Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus
Date and publisher of this edition
Oxford University Press, 1991
Mill Hill's library
Explanation of the title
In the book doctor Frankenstein creates a monster. Frankenstein is the most important character, the story is told from his point of view. The sub-title (The Modern Prometheus) refers to a Roman myth, about a man (Prometheus) who steals fire from the Sun (the fire of life) with which he animates a man of clay, made by him. He is punished by Jupiter, the highest of the Gods, who chains him to the Caucasus where an eagle feeds on his vital organs.
The story is set in the 18th century. I was unable to find out in exactly which years. The story is not concentrated on a single place; it describes a journey across the Globe.
Victor Frankenstein: (Round Character) THE important character in the book. He is the man that creates the monster. He is about 20 years old in the beginning of the story, at the end his must be about 30 years of age.
The Monster: (Round Character) This is also one of the main characters. The monster is a terrible wretch; it murders all of Frankenstein's friends and family.
Henry Clerval: (Flat Character) Frankenstein's best and only friend who travels with him to England. Frankenstein and Clerval know each other from very early age. He is the third of Victor's acquaintances that is killed.
Elizabeth: (Round Character) Victor's "cousin", in fact an orphan adopted by the Frankenstein's. Victim No four.
Alphonse Frankenstein: (Round Character) Victor's father and he fifth of Frankenstein's acquaintances to die (indirectly) by the Monster's hands.
Robert Walton: (Flat Character) The man Frankenstein tells his story to, who then relates the story to his sister in his letters.
DeLacey: (Flat Character) A blind man who lives in a hut somewhere in the Alps. The Monster has built a hovel adjacent to that hut. It is able to see and hear everything that happens in there.
Felix: (Flat Character) DeLacey's son. He chases the Monster away when it is talking to the blind man.
Agatha: (Flat Character) DeLacey's daughter.
Safie: (Flat Character) Felix' girlfriend. She is Arabian and does not want to live her life in a harem.
Margaret Saville: (Flat Character) The woman the whole history is indirectly told to (via Robert Walton's letters).
William: (Flat Character) Frankenstein's brother, who is choked to death by the Monster. He is the first victim.
Justine Moritz: (Flat Character) The housekeeper of the Frankensteins. She was hanged because she was convicted innocently for the murder of William, so she is indirectly the Monster's second victim.
There are many other characters, but they are not important enough to the story to mention them.
An English explorer, Robert Walton, is on an expedition to the North Pole. In letters to his sister Margaret Saville, he keeps his family informed of his situation and tells about the harsh conditions on the ship. One day when the ship is completely surrounded by ice, a very ill man who was found floating on an ice-raft is taken aboard. His name is Victor Frankenstein. After the ship's doctor has nursed him back to health, he tells Walton the story of his life.
Frankenstein grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, as the eldest son of a higher-class family. He was brought up together with an orphan, Elizabeth, and his two younger brothers. He did not have many friends, Henry Clerval being the only one. At the age of nineteen, Frankenstein became interested in natural philosophy, electricity, chemistry and mathematics. After the death of his mother, who died of scarlet fever, Frankenstein left for Ingolstadt, Germany, to attend university. There, his interest in natural philosophy quickly became an obsession. The human frame and the principle of life in particular fascinated him. After four years of studying, not keeping in touch with his family, he was able to "bestow animation upon lifeless matter" and created a man of gigantic proportion from assembled body parts taken from graveyards, slaughterhouses and dissecting rooms. As soon as the creature opened his eyes, however, the beauty of Frankenstein's dream vanished: it became a horrible Monster. Frankenstein realised he had made a mistake in creating this Monster and fled from his laboratory. On his return the next day, the Monster had disappeared. After this occurrence Victor had an attack of nervous fever and was nursed back to health by his friend Clerval in a couple of months. On the eve of the return to Switzerland, he received a letter that his youngest brother had been found murdered. On his way home, Frankenstein saw the daemon he had created. He immediately realised that that was the murderer of his brother. Frankenstein decided not to tell his family about the Monster because they would simply dismiss it as insane. When he arrived home, he was informed that the murderer of his brother had been found. The accused was Justine, the housekeeper and a good friend of the family. She was hanged after she had been found guilty. Victor's hart is tormented and he decides to head for Chamonix, a city in the Alps. During the journey, Victor encounters his creature. It tells him its story.
