Understanding Frankenstein



Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley was born on 30 August 1797 under the name Mary Godwin in London. Her mother is Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first female lawyers, her father is the successful philosopher and freethinker William Godwin. Since Mary’s mother dies at birth and her father soon remarries, she grows together with four siblings of different parents in a very open family. She is denied access to a higher school, but the influence of the intellectual society in the house of her father is noticeable. Already as a young girl, Mary Shelley is extraordinarily well read. At the age of 16, she became acquainted with the young poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814 – and burned with him for some time to France. Shelley’s first wife commits suicide in 1816, after which Mary and Percy marry. The marriage is at first happy, the two equally interested and radical thinkers fit together well. The couple gets three children. Inspired by the legendary evenings with Percy and Lord Byron in his villa on Lake Geneva, Mary 1818 published her first novel Frankenstein and became famous overnight. But then she leaves the fortune: the couple go to Italy, where Percy Shelley drowned on July 8, 1822 in a sailing accident in front of La Spezia. Two of her children also die at a young age, and only Percy Florence Shelley survived. Mary moves back to London. She manages the work and estate of her husband and continues to publish novels, the most successful of which is The Last Man (1897). Mary Shelley died in London on February 1, 1851, following the effects of a brain tumor.

Frankenstein – The Human Monster

Who does not know her, the most famous scene from Frankenstein: a dark laboratory, a giant creature on a stretcher, and the scientist who brings the creature to life with a surge. The monster from Mary Shelley’s novel became an icon of horror film and pop culture at all. The original version of the novel of 1818 is less conspicuous by its shock effects than by its empathy in the soul of the monster. The actually good-natured nature, whose sight can not even be endured by his Creator, spreads fear and terror in the world to his own suffering. It is condemned to solitude and becomes a murderer only out of despair. His celebrity as a murder machine is due above all to the numerous theater and film versions, not least the world-famous black and white film adaptation with the great Boris Karloff in the role of fearful creature. The somewhat sultry, romantic-romantic original text impresses today – with regard to genetic engineering and cloning experiments – especially the visionary insight of Mary Shelleys. Anyone who reads their novel knows that the scientific potential does not always lead to desirable results.

Frankenstein: Most Important and Interesting Facts

  • Frankenstein is the most successful shower romance in world literature.
  • The Englishwoman Mary Shelley wrote the book 1816 at the age of 19 years.
  • The novel originated in a contest between five authors, including Shelley’s husband Percy and the eccentric poet Lord Byron.
  • It tells the story of the scientist Victor Frankenstein, who during his studies discovered the formula of all life.
  • From corpse parts he sews together an artificial being, to whom he breathes life with a current surge.
  • Out of fear of the ugliness of the monster, he leaves it to himself.
  • Since it is driven out by all people because of its appearance, the monster is condemned to solitude.
  • Being alone, the originally good-natured creature is transformed into evil and commits a first murder.
  • It requires Frankenstein to create a second creature as a woman.
  • When Frankenstein refuses, the monster slaps his wife Elisabeth and his best friend Henry.
  • After a dramatic hunt up to the North Pole, Frankenstein dies of exhaustion, and the monster disappears in the icy night.
  • The novel was filmed several times, the version with Boris Karloff as monster is a classic of Horror Films.

Frankenstein Summary

Hunting Scenes at the North Pole

The young researcher Robert Walton reports in letters to his sister Margaret from his expedition to the North Pole. One day, the ship is stuck in the ice, and the crew observes a strange scene: in the north, a dog sled races across the frozen sea, steered by a superhuman figure. When Walton’s ship frees the next day, a second sleigh is drifting on an ice floe, whose leader is half frozen. It takes two days for the stranger to come back to him, and even then he is very quiet at first. His only interest is the figure on the first sled, which he seems to have traced throughout Europe. He is on the deck every day and looks for the ice landscape after his “demon”. Gradually, Robert succeeds in winning the friendship of the deep, but polite man. He notes the breathtaking life story he receives from him, and writes it to his sister.

