Frankenstein Book summary

Mary Shelley



It was quite difficult to be a female novelist in the early 19th century, and it was only due to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's success in the literary world that other female English authors were able to muster the courage to venture into the field. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was responsible for paving the way for other successful female writers such as George Elliot, and the Bronte sisters.

The novel is linked to the Gothic movement whose origins can be traced to the 1750s, the relation of this book to that genre is made clear at the very beginning of the preface for it mentions that the story was written in connection with a ghost story writing challenge that Mary and her friends had conducted among themselves.

The gothic genre is characterized by stories of horror and mystery that explore supernatural elements and typically deal with unusual family dynamics as well as repressed sexuality. Both of these elements can be found in Frankenstein, Victor is seemingly obsessed with creating life outside the natural boundaries of heterosexual relations. His relationship with Elizabeth has an almost incestuous air, as they refer to one another as cousins, and were raised somewhat like siblings. Victor also doesn't quite seem eager to marry Elizabeth, while for her, it is shown to be her primary concern. Instead of expressing any deep reserves of love for Elizabeth, it is often Henry, whom he seems to miss most keenly.

However, the novel doesn't always conform to the Gothic genre, primarily in the nature of the monster whose origin and existence are never in dispute throughout the book. While other books in the genre typically introduced mystery in regards to the presence and even existence of the supernatural being, in Frankenstein, the mystery lies in discovering the motives and wants of the monster. Additionally, while most gothic novels moved to convey the message that thoughtless traditions and a dearth of knowledge precipitated tragedy, this novel conveys almost the opposite message. The major theme of destructive knowledge is widely explored throughout the course of the novel.


Plot Summary

The book opens with letters written by Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Robert is journeying to the North pole in an attempt to discover its secrets and to hopefully uncover a land that as yet remains undocumented. His ship becomes stranded in ice as he closes in towards the North, and there his crew sight a large man moving across the endless plains of ice. This discovery is soon followed by the rescue of a man called Victor Frankenstein, who is emaciated but yet reluctant to come aboard the vessel until he has determined its direction of travel, and only boards when he is informed that the ship aims to travel north. The man is nursed back to health by Robert, and he perceives in him a noble and sensitive creature.

Upon learning of the passion with which Robert pursues the knowledge of the North Pole, Victor warns him of the destructive character that knowledge possesses. In order to impart a moral lesson to Robert and to reveal to him the strange circumstances that led him so far North, Victor begins to recount his tale.

Victor was a man born in Geneva to loving parents who had often traveled across Europe. During their travels, they had discovered an orphaned child of noble birth, Elizabeth Lavenza, and they had adopted her into their household with the hope that when Victor and she would grow older, they would marry one another. Victor fostered deep loving feelings towards Elizabeth from the age of five, and together with his dear friend, Henry Clerval, they had led a happy childhood.

From a young age, Victor had been deeply interested in the study of Natural Philosophy, and so upon finishing his education in Geneva, he was to venture forth and study at the university. Before he could travel, however, his mother perished of ill health. Victor mourned for the loss of his mother but continued towards university.

There he excelled himself in the pursuit of Natural Philosophy beyond all his peers, and in his detailed study of life, Victor uncovered a deeply powerful procedure of bestowing life. He was astounded at his discovery and set himself to create a being much larger and stronger than the normal man. He was blind to the abhorrent procedures that he applied in creating this being and shut himself away from society while he worked. Finally, he was able to create a live creature but the sight of the monster caused Victor untold abhorrence, he shunned the creature and escaped into the streets where he discovered his friend Henry.

They both returned to Victor's room, and to his relief, he discovered that the creature had somehow left them alone. Victor became ill and was nursed back to health by his friend. He planned to return home and soon received a letter with the dreadful news that his youngest brother, William, had been found murdered. Victor rushed home and visited the site of his brother's death, and there the creature he had wrought revealed himself to Victor. Immediately upon seeing the monster, Victor was convinced that it was he who had murdered his brother. He returned home and discovered that a woman working in his household had been arrested on suspicion of killing William. The whole family was convinced of her innocence but the court found her guilty and sentenced her to death. Victor became depressed for he now felt responsible not only for the murder of his brother but also for the death of Justine.

He endeavored to improve his mood by traveling in the mountains, and there atop a glacier he met his creature face to face. The creature expressed himself eloquently, and called himself Victor's Adam, he persuaded Victor to travel with him to his cave where he recounted what had occurred with him after he had awakened in Victor's lab. The creature revealed how he had traveled the wilderness and slowly learned how to interpret his senses and administer to his body's needs. He had been treated harshly with all his encounters of man, and so had hidden in a shed adjoining the cottage of a family recently exiled from Paris.

The creature observed the lives of the family members and attempted to aid them in secret, he learned from them the meaning of family along with language and history of man. He read books that he had discovered in the forests and plotted for the day that he would reveal himself to the family in the cottage, for he had grown to see them as his protectors.

However, when he did reveal himself, they rejected him outright due to his abhorrent figure. This rejection caused him a lot of pain, and he so resolved to exact revenge on the creator that had shunned him and thrust him into this world of torture. He traveled to Geneva, and there in the forest encountered young William. The monster killed the child upon discovering his last name and then planted evidence on Justine who was then wrongfully convicted of the murder.

He ended his tale with the demand that Victor create another monster of the opposite gender, so that the monster may stop being so depressedly alone. Victor is at first very reluctant but the monster is able to convince him with his eloquent speech and threats of rendering harm upon Victor's friends.

Victor returned home but discovered that he needed new information in order to create a female, he decided to travel to England and fixed his marriage with Elizabeth to be conducted upon his return. Henry accompanied Victor to England, where they spent some months together, but when they traveled to Scotland, Victor and Henry separated their paths. Victor took up residence on a lonely island where he began his horrible work, but he had doubts about creating yet another monster, and near the completion of his work, he destroyed the inanimate creature. The monster witnessed this and informed Victor that they would again meet on the night of his wedding where he would exact revenge.

The monster quit the Island and killed Henry Clerval first, for which Victor was held responsible by the local magistrate and imprisoned. Victor lost his health when he learned of Henry's death and awakened to find himself in a prison. The magistrate contacted Victor's father who traveled to Ireland to help nurse his son back to health and to free him from the criminal charge of murder. They then journeyed back to Geneva where Victor married Elizabeth, but the monster killed Elizabeth on their wedding night. Victor's father soon died as well, and Victor resolved to live his life only in pursuit of revenge. The monster then led Victor deep into the north of the world, where he encountered Robert Walton's ship.

The difficulty of the journey had tremendously weakened Victor, and so he died aboard the ship, later that night, Robert heard the wailing of the monster and discovered him mourning the death of his creator. He revealed to Robert that he now intended to travel back North and build for himself a funeral pyre, so saying he quit the ship.

  • Author(s)

    Mary Shelley
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Simon & Schuster