About the Author:
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (nee Godwin) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. The Shelleys left Britain in 1818 for Italy, where their second and third children died before Mary Shelley gave birth to her last and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm near Viareggio. A year later, Mary Shelley returned to England and from then on devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and a career as a professional author. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumour that was to kill her at the age of 53. (Lit Lovers)
Mary Shelley’s timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.
- The horror story is just as popular today as it was in Shelley’s early nineteenth century England. What is the appeal of this genre? Discuss elements from Frankenstein that parallel characteristics of modern horror tales such as Stephen King’s, or contemporary films such as Nightmare on Elm Street. What are the effects of these elements on the audience, and how might that explain our fascination?
- Dr. Frankenstein finds himself unable to "mother" the being he creates. Why does Shelley characterize Victor in this way? What does this choice say about the role of women during Shelley’s era? Discuss the significance of parent-child relationships and birth references throughout the novel.
- Dreams and nightmares play a recurrent role throughout Shelley’s novel. Trace the use of dreams throughout the book, with emphasis on how they relate to changes in Victor’s character.
- Why are there so many references to sickness and fever in Frankenstein? Trace these references throughout the novel. What broader theme might Shelley be expressing?
- Re-visit some of your pre-reading activities, such as the journal entry on the "Philosopher’s Stone" and the anticipation guide on parenting. Now that you have completed Frankenstein, have your views changed? Why or why not?
- Ice is a prevalent image and an integral plot device in Shelley’s Frankenstein. How is it appropriate that the novel ends in ice? What is the symbolism of ice for the characters and the story?
- In his afterword in the Signet Classics edition of Frankenstein, Harold Bloom asserts that "all Romantic horrors are diseases of excessive consciousness, of the self unable to bear the self." Does this Romantic characteristic apply to Victor and his treatment of the creature? Explain. Consider the fact that Victor never gives the creature a name.
- Place Frankenstein’s creature in modern times. Suppose he had a family that raises him, includes him, and even enrolls him in school. How might today’s society treat Victor’s creature differently? How would it mimic the time period of the novel?
- Consider the character of Justine Moritz. While her story only takes two chapters of Shelley’s novel, her role as a secondary character is significant. What is Shelley’s purpose in telling Justine’s story? What truths about her time is Shelley revealing?
- The patriarchal society of Frankenstein is one in which men pursue their goals against hopeless odds. In light of this work ethic, is Robert Walton a failure when he turns his ship around at the end of the novel? How would Victor Frankenstein answer this question? What would Mary Shelley say? What do you think?
(Questions from A Teachers Guide issued by Signet Classics.)