishes writing down Frankenstein’s story and continues his letters. Frankenstein warns him against the ambition to ruin his own life and lives of others. Once again he makes him swear to destroy the monster, not for revenge, but on the grounds of responsibility. The monster appears over Frankenstein’s dead body and mourns his death he caused through the uncontrollable selfish passion for revenge. Realises the more evil and violence he caused, the more dissatisfied he was. Leaves the ship with the intention to burn himself to death so that his body could not be put together again. Walton narrowly escapes the danger in which the expedition put his crew, abandons his ambition, and leaves for England.
Before his death, Frankenstein realises the responsibility he had neglected. His story serves as a moral for Walton who may be saved from his dangerous ambition this time, but what about the next time? The monster leaves the scene decided to commit suicide, but is he really going to fulfil his intention?
The conclusion remains ambiguous.
- a Romantic Gothic novel
- a skilful intermixture of multiple contrasting points of view
- the bearing of responsibility for one's actions (Frankenstein)
- humanity and the necessity of active social life (the Monster)
- the profound influence of environment on one's development
- evil as producing but another evil and the bitter fruit of revenge
- the ambivalent nature of knowledge
- the danger of ill-reasoned ambition
AuthorShelley, Mary. (1797 - 1851).
Full TitleFrankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. (1818). London: Dent, 1945.