“A creature of human form, but obviously of immense stature, sat in the sledge and directed the dogs.” (Walton on the Monster, p. 19)

Childhood and Student Years

Victor Frankenstein, so the name of the narrator, spends a happy childhood as the son of a wealthy lawyer and a loving mother in Geneva. His charming cousin Elisabeth Lavenza, a half-whore, and his school mate Henry Clerval, a single child, are generously enclosed in the family idyll. The parents lead the three children playfully to education and science, whereby Victor’s main interest is in the natural sciences. He gets to the books of the medieval alchemist Cornelius Agrippa and dreams of discovering for the benefit of everyone a life elixir that makes man invulnerable or even immortal.

“They are looking for knowledge and wisdom as I have done, and I sincerely hope that the fulfillment of your wishes does not prove to be a poisonous natter, as I am.” (Frankenstein to Walton, p. 25)

When Victor’s mother suddenly died of scarlet, the 17-year-old is hard hit. He escaped to study at Ingolstadt and met the chemistry professor Waldmann, who has an understanding for his alchemical preferences. Victor falls into the work, often stays in the laboratory until early morning and makes rapid progress. He is concerned with the composition of the human body and carries out various experiments: he examines corpses, observes the rotting process, and finally makes the great discovery he dreamed of: the formula of all life! It enables him to breathe life into dead bodies. And since he thinks he is acting on behalf of science and for the common good, he has no moral misgivings about the creation of a human being.

The creature lives!

Frankenstein is a two and a half meter big creature – a monster. In a cold night of November, he brings him a surge of electricity – and this brings him to life. But the success does not make Victor happy: disturbed by the monstrous ugliness of his creature, he escapes from the apartment and leaves the monster behind. He is completely exhausted by the work of the last few months and is wandering through the streets without orientation. He happens to meet his friend Henry Clerval, who also wants to study and has just arrived in Ingolstadt. Frankenstein does not dare to tell Henry about his experiment, but still leads him into his home. The monster has disappeared without a trace. Frankenstein is at the end of his strength and collapses.

“And the moon seemed to be on my midnight work, while I followed, with the tense and breathless zeal of nature, into its most secret corners. Who can conceive the horror of my hidden work when I dig in the unholy mud of the grave or torment living beings to revive lifeless tone? “(Frankenstein, p. 50)

During his long illness Frankenstein is nursed by Henry and receives an encouraging letter from Cousine Elisabeth. His nerves calm down, the creature and its traceless disappearance fall into oblivion. But then Frankenstein learns of the death of his brother William – the boy has been murdered! He is currently traveling to Geneva. The same night, he visits the crime scene and watches from afar – the monster. He must realize that his own creation is the murderer of his brother. Meanwhile, the maid Justine is blamed for the deed and sentenced to death. Frankenstein knows that she is innocent, but is silent and eats his despair.

The Lonely Monster

Frankenstein tries to dissipate on excursions into nature. The impressive mountainous landscape of Switzerland gives him a little consolation, but he can not wholly shake off his tormenting consciences. Then, on a hike to Mont Blanc high in the mountains, he meets his creature again. First, he wants to kill her with rage, but then must realize that the monster has superhuman powers. Frankenstein can not do anything with her bare hands. He has the choice: either he can tell the sad story of the monster’s life so far or, according to the threat of the creature, it will kill more family members. The two retreat into a deserted mountain hut, and the being begins to tell.

“Oh! No mortal could bear the horror of this sight. A mummy that was once again alive could not be as terrible as this devil. “(Frankenstein, p. 54 f.)

