Author: Mary Shelley
Country (language): UK (English)
Published: 1818

Summary

An exploration team at the North Pole find a half-frozen man, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who tells the story of his terrible creation:

A keen scientist, Frankenstein discovers a way to reanimate body parts (bringing them back to life) and so decides to make a beautiful human. However, finding that the human body is complicated, he has to make an 8-foot tall version, far uglier than he planned. Nonetheless, Frankenstein brings his ‘monster’ to life, then flees. Rejected, the monster disappears.

Some time later a crime brings the monster back into Frankenstein’s life. In the time that has passed the monster has learnt to read and communicate, and asks Frankenstein to make him a female companion. Frankenstein agrees, but then fearing the children such creatures would make, destroys his latest work.

The monster now wants revenge on Frankenstein (and his family and friends) for giving life, but such unhappiness. Monster and creator now seek each other – one trying to gain revenge, and the other trying to kill his creation – leading them to the isolation of the North Pole.

Notes

Shelley gave the book a sub-heading: ‘The Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the titan who stole fire from the gods and was to be punished forever for his crime.

The book is written in a distinct ‘framing’ style, using letters and accounts from people involved to explain the story.

Shelley said that the idea of Frankenstein came in a ‘waking dream’.

The first edition of the book was published anonymously. Mary Shelley’s name was put on the second edition in 1823.

Shelley’s parents – William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft – were both famous writers and intellectuals, and Shelley was encouraged to participate in conversations at the house.

Many people use the term ‘Frankenstein’ to describe a crude monster; however, Frankenstein was the scientist, not the monster. ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ are both used in the English language. The quote ‘It’s alive!’, taken from the 1931 film of the story, is also famous.

Sample

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Reviews

Frankenstein was a successful book upon publication, although it got a lot of negative reviews. Some reviewers felt the story disgusting or absurd; some – knowing the author was Godwin’s daughter – thought the book unladylike.

Over time, however, the story of a mad scientist creating something he cannot control has become a well-used idea, and Frankenstein is part of the literary canon. It is read as gothic fiction, science fiction, and a classic of English literature. Most people in the west have read the book, seen a movie, or are familiar with the story. Along with Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster is probably the most famous monster in western literature.