After leaving Frankenstein's laboratory, it went to the village, where it was insulted and attacked by the frightened villagers. It travelled around country until it found refuge in a hovel next to small house inhabited by an old, blind man and his two children. By observing the family and by reading their books, the Monster learnt how to speak and read. It felt compassion for the family because their lives were very poor. It decides to aid them anonymously by chopping wood and collecting food. Longing for some kindness and protection, it decided to meet its hosts. It got into a pleasant conversation with the blind man but the children return unexpectedly. Horrified by his appearance, they beat him and he fled the house. Completely disillusioned, the Monster was filled with rage and decided to find its creator. By chance, it encountered a boy in the forest. As soon as it discovered that the boy was in fact Frankenstein's younger brother William it choked him. It placed a token in the lap of a young woman (Justine), which led to her conviction.
The daemon's only wish was for Frankenstein to create another monster: a female to accompany him. If Frankenstein complies, the Monster and its bride will stay away from other people and keep to themselves in the wild. Frankenstein saw some justice in the monster's arguments and felt that he had a duty towards his fellow man, so he agreed to the daemon's request. Victor left for England to finish his work, accompanied by his friend Clerval, promising to marry Elizabeth on his return. When his second creature was almost completed, he started to question the words of the Monster. He was afraid that the monsters would produce offspring. When the Monster visits to check on the progress, Frankenstein was just destroying his work. The Monster swore revenge and promised to be with him on his wedding night. Frankenstein fled in a boat to Ireland in the middle of the night. The following day a body was found and Victor was accused of murder. He was shown the body, which he identified as Henry Clerval. He was eventually cleared of all charges and returned to Geneva in a very bad condition. Frankenstein married Elizabeth after promising her to tell her his horrifying secret the next day. Remembering the Monster's threat, Frankenstein was convinced that he would be killed that night. The Monster, however, kills Elizabeth instead. When Victor tells his father the horrible news, Alphonse dies of a heart attack. Frankenstein had now lost every reason for living except for revenge. He followed the Monster everywhere which eventually led him to the Arctic region, where he was taken aboard Walton's ship.
After telling Walton his story, Victor asks Walton to kill the Monster for him if he dies before he can do it himself. In the meantime, the ship has been freed from the ice and pressured by his crew, Walton has decided to return to England. Victor's health deteriorates and he dies. Just after his death, Walton finds the Monster hanging over Victor's corpse. The daemon speaks of its sufferings. Because of all the murders it has committed, it is full of hate towards itself. Since its creator is dead, it decides it the time has come for its own death too. After stating that it will build a funeral pile for itself, it leaves the ship and disappears on his ice-raft into the darkness of the night.
Atmosphere of the book
The atmosphere is very horrid, because the story is about people being murdered by a terrible monster.
Horror. In fact, it is the first book ever to be written in this genre.
The story is told by Robert Walton, as he writes letters to his sister in England about his journey. However, in those letters it appears as if Frankenstein is telling the story.
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT was born in 1797, the only daughter of William Godwin, best known for his novel Caleb Williams, and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, who died a few days after her daughter's birth.
Mary first met Shelley in 1814. He was estranged from his wife at the time and their relationship prospered. In July they left England. In 1816 they spent the summer with Lord Byron in Italy, during which time Frankenstein was begun. In 1816 Shelley's wife died and he married Mary. In 1819 their son was killed, and in 1822 Shelley himself was drowned. Mary was heart-broken as her diaries show, and in 1823 she returned to England with her younger son. She had little money, but managed to send her son to Harrow and Cambridge. In 1841-3 she and her son travelled abroad. In 1844 Shelley's father died, leaving Mary in better circumstances. She died in 1851 and was buried at Bournemouth near her son's home.
She wrote the story Frankenstein as a pastime story during her journey through Switzerland. The story is therefore partially set in Switzerland. The political situation was the same in the book as it was in Shelley's real life, because they were both in about the same time.
My own opinion
I really liked this book. The story that Mary Shelley tells is very exciting. Especially when you consider that nowadays, people are actually being brought back to life after i.e. a cardiac arrest.
This book is the first of the genre that I have read, and I think it has been a huge inspiration for a lot of other writers and filmmakers. Practically every horror-story has something to do with a monster that murders people and has to be eliminated.
I recognise myself a little in Victor Frankenstein because he is a scientist and likes to experiment with things. That is how he "bestowed life upon his monster".
Although it was not quite easy to read at first, after about 20 pages I really got the hang of it. After that, it was just another book, with no really difficult parts.
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