After his creation, the monster lived in a forest near Ingolstadt. It froze in the night and frightened in the dark. The hunger drove it into one of the surrounding villages, from which it was chased by the inhabitants with stone-throwing because of its frightening appearance. In the meantime, the sibling couple Felix and Agatha, with their blind father, the former merchant de Lacey, were crawling into an unused shed at the back of a lonely peasant cate. Originally the family had lived in prosperity in Paris. Then, however, Felix had fallen in love with the beautiful Turk Safie, and helped her father, a merchant wrongfully imprisoned, escape. The French government had known no mercy, and expropriated the entire family of Lacey and expelled it from the country.

“All men hate the hideous. How much I have to be hated, I am more hideous than all living creatures! “(The monster, p. 102)

Winter spent the winter undecided in the shed. It feeds on acorns from the forest and gradually closes the inhabitants of the Kate into his heart. Secretly, they chopped the firewood at night and listened to their conversations during the day, as a result of which he also learned to speak for himself. There was a bag of books, and it was based on the works of Goethe and Plutarch. In a cloak, which he had taken out of the lab, he discovered the diary of Frankenstein and was now able to trace his own genesis. And it cursed his Creator: Why was it created as an ugly monster condemned to loneliness and not as a beauty?

“No Eve relieved my grief or shared my thoughts. I was alone. I remembered Adam’s request to his Creator, but where was mine? He had let me down, and in the resentment of my heart I cursed him. “(The monster, p. 141)

When de Lacey sat alone in the room one day, the monster took a heart and knocked at the door. The blind old man was at first friendly. He listened to the monster’s complaint and cheered it up: If it has a good heart, it will find friends and family, regardless of its appearance. When, however, Felix, Agatha, and Safie, who had been sent to the family, came back from their walk and saw the monster, they beat her out of the house. And even worse, the frightened family gave up their kate, just to never meet the creature again. Humiliated and angry with anger, the monster swore revenge on his Creator and all mankind. He hurried to Geneva, met Francesstein’s little brother William in a field in front of the town, and strangled the child in the blood.

“My companion must be of the same kind as I, with the same afflictions. You must create this being. “(The monster to Frankenstein, p. 156)

Meanwhile the monster has given up all hope. With its dreadful appearance, it will never win a human being for itself, it will never be redeemed from its solitude! Von Frankenstein therefore calls for him to create a companion, who, too, monstrously and ugly, would have to share fate with him. Together, they would leave the continent, asserts the monster that they would live in the jungle in South America and never fall back on humanity again. After an initial hesitation, Frankenstein feels compassion for his creation and is carried to a promise: He will create a female being.

On the Orkney Islands

Back in Geneva, Frankenstein desperate to go back to his gruesome work. To the encouragement, the early wedding with Elisabeth is offered. Frankenstein agrees to the marriage from the bottom of his heart, but knows that he must first fulfill his promise, since the monster will pass away at his family. He decides to go to England with his friend Henry and hopes his demon will follow him abroad so that he can create the female creature there and leave both. The journey takes you via London to Scotland, where Frankenstein separates from Henry to get to work on a remote cliff of the Orkney Islands.

“Find your happiness in peace and renounce your ambition, even if it is obviously the innocent desire to make a name for yourself as a scientist and discoverer.” (Frankenstein zu Walton, p. 246)

After he has sewn the first body parts, however, he is concerned. What if the female being is even more evil than the first monster? What if the two do not retreat from the people, but will spread murder and terror together in the future? What if they multiply? Frankenstein is aware of his responsibility and destroyed his recently started work. The monster, which has actually followed him to Scotland, comes to him angrily and threatens: In Frankenstein’s wedding night, he will be with him and take revenge. Victor remains hard. At night he rowed out into the sea and sunk the corpses of his broken work. But then he is unlucky: he falls into a storm and is driven down to the coast of Ireland. Simultaneously with him the body of a young man is swept – Frankenstein is suspected of murder and put to trial.

