What is Mary Shelley's narrative style in Frankenstein?In other words, how does Shelley tell the story, i.e. what remains concealed/revealed and inverted/subverted.
Mary Shelley uses a multiple narrative in Frankenstein. A multiple narrative (sometimes referred to as an epistolary narrative) uses the voices of multiple characters within the text. Epistolary narratives can also use letters (such as Walton's four letters at the opening of the novel and the letters between the Frankenstein family) to detail parts of the plot and storyline. Some readers may forget, as they move through the novel, that Walton is responsible for telling the story of Victor and his creation.
The novel opens with four letters written by Walton to his sister, Mrs. Saville. The letters are written in first person (like most letters given their personal material). At the end of Letter IV, Walton agrees to hear the stranger's tale. The stranger declares that his destiny is determined, nothing can change it. Understanding the importance of the stranger's tale, Walton decides to take notes on the story.
I have resolved every night, when I am not imperatively occupied by my duties, to record, as nearly as possible in his own words.
Therefore, this sets the narrative voice--Walton's telling of Victor's story.
The narration becomes even more complex in chapters eleven through sixteen. These chapters belong to the Creature. That said, one must remember that the story is "given" to the reader through Walton's voice. Therefore, these chapters are three-fold in narration. While the reader understands the narrative voice to belong to the Creature, it is actually Walton telling Victor's recollection of the Creature's tale. Readers are actually hearing three voices at this point.
As chapter seventeen opens, Victor has reclaimed the narration (still provided using Walton's recording of Victor's tale). At the end of the novel, Walton reclaims the recognizable narrative, again through the letters to his sister (this is called a frame story--where the story opens and ends with the person telling the tale).
Frankenstein is a frame novel: Shelley begins the novel with Walton writing letters to his sister about his expedition to the Arctic. On his trip, he meets Victor Frankenstein, who then tells Walton his life story. Within Victor's story is the creature's life story after Victor has abandoned him, and then we return to Victor's story, and then to Walton's concluding thoughts on his expedition and on Victor's death and the visit the creature makes to Victor's recently-deceased body. Again, all of these stories are encompassed in the novel's widest frame: letters from Walton to Mrs. Seville (the letter format makes it an epistolary novel). Because of this narrative structure, we are able to both get inside of Victor's and the creature's minds but also view them from the perspective of an outsider, Robert Walton, or his sister, with whom we are aligned as the audience of these complexly-nested stories.
The nature of Victor's narrative is such that certain details are hidden, namely those related to his project in creating the monster. Generally, Victor is a very forthcoming narrator, but he tells Walton he will not go into detail about exactly how he brought the creature to life because he doesn't want anyone to repeat his project. We are definitely viewing Victor's experiences through a specific and limited perspective, though, and we first hear only the negative reaction to the creature. Later, when we hear the creature's narrative in his own voice, we become more sympathetic for him and see Victor as more villainous and flawed. Walton's reaction to Victor is in some ways the same, though he is mostly sympathetic to Victor. He does, however, heed enough of Victor's warnings to turn his expedition back to spare the lives of his men. Walton and the readers should have learned a lesson from listening to Victor's story.
The narrative style of this novel is epistolary. An epistolary novel is one that is told entirely in letters. At the beginning of the text, Captain Walton is writing letters home to his sister, Mrs. Margaret Saville, conveying the news of his voyage to find a Northwest Passage, a water route that cuts across North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
When his crew picks up Victor Frankenstein, Walton acts as a sort of scribe, writing down all the Victor tells him and sending that home to his sister too. Of course, Victor can only report on his own feelings and what others tell him either in person or in letters. This means that we don't get much information about Henry Clerval or Elizabeth Lavenza's feelings: only what they make clear to Victor. However, we don't have real reason to distrust either Victor or Walton as a narrator as they even convey information that doesn't paint them in a flattering light.