Frankenstein Study Guide


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is presented as a frame tale, told by Captain Walton while on an expedition to the North Pole, where he finds Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a scientist who created a monstrous human-like Creature. The Creature tried to explain his murders to Frankenstein, claiming that people rejected and feared him, begging Frankenstein to make him a mate. Frankenstein first agrees then destroys the mate. The enraged Creature kills Frankenstein's wife, fleeing to the North Pole. After Frankenstein dies, Walton sees the Creature mourning as he floats away on a raft.


The author of Frankenstein , Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, was born on August 30, 1797 to feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and radical philosopher William Godwin in London, England. Mary Wollstonecraft was an outspoken feminist, known for her 1792 work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women , while Godwin's famous writings dealt with the relationships between the rich/powerful and the masses. Mary Wollstonecraft died ten days after giving birth to her daughter, and thus, Mary Shelley never knew her mother. Her father remarried when Mary was four years old.

Shelley loved to read books from her father's large library, and she developed a passion for writing stories. Her well-known father was often entertaining other great authors and thinkers in his home. At one such visit, when Mary was a teenager, she met Percy Bysshe Shelley, who admired Mary's father very much. The two started a relationship although Percy was still married to his first wife, Harriet. He left for France with Mary to start their life together in the summer of 1814. Later that year, however, they returned to England and lived in hiding to avoid Percy's wife and his large debts. Mary's father William helped Percy with his debts. In 1815, Mary gave birth to a daughter who was premature and died within a month. Later that year she and Percy had a son, named William.

During the summer of 1816, Mary and Percy traveled and when they made a stop in Switzerland, the story for Frankenstein was conceived. The weather was foul and Percy and Mary stayed indoors, telling ghost stories with their friends, among whom was the poet Byron.

Later that year, Mary's half-sister, Fanny, committed suicide. Within a month, Percy's wife Harriet also killed herself. Mary and Percy married two weeks later in London, on December 30, 1816. Soon Mary gave birth to a girl, named Clara, and the family moved to Italy. While staying there, both their children died, Clara in September of 1818 and then William in June of 1819. Mary was depressed for many months. In November of 1819, she gave birth to her son Percy, who was the only child to live into adulthood.

In July of 1922 Mary endured even more tragedy when her husband Percy drowned in a boating accident. After so much misfortune in her life, Mary felt bound forever to life and death, and her preoccupation with the topics of motherhood and death can be seen in Frankenstein . Mary spent the remainder of her life writing her own works and editing those that Percy left behind, in order to gain financial support for herself and her son. Her son graduated from Trinity College in 1841 and then married in 1848. Mary lived with him and his wife until her death in London, on February 1, 1851.

Historical Context

In the early eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was causing great changes in European society. It created a middle class, and business became more centered around factories than farms. Within factories, struggles sprang up between poor laborers and wealthy employers. The working poor could enjoy a better standard of living than they could previously, but the gaps between the rich and the poor became more prominent as well. The rich continued to be more powerful, and the English government, fearful of a revolution, repressed its people.

Both Mary and Percy Shelley were of the liberal mindset that the situation for laborers on both farms and factories should be fair and acceptable. Mary Shelley envisioned a better society in which the wealthy would give support to those less fortunate. An example of this in Frankenstein is Shelley's depiction of how Justine Moritz, the servant for the Frankenstein family, is treated with respect and is given an education by the family for whom she works. Also, both Victor and his monster by turns try to gain power over each other, and this struggle ultimately results in the destruction of both men.

Technology during this time period was progressing quickly. To people at the time, this progression was sometimes frightening and had potential to be horrifying. The story of Frankenstein is perhaps Shelley's warning against the advancement of technology and the flippant disregard for the ways of nature.

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