“With these words, he jumped out of the cabin window to the ice floe, which lay close to the ship. He was quickly carried away from the waves and disappeared in the darkness and the distance. “(Walton on the Monster, p. 253)

The death of the friends

It is even worse: the swarmed body is Frankenstein’s friend Henry Clerval. The dead man carries the same deep wretches as the little William – another victim of the monster. Frankenstein falls into a long fever delirium, in which he repeatedly accuses himself of the murder of his friend. It is only months later that he is released because it turns out that he was still on the Orkney islands at the time of Clerval’s death.

Back in Geneva, Frankenstein agrees to the marriage with Elisabeth, despite the dark premonitions. The couple experiences a happy wedding day. In the night, however, Frankenstein gets caught up in his fate. He mistakenly assumes that the monster wants to pass away at his wedding night, so he leaves Elisabeth alone in the bedroom and waits for his opponent in the lower floor of the house. Only when he hears their screams, he becomes aware of his mistake. He can not do anything, the monster has already strangled the beloved woman. Frankenstein’s father dies of a stroke when he learns of the death of Elizabeth; he himself is half-madly locked in a cell for a few months.

Remorse on the Deathbed

From now on, Frankenstein dedicates his life exclusively to revenge. Until exhaustion he chases the monster through all of Europe and to the North Pole, where he is discovered by Robert Walton at the end of his forces and taken on board.

Walton continues to write to his sister: the ship is once again surrounded by icebergs, numerous sailors have already frozen. Even Frankenstein’s spirits vanish after he has told his story. He remembers the dreams of his youth, his plan, as a scientist to save mankind; he laments his deep fall and curses his devilish ambition. Then he orders Walton to complete his revenge on the monster – and dies.

While Walton records these events, he is disturbed by noise. He interrupts his work to see what is right. In the cabin next door, he meets the monster, full of grief over the body of his creator. Walton wants to fulfill the last wish of Frankensteins and grab the saber, but then pity and curiosity overpower him. In fact, the monster feels regret for his deeds. But the injustice of the world had driven it into hatred; it could not have done otherwise. Then she jumps out of the cabin window and drifts off on an ice floe into the night.

Frankenstein Analysis and Interpretation

Construction and style

Cloudscrew full moon nights, rain whipping against the windows, a half-mad scientist who digs for corpses at night in the graveyard, Mary Shelley used the elements of the horror romance in such a literary debut in such a way that she immediately entered Classics of the genre succeeded. Typical for the era of Romanticism at that time was not only the uncanny, but also the decision to present the story to the reader in the form of a brief novel. Shelley’s narrator Robert Walton writes sensitive and somewhat gloomy letters to his beloved sister, whereby the author not only simulates the authenticity of the text, but also gives him a very sensitive sound from the beginning. No less emotional is the main part of the novel, the memorandum written by Victor Frankenstein’s life report. The self-pitying lawsuits of the failed scientist seem, from today’s point of view, slightly pathetic and long-winded, while the shock effects of the most famous scene of the novel are reserved in the original version: The birth of the monster is described without much lightning and thunder and relatively scarce.

Interpretative Approaches

  • Shelley sees the emergence of evil in a lack of affection and family ties. The monster is originally kind-hearted and humble and receives the sympathies of the reader. Only when it is rejected by its environment and permanently humiliated, it develops feelings of hatred against the people and becomes a murderous beast.
  • Victor Frankenstein is created by the author less sympathetically. As a scientist, ambitious in the first place, he later sees the murder of his creature as an idiot, and above all pity himself. Frankenstein is a parade example of human hubris: he considers himself to be a godlike creator without thinking about the consequences of his actions.
  • The novel can therefore be read as a criticism of science. Under loveless laboratory conditions the human being can not be perfected. If the new and more powerful person is conceived by the researcher solely of scientific ambition, he ends up quickly as a lonely monster. Shelley emphasizes the indispensability of sincere sympathy and affection.
  • Mary Shelley designs an amazingly modern family image. The author herself was coined by her childhood in the open house of her father, the anarchist philosopher William Godwin. Their romance figures live in a kind of patchwork family: the household of the Frankensteins includes not only father, mother and child, also the cousin and the school friend are included in the closest circle.
  • The subtitle “Modern Prometheus” refers to Greek mythology: Prometheus steals the flame of the sun and brings man the fire. Like the ambitious scientist Frankenstein, he is severely punished for his arrogance.
  • Unusual for their time were Mary Shelley’s references to the scientifically possible feasibility of Frankenstein’s experiments one day. Here, the text goes far beyond the pure fantasy story and touches a later successful genre: the science fiction novel.

