Frankenstein Additional Summary

Mary Shelley

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus is the work for which Shelley is remembered by the general public. The story unfolds in a series of letters from Robert Walton, an enterprising arctic explorer, to his sister in England. Walton reports the sighting of a giant manlike creature driving a dogsled in the icy distance. This scene is followed by the rescue of a man whose sled had become stranded in the ice floe. This man is Victor Frankenstein.

As he recovers his health, Frankenstein relates his story. He tells of his warm family life in Geneva and of his early enthusiasm for the speculative natural philosophy of alchemists such as Cornelius Agrippa. At the age of twenty-one, he leaves to study science at Ingolstadt. There, he learns the difference between modern science and mysticism. He embraces scientific method but holds onto one of the dreams of his former models—the creation of life. Ultimately, he completely embraces this goal, assembling a being of huge scale in order to simplify its construction. When his creature gains life, Frankenstein is instantly revolted. He exits the flat and wanders about, hoping that the spark of life in the creature will expire spontaneously. The following day, the creature has disappeared, and Victor is visited by his best friend, Henry Clerval, who, unaware of the creature’s existence, helps Victor to regain his composure over the next several months. In early May, Victor’s younger brother William is murdered outside Geneva. A servant is accused of the crime. Upon his return home, Victor catches a brief sight of the creature, whose existence has nearly slipped Victor’s mind. He senses that the creature is responsible for his brother’s murder, but he remains silent as the servant is convicted of the crime. After the trial, while vacationing in the Alps, Victor meets the creature on a glacier. There, he learns of the creature’s cruel rejection by humankind, its self-education (the creature is easily the most articulate character in the book), and its subsequent revenge on its creator. Though the creature did indeed murder William, Victor is torn between hatred and sympathy. Reluctantly, he agrees to animate a female companion for the creature.

After months of indecision, Victor retires to the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) to begin the work that he has promised. Midway through, in sight of the creature himself, he becomes fearful of the havoc that might be caused by a race of such fiends. He destroys the lifeless torso over which he stands. The creature vows to be with Victor on Victor’s wedding night (he is engaged to a cousin) and departs. After...

(The entire section is 1075 words.)

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

English explorer Robert Walton’s ship is held fast in polar ice. As his company looks out over the empty ice field, they are astonished to see a sledge drawn by dogs speeding northward. The sledge driver looks huge and misshapen. At night, an ice floe carries to the ship another sledge with one dog and a man in weakened condition. When the newcomer learns that his is the second sledge sighted from the ship, he becomes agitated.

Walton is greatly attracted to the newcomer during his convalescence, and as the ship remains stuck in the ice, the men have leisure time to get acquainted. At last, after he has recovered somewhat from exposure and hunger, the man, Victor Frankenstein, tells Walton his story.

Victor is born into an aristocratic family in Geneva, Switzerland. As a playmate for their son, the parents adopt a lovely little girl, Elizabeth, of the same age. Victor and Elizabeth grow up as brother and sister. Much later another son, William, is born to the Frankensteins.

At an early age, Victor shows promise in the natural sciences. He devours the works of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus and thinks in his ignorance that they had been the real masters. When he grows older, his father decides to send him to the university at Ingolstadt. There, he soon learns all that his masters can teach him in the field of natural science. Engaged in brilliant and terrible research, he stumbles by chance on the secret of creating life. Once he has gained this knowledge, he cannot rest until he has employed it to create a living being. By haunting the butcher shops and dissecting rooms, he soon has the necessary raw materials. With great cunning, he fashions an eight-foot monster and endows him with life.

As soon as Victor creates his monster, however, he is subject to strange misgivings. During the night, the monster comes to his bed. At the sight of the horrible face, Victor shrieks and frightens the monster. Overcome by the horror of his act, he becomes ill with a brain fever. His best friend, Henry Clerval, arrives from Geneva and helps to nurse him through his illness. He cannot tell Clerval what he has done.

Terrible news then comes from Geneva. William, Victor’s young brother, had been killed at the hand of a murderer. He was found strangled in a park, and a faithful family servant, Justine, was charged with the crime. Victor hurries to Geneva. At the trial,...

(The entire section is 987 words.)

