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 by Mary Shelley herself in 1831. 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 the format of letters and the journal entries of Robert Walton an explorer attempting to discover a passageway through the North Pole. Walton, in his travels, has made a remarkable discovery. He has come upon 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 clash between Victor Frankenstein and the monster unfolds as Victor Frankenstein lies dying in a cabin aboard the ship of Robert Walton. As Victor tells the story, Robert Walton writes letters to his sister, and also records the events as told to him in his journal.
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 summarize 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 contemporary editions as it is indicative of the over-reaching arrogance of Victor Frankenstein. The Greek deity, Prometheus, was said to have created man and then stolen fire from heaven to give to him. This great gift of fire enables mankind to live and progress and become civilized. 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.
Because of the grossness of his form, Frankenstein’s monster experiences the scorn of humankind and is driven to rage and vengeance. 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 with the request, the monster wreaks havoc upon his life. The monster brings to Frankenstein the same pain and isolation that has been imposed upon him simply 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.
If you have a book club or need essay topics, Please see Book Club and Essay Topics for Frankenstein.