Historical Background of Frankenstein

Critical Thinkers in England

After the French Revolution of 1789, the English upper class feared that the liberal ideals of the European mainland would jump over to the United Kingdom and would also cause a turmoil in the population. Accordingly, France’s military successes on the continent were criticized critically and decisively. During the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars from 1792 to 1815, England was an advantage and practically impregnable. In order to preserve maritime sovereignty, Great Britain joined forces with various European countries, such as Austria, Prussia and Italy, where monarchist rulers were still in power.

The British government was sharply criticized for this action by the liberal British intellectuals such as Lord Byron and Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Shelley. Both men advocated social reforms in their own country and saw the foreign policy approaches to the mainland monarchies as a dangerous step back. Although royal absolutism had been abolished in England and parliament had long assumed power, the average citizen was still not much affected by the democratic achievements. Factory owners and politicians were hardly restricted in their powers; the working class, created after the industrial revolution, was increasingly forced into poverty and poverty.

How the Myth was Born

The “Year without Summer” is the year 1816 in the history. After the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815, vast amounts of dust and ashes entered the atmosphere and spread like a veil around the globe. The climate changed briefly in the wake of the global warming; in the middle of summer, snow fell in America and Central Europe.

Mary Shelley was at that time with her future husband Percy on Lake Geneva and was surprised on 16 June 1816 on an excursion by a torrential storm. The two decided to spend the night with their friend Lord Byron in the Villa Diodati, where he was quartered with his physician John Polidori and Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont. They sat together for five minutes, read German reviews, and discussed the experiments of Erasmus Darwin, who had thought he could bring dead objects into life by means of electricity. The Laudanum, an opium tincture that was then widespread, was also said to have been spoken of.

In this manner, Lord Byron proposed a contest of poetry: each of the five should write a review. While Byron and Percy Shelley did little, John Polidori was one of the first vampire stories of world literacy in The Vampire, which later also featured Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mary Shelley was initially unproductive, then had one night, a nightmare, in which she saw a pale scientist, “kneeling beside the thing he had composed.” From the vision came a first scene that Lord Byron, according to the tradition, taught such fear that he was running pale out of the room. Encouraged by this, Mary Shelley worked on the novel the following year.

Film, Movies, Videos, Images, Opera, Music Sites on Frankenstein

The dramatic potential of the Frankenstein story, which still inspires the audience to the latest adaptation of the material to the cinemas, was immediately recognized by Mary Shelley’s contemporaries. But the monster was not put on the stage, as Shelley / Frankenstein had created it, but made some changes: the guests were no longer able to see the intelligent and sad essence of the original version at the premiere of the first stage set-up in 1823 at the English Opera House , but a silent monster reduced to its frightening effect. Mary Shelley herself – meanwhile drawn by fateful strokes and a single mother with financial problems – laid down a second, commercially revised version of her book in 1831. The success of the stage adaptation quickly led to further theater versions as well as sequels and parodies of the story. The innumerable film adaptations of the material later used these effects as a model, not the original novel. To a simple trick grabbed James Whale, who with Boris Karloff in the role of the monster 1931 the most famous Frankenstein film so far. In his version, the monster mistakenly implanted the brain of a criminal, with which his assassination was quickly explained. The last major Hollywood adaptation (directed by Kenneth Branagh) dates from 1994 and shows none other than Robert de Niro in the role of the monster.