Summary

(Novels for Students)

Frankenstein Published by Gale Cengage

Few works of fiction have captured the public's imagination as Frankenstein has. Several plays, numerous movies, television shows, and even comic strips have been based on it, and generations of children have dressed up as the monster for Halloween. Although originally published over one hundred and fifty years ago, the book is still in print in almost every major language. According to Janet Harris, "since the first year of its publication there has always been, somewhere in the world, a printing press at work turning out still another copy or version of Mary's immortal story." The monster indeed has a life of his own apart from the book, as perhaps only Sherlock Holmes and Scrooge out of all the characters originally in novels do. Each generation adds its own characteristics to the monster.

Some scholars have identified Frankenstein as the source of the genre of science fiction, which seeks to define the place of man in the universe. Both the idea of a "mad scientist" and the concept of creating a person in a laboratory originated with Frankenstein. Following Mary Shelley's lead, authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, and, more recently, Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury have created horror stories whose protagonists face problems brought about by science gone awry.

Frankenstein is also a product of its time, the early nineteenth century, a world of social, political, scientific, and economic upheaval. On the one hand, the novel emphasizes the importance of the intellect in seeking out the secrets of the universe (rationalism). Yet it also validates the emotions and the importance of individual needs (romanticism).

Aside from its historical interest, why does Frankenstein continue to be so popular, and what does it say to us today? For one thing, at the heart of the novel is a question about science and its relationship to humanity. Does science always act for the good of man, or does it have a dark side? Does man have the right or the power and intellect to act as a creator or God? Mary Shelley's answer seems to be that science and progress are ethically neutral with the capacity to work for either good or evil. Science thus presents humans with the enormous challenge to handle its power responsibly and humanely.

Opening Letters
Frankenstein opens with Robert Walton's letter from St. Petersburgh, Russia, to his sister in England. He encourages her to share his enthusiasm about his journey to the North Pole to discover both the secret of magnetism and a passage through the pole. In additional letters he wavers between his solitude and alienation on the one hand, and his determined heart and resolved will on the other. His last letter tells the startling story of his having seen a being of gigantic stature shaped like a man, fleeing across the ice which is threatening to enclose the ship. The next day another sled appears, carrying the wasted and maddened Victor Frankenstein, who is pursuing the giant. Walton takes Frankenstein aboard. When he tells Frankenstein his purpose, how he hopes to make great discoveries, Frankenstein cautions him to leave off his mad pursuit. He asks him to listen to his story of how once he began in earnest to know all that could be known.

Victor's Story, Part I
Born in Naples, Italy, to a wealthy Swiss family, Victor Frankenstein is the only child of doting parents. When he is five, his mother brings home an orphaned girl named Elizabeth to be Victor's "sister." In Victor's happy childhood in Geneva, he and Elizabeth grow in their parents' love, and they are joined by more siblings. Victor develops a deep friendship with Henry Clerval, a fellow student. Where Clerval studies "the moral relations of things," Victor conceives a passion to discover the physical secrets of the world.

At seventeen, as he is to leave for the University at Ingolstadt, Elizabeth contracts scarlet fever. Nursed by Victor's mother, she recovers, but his mother dies. On her deathbed, she begs Elizabeth and Victor to wed. After some delay, Victor departs for Ingolstadt, where his chemistry professor so encourages him in the study of science that Victor determines to discover the secret of life, perhaps even how to create life itself. He pursues his studies in the chemistry lab and in dissecting rooms and morgues, gathering the material for his experiment to make a creature from discarded corpses, perhaps one "like himself." Cut off from contact with all others, ignoring letters from friends and family, he exhausts himself. Finally, on a dreary November night, Victor succeeds in animating a creature. Drained of all strength, he falls asleep, only to awaken from a nightmare to find the creature staring at him. He flees in horror at what he has done.

The next day Clerval arrives and Victor's appearance and condition shock him. Victor can not tell Clerval what he has done. He believes he can keep his secret, for, on his return to his room, he discovers that the creature has fled. The nervous exhaustion into which Victor then falls lasts for several months, during which Clerval nurses him by taking him away from the lab and into the mountains on long walks.

Victor receives from his father a letter relating the death of Victor's younger...

(The entire section is 2164 words.)