Frankenstein at a Glance


Frankenstein follows Victor Frankenstein's triumph as he reanimates a dead body, and then his guilt for creating such a thing. When the "Frankenstein monster" realizes how he came to be and is rejected by mankind, he seeks revenge on his creator's family to avenge his own sorrow. Mary Shelley first wrote Frankenstein as a short story after the poet Lord Byron suggested his friends each write a ghost story. The story so frightened Byron that he ran shrieking from the room.

Written by: Mary Shelley

Type of Work: novel

Genres: Gothic Literature; Romantic Movement

First Published: In 1818

Setting: Narration begins in Russia then transitions to Geneva, Switzerland where the events surrounding Victor Frankenstein and the Monster are chronicled. The setting switches often, but the majority is set in Europe.

Main Characters: Victor Frankenstein; The Monster; Elizabeth Lavenza; Justine Moritz; William Frankenstein; Henry Clerval; Margaret Saville; De Lacey Family; Robert Walton

Major Thematic Topics: treatment of the poor and uneducated; use of knowledge for good or evil purposes; invasion of technology into modern life; the restorative powers of nature in the face of unnatural events

Motifs: danger of knowledge; allusion to Goethe's Faust; obsession; revenge

Major Symbols: the monster; electricity; lightning; weather

Movie Version(s): Frankenstein (1931); Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

The three most important aspects of Frankenstein:

  • Although Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is compelling in and of itself, it also functions on a symbolic level or levels, with Frankenstein's monster standing in for the coming of industrialization to Europe — and the death and destruction that the monster wreaks symbolizing the ruination that Shelley feared industrialization would eventually cause.
  • The novel contains a number of "framing devices," which are stories that surround other stories, setting them up in one way or another. Robert Walton's letters to his sister frame the story that Victor Frankenstein tells to Walton, and Frankenstein's story surrounds the story that the monster tells, which in turn frames the story of the De Lacey family.
  • Frankenstein is a gothic novel. Gothic novels focus on the mysterious or supernatural; take place in dark, often exotic, settings; and yield unease if not terror in their readers. The double is a frequent feature of the Gothic novel, and in a sense Frankenstein and his monster are doubles. Some literary historians also consider Frankenstein the first science fiction novel.

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