The monster tells Frankenstein about his remorse, but also about his suffering, hatred and solitude. He says that now that his creator, Frankenstein, is dead, he can finally end his suffering by taking his own life. Walton watches the monster drift away on an ice raft, never to be seen again.
Victor Frankenstein (round character): Victor Frankenstein is the protagonist of the story and one of the main narrators. Frankenstein had a good upbringing and was a curious, smart young boy that was specifically very interested in science. But once his mother died, everything changed. He was devastated by her death and began burying himself in his study, becoming obsessed with the secret of life. Creating life was the biggest mistake of his life; it took everything from him by murdering his loved ones and leaving him with a constant sense of guilt, that indirectly leads to his death.
The Creature/Monster (round character): The creature is the human-like creature Frankenstein created from pieces of flesh and one of the main narrators of the story. The creature, or Frankenstein’s monster, remains unnamed throughout the book. After all, after creating him, Frankenstein abandoned him, and left him there to die; he did not name him. His life is not off to a good start, and only goes downhill from there. Because of his ugliness and hideousness, all humans are scared of him and he leads a lonesome life. Even though he is not a real human, but a creation, he displays human-like qualities, like speech and consciousness. He absolutely despises Frankenstein, since he is the causer of all his pain, but ends up feeling guilty about the people he killed, and it is implied that he commits suicide.
Robert Walton (flat character): Robert Walton is one of the narrators of Frankenstein’s story and a friend of Frankenstein. He is the captain of a boat that rescues Frankenstein. Walton was sailing to the North Pole; in a way, he is just as adventurous and curious as Frankenstein was. He too, wants access to unpossessed knowledge; for Frankenstein, that was the secret of life, for him, it is the North Pole. However, he is also different from Frankenstein, since he decides to sail back to England once he sees that the course is too dangerous, while Frankenstein kept on fighting until the bitter end.
Henry Clerval (flat character): Henry Clerval is Frankenstein’s closest friends. They have been friends since they were kids, although they are interested in very different fields. Clerval studied language, and had a breakthrough in his study about European colonization and trade in India, which could be compared to Frankenstein’s breakthrough (creating the monster). Henry is murdered by the monster because of the monster’s anger of not getting a female companion.
Elizabeth Lavenza (flat character): Elizabeth Lavenza is Frankenstein’s adopted sister and wife. She was the daughter of a very successful, rich family, but became orphaned and homeless. She was taken in by the Frankenstein family who lovingly raised her, before marrying Frankenstein. Lavenza is an idealised character in the book, since she is described as beautiful, loyal, loving, patient and always kind to others. She also fills the role of a mother figure to Frankenstein; a replacement for his mother that passed away. She gets murdered by the monster as a way of getting revenge at Frankenstein; Frankenstein killed his bride, so now the monster kills the one of Frankenstein.
The story is not written chronologically, since the first part of the story is a flashforward; the story begins with Frankenstein going on board on Walton’s ship and this is also how the story ends. The story is written in retrospect, since it is an epistolary novel; all content consists of Walton telling his sister about Frankenstein’s life. So, one could also argue that the whole story, except from the beginning and end, is a flashback. How much time the story covers exactly is not clear, since there are no dates given, but at least a couple of years pass in ‘Frankenstein’.
‘Frankenstein’ is written in 1818, during the Romantic era. This story is a typical Romantic literary work for multiple reasons:
- The focus on emotions. Rather than focusing on the scientific way of creating the monster, Shelley focused on the emotions of the monster and the mental effects of creating the monster on Frankenstein; Frankenstein’s feelings of misery and despair are extensively elaborated. Romantics often focused on emotions, as a response for the previous time period, the Enlightenment, where there was not much space for emotions and feelings, just for science.
- The love for nature. Mary Shelley constantly describes the state of nature and weather the scene takes place in, and also matches this to the character’s current state of wellbeing. For example, it rains when Frankenstein returns to Geneva after hearing about William’s death. In the Romantic period, people thought that nature had become too objectified, mainly because of the Industrial Revolution, and wanted to go ‘back to nature’ because of the spiritual and mental advantages it could have to people.
- (Scientific) Innovation. There were many scientific breakthroughs during the Romantic era, such as galvanism; electricity produced by chemical action, firstly tried on a frog. The story of Frankenstein’s monster does not only fit into this time, it also seems to be a warning for such scientific inventions. When doing such experiments, we should not get ahead of ourselves and always consider the moral consequences it could have.
- Rebellion against society. In ‘Frankenstein’, the monster does not seem like an inherently bad creature, however, he does become one because of society. Society bullied and wounded him just because of his hideous appearance, never trying to get to know his character and behaviour. This is a typical Romantic element since Romantics criticized the social and political norms of their society.
- Nature vs. Nurture. During the Romantic Era, people began questioning what nature and nurture was; what things you were born with, and what things you learned growing up. The opinions about this varied, and that debate is at the forefront of ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein was nurtured by his loving family, while Frankenstein’s monster needed to learn everything himself, the ‘nature’ way. The differences are immense.
Space & place
The story of Frankenstein takes place in many countries across the globe; while most of the it unfolds in Switzerland, scenes also take place in Germany, France, England and Scotland. However, the main place of action is Frankenstein’s hometown, Geneva, in Switzerland. The story is narrated from Walton’s boat in the Arctic Ocean. As mentioned in the chapter before, the weather often matches the wellbeing of the characters.
As mentioned in the chapter ‘Time’, the writing style of the story is typical for the Romantic era; it is very emotional. Mary Shelly’s writing style is also very poetic and sophisticated. She makes use of a lot of literary devices, such as alliteration, and writes with great attention to detail. Elevated, formal language is used, and a good portion of the story are descriptions of the setting where the scene is taking place.
