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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Introduction and Brief Summary

The tale of Frankenstein touches on issues of bioethics, morality, religion and existentialism. One dark and gloomy night Mary Shelley is challenged by Lord Byron to write a horror story and she successfully complies.

An introduction and brief summary of Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley was 18 years old when she wrote Frankenstein in 1816. It was first published in 1818 and revised in 1831 by Mary Shelley herself. The book was conceived and written as a challenge from Lord Byron to his guests one gloomy night. The guests included Mary Shelley and her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Frankenstein is written in epistolary format - that of letters and journal entries of Robert Walton an explorer attempting to discover a passageway through the North Pole. Walton has indeed made a remarkable discovery! A man and a monster in an existential struggle in the barren land of the arctic. The story of the monster’s creation and the ensuing battle unfolds as Victor Frankenstein lays dying in a cabin aboard the ship of Robert Walton.

On the title page of her novel is this quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mould me man?

From darkness to promote me?

Milton’s words summarizes the monster’s perceived right to claim his creator’s affection and attention. This tragic story is one of cruel rejection and disdain by the creator directed at his creation.

It is unfortunate that the subtitle, The Modern Prometheus is often left off of contemporary editions as it is indicative of the over-reaching arrogance of Victor Frankenstein. However, this modern Prometheus has nothing to give his creation; no fire stolen from the gods nor any “Eve to sooth his sorrow“. The monster is left to experience pain and sorrow with no intervention from the god he so pitifully desires.

The monster is driven to rage and vengeance when he experiences the scorn of humankind. He has no connection and no one with whom he can be intimate. As he confronts his maker and asserts his rights to affection and companionship he demands that Frankenstein make for him a mate, equal to himself in appearance and stature.

When Frankenstein fails to comply, the monster wreaks havoc upon his life. The monster brings to Frankenstein the same pain and isolation that has been imposed on himself by virtue of being created.

The final battle between Frankenstein and his monster ends at the northernmost regions of the earth. The creator seeking the death of his creature and the creature luring his creator to a final encounter.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is downloadable for free since it is now in the public domain. If you have a Kindle or other e-reader you can have it in seconds.

Proceed to the Character Summary of Frankenstein

Proceed to Plot Summary of Volume One

Proceed to Plot Summary of Volume Two

Proceed to Plot Summary of Volume Three

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Comments (7)

Great summary! Especially the point about leaving off The Modern Prometheus. I think people don't know the story of Prometheus, which is too bad because it makes Mary Shelley's meaning more clear.

It is interesting to note that Percy Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound in 1819 just one year after Frankenstein was published. You are right that it adds some depth to the understanding of the book. Also the Milton quote is significant. I loved re-reading Frankenstein.

Angela

I loved this book and the whole underlying story of human psychology. Frankenstein's "monster" was only created when he was neglected and rejected to the point of madness. It is quite odd that Victor didn't seem to anticipate that his creation would be so large and "scary" even though he himself chose every part of him in detail. Personally I believe that if Victor had given his creation the attention and affection that every human being needs to survive the whole dramatic endeavor would not have occured, and the "monster" could have lived a fulfilled life. I appreciated your summary and the interesting points you made.

Thank you Angela, I have read it three times now! I agree that had Victor stepped up to the plate and embraced his responsibility as the creator of the monster the outcome would have been different to be sure. It is exactly that relationship between the created and the creator that the monster desired. It is a bitter and sad story full of spiritual, ethical and psychological implications.

I read somewhere that the "neglect that created the monster", was the neglect Mary Shelley felt as her husband dedicated more time to his writing than to her. Who knows.

Percy Shelley reportedly was not faithful to her either. He was still married to his first wife while he was living with Mary. He may have had an affair also with Mary's step sister who traveled with the Shelleys. His poetry is so outstanding but - what a cad!

I haven't read this in a long time so maybe I'll dig it out and read it again. You've piqued my curiosity.

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