Frankenstein notes


  • Deals with crucial social and public question of the period
  • Her first baby died within two weeks; her journal reads ‘dreamt that my baby came back to life again…’
  • Erasmus Darwin – interested in creative and regenerative processes of nature
  • Humphrey Davy – a chemist argued that chemists could change and modify the world
  • Luigi Galvani – experimented in animal electricity
  • Mary Shelley’s connections were through her father and husband, she accompanied him to lectures in London
  • But what was her attitude towards science? Did she differentiate between good and bad science? She seems to favour the non-interventionist approach – in the novel showing the dire consequences of a science that sees itself as ‘master.’
  • Or was she discussing the question of what life is? By ‘masculinising’ the birth of the creature she appears to be removing any humanity. The exclusion of femininity, the marginalising and sidelining of feminine virtue end in the destruction of various lives, all innocent: Justine, Elizabeth, William and Henry. All due to Victor’s inconsiderate actions.
  • Certainly Victor fails in his capacity as parent to his creature.
  • Science needs to have a morality.
  • The creature never gets a name.
  • John Locke suggested that man was neither good nor evil but a blank slate upon which experience would write.
  • Much of the novel can be seen as a struggle between the sexes; Shelley shows that creation does not stop at the moment of life but Victor manufactures and then creates a monster by his rejection of his creation. He makes a female companion then destroys it, again abandoning his responsibilities.

Narrative form

  • Epistolary
  • Multi-layered
  • Symmetrical – triangular: 3 viewpoints but also three main characters each have important conversations with each other
  • No omniscient narrator
  • Offers a choice of readings or even the opportunity to question the accounts offered
  • Walton as primary narrator enables us to see his own ambitions in the light of Frankenstein’s.

Historical and social context

  • Just post-French revolution – led to paranoia in England that the same things may happen here.
  • Frankenstein is ambiguous about revolution
  • Growing hostility to church and state from the masses
  • Frankenstein became a metaphor for the unruly working classes and their potential for revolution
  • Impact of technological development on people’s lives
  • Shelley’s loss of her radical husband made her less than inclined to side with the radical which may be the reason why the creature is doomed.
  • 1817 The Pentridge Uprising by the Luddites – opposed to technology – 300 marched on Nottingham but were disbanded and three of its leaders were executed
  • 1818 edition more inclined to the Luddite view but 1831 edition less so
  • 1818 edition anonymously published; 1831 she claimed it as her own and substantially revised it and her
    1818 Romantic attitudes were subjugated to a more forceful conscience and moralistic vision.
  • 1832 The Reform Bill
  • 1832 The Anatomy Act allowed medical practitioners to use paupers’ bodies for medical research. The working classes were not happy!


Did you find this information helpful?