“Every one loved Elizabeth. The passionate and almost reverential attachment with which all regarded her became, while I shared it, my pride and my delight. On the evening previous to her being brought to my home, my mother had said playfully—“I have a pretty present for my Victor-tomorrow he shall have it.” And when, on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally, and looked upon Elizabeth as mine—mine to protect, love, and cherish.”
The story is narrated in first-person and makes use of the I-perspective. However, there are three different narrators: Frankenstein, Walton and Frankenstein’s monster, so it switches perspective. However, it can also be seen that Walton is the true narrator all along, and just tells the story from their perspectives, since all contents consist of Walton’s letters to his sister. This way, the reader can see the story from different perspectives and it also makes it easier to sympathize with Frankenstein’s monster.
The main theme of the book ‘Frankenstein’ is creating life. The protagonist of the story, Frankenstein, wants to create a larger, perfect human. By wanting to create life, he assigns himself to some kind of God-like position; until then, no human was able to create life. His plan backfires immensely, which shows that we should not get ahead of ourselves and do something without considering the moral consequences.
Other themes of ‘Frankenstein’ are:
- Almost all murders that the Frankenstein’s monster commits are out of revenge. He started killing to get revenge for Frankenstein; first because he created and abandoned him, then because he did not make a female companion. It shows that Frankenstein’s monster was not a bad person to begin with but turned bitter because he wanted revenge.
- Frankenstein had a loving family and kept a great bond with them, even when he moved to another country to study. His family consisted of his parents, his three younger brothers and his adopted sister Elizabeth. However, the monster has no family at all, except his creator Frankenstein, who abandoned him. In the end of the book, both his parents and two of his siblings are dead, so he barely has any family left, just like the monster.
- Dangerous knowledge. Both Walton, the captain of the ship, and Frankenstein, are searching for dangerous knowledge. Frankenstein wants to access the secret to life, what ends up backfiring, and indirectly causing his death. Walton wants to reach the North Pole, which almost costs his life because of complications while sailing, but decides to turn the boat around, back home; something Frankenstein did not or could not do.
- Loneliness and rejection. Everyone hates Frankenstein’s monster, which causes him to lead a lonesome life. People quickly judge the book by its cover and think the monster is bad, even though he is not in the beginning and only starts doing bad things once society rejects him. This rejection hurt the monster deeply. Not only the monster, but also Frankenstein is lonely at the end, having lost most of his loved ones. Then, Frankenstein experiences the same fate as the monster does.
- Obsession plays a big role in Frankenstein’s character development. As a child, he is obsessed with reading books on alchemy, astrology, and other pseudo-sciences. Later, he spends days in the lab, neglecting friends and family. His last obsession, life sciences, literally cost him his life, since it led him to creating the monster, and Frankenstein died because of chasing the monster.
- We all know the monster was hated in society, but why exactly? Besides being 8 feet tall, the monster’s incredibly hideous appearance is the main reason for people not wanting to interact with him. He has yellow, almost transparent skin, watery eyes, and black lips. People quickly judge the book by its cover and think the monster is bad, even though he is not in the beginning and only starts doing bad things once he realizes how much society hates him.
The title of the book is ‘Frankenstein’, since Frankenstein is the main character of the story. There are many theories about what Frankenstein’s name means, but none of the theories have been confirmed by the writer herself. The subtitle is ‘The modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was a figure from Greek Mythology who was credited with creating humankind from clay. Just like Frankenstein, he created life out of something that is not alive. But he also stole fire from the Gods and gifted it to humankind, just like Frankenstein went against the will of the Gods by creating life without conception.
There is an epigraph in the beginning of the book:
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?"
—Paradise Lost, X, 743-45
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?"
—Paradise Lost, X, 743-45
Paradise Lost is a poem by John Milton. This epigraph is a reference to Prometheus, since he created life from clay. The quote is a thought from the monster’s perspective; he did not ask Frankenstein to create him, and now he has to live in all this misery that life caused him.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) was an English novelist best known for her novel ‘Frankenstein’, which is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction. Her parents were the feminist activist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her mother died during childbirth and she was raised by her father, who provided her with great education, something that was not common for girls during that time. She began dating one of her father’s political followers, Percy Shelley, in 1814, even though he was already married. After his wife committed suicide in 1816, they married each other. She gave birth to four children, who all died while they were an infant, except the fourth child, who survived. In 1818, they moved from Britain to Italy. In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank. Shelley decided to move back to England and focus on raising her son and her career as professional author. The last decade of her life was overshadowed by her illnesses, probably caused by her brain tumour that killed her at age 53.
Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was on summer vacation to Geneva with her husband, son and a couple of friends in 1816. It rained very frequently, which caused them to stay at their house a lot. To entertain themselves, they decided to each write a ghost story. Shelley could not come up with something for days, until she suddenly got inspiration in a dream of hers and started writing Frankenstein, which she assumed would turn out to be a short story. With her husband’s encouragement, she turned the story into a novel.
The topic of ‘Frankenstein’ really intrigued me and I also wanted to read it because it is such an important work of English literature. However, I found this book difficult to read and hard to get into. Not only is it written in old-fashioned English, what is expected since it was written in 1818, it also features long, difficult-to-follow passages. That is why I did not fully enjoy reading this book and I doubt that I would recommend it to others. It is an interesting story for sure, and I think everyone should know the basic premise of the book, but I would only recommend reading to people that are used to reading historical novels.
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