Mary Shelley
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Plot Summary

The novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus was written by English author Mary Shelly in 1818. One of the earliest examples of science fiction, it has elements of Gothic novel and the Romantic movement. First conceptualised as a short story, it grew into a full-fledged novel with influences from Promethean myth from Ovid, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of Ancient Mariner and Humphry Davy’s Elements of Chemical Philosophy. Shelly’s novel is a story of young scientist Victor Frankenstein who creates life through unorthodox scientific experiment and is horrified by his creation. For literary critics, the novel has become a popular subject for psychoanalytic and feminist criticism.

Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, recounts in a series of letters to his sister in England the progress of his dangerous mission. The mission is interrupted by huge masses of impassable ice in the sea. Trapped, Walton meets Victor Frankenstein, a traveler on a dog-sledge who has been weakened by the cold. The explorer takes him aboard the ship and nurses him back to health. Frankenstein narrates a fantastic tale of the monster he created to Walton. Victor begins by describing his early life in Geneva where he spent a blissful childhood in the company of Elizabeth Lavenza (his cousin in the 1818 edition, his adopted sister in the 1831 edition) and friend Henry Clerval.

Victor goes to the university of Ingolstadt to study natural philosophy and chemistry. Consumed by the desire to discover the secret of life, he studies there for several years and is convinced that he has found the secret. With the newly-acquired knowledge, Victor spends months feverishly giving shape to a creature out of old body parts. One night, Victor secretly brings his creation to life. When he looks at the monstrosity of his creation, he is terribly horrified. After spending a rather uneasy night, interrupted by the specter of the demon looming over him, he runs into the streets and is remorseful of his act. Victor meets his varsity-mate Henry, who takes him back to his apartment. Though the creature is gone, Victor suffers from serious illness. He is sickened by his horrific deed and decides to return to his family in Geneva. As he is about to leave Ingolstadt, Victor receives a letter from his father informing him that his youngest brother, William, has been killed. Victor is overcome by grief and returns to his home hurriedly. On the way he passes through the woods where William was strangled, he sees the fiend and is convinced that the monster killed his brother. When Victor reaches Geneva, he finds that Justine Moritz, a kind, gentle girl adopted by the Frankenstein household, has been accused of the murder. Justine is tried, condemned, and executed even though she pleads her innocence. Feeling guilty that the demon he has created is responsible for the death of two innocent loved ones, Victor grows despondent and disillusioned. He takes a vacation to the mountains in the hope that things will sort out gradually.

While crossing a huge glacier one day, he meets the creature who admits to the murder of William but begs for understanding. The monster says that he was feeling lonely, shunned and forlorn that is why he hit William in a desperation to injure Victor, his cruel creator. The creature begs Victor to create a companion for him. Victor refuses outrightly, horrified by the thought of creating another monster. The monster puts forth his request eloquently and succeeds in persuading Victor to create a companion for him. He returns to Geneva, and from there heads for England, accompanied by his friend Henry Clerval, to create a female creature. Leaving Henry in Scotland, Victor isolates himself on a lonely island in the Orkneys where he works reluctantly at replicating his first success. One night, hit by the doubts about the morality of his actions, Victor glances out of the window to see the monster glaring at him with a frightening grin. Victor is horrified by the possible consequences of his work and immediately destroys his new creation. The enraged demon vows revenge, swearing that he will be with Victor on his wedding night. Victor takes a boat and dumps the remains of the second creature in the lake. He is caught in the wind and gets stuck on island that night. He finds himself ashore near an unknown town in the morning.

Soon, he is arrested and informed that he will be tried for a murder discovered the previous night. Victor denies any knowledge of the murder but is shocked to see the dead body of his friend Henry. He also notices a mark of the monster’s fingers on Henry's neck. Victor falls ill and is kept in prison until his recovery, after which he is acquitted of the crime.

Victor returns to Geneva with his father and marries Elizabeth soon. Fearing monster’s warning that he will be murdered on his wedding night, Victor sends Elizabeth away to wait for him. While he anticipates the monster's return, he hears Elizabeth scream and realises that it was the new bride whom the monster had been hinting at killing and not him.

Victor returns to his father's home but he too dies of grief after some time. He vows to find out the monster and exact revenge from him. He finally tracks the monster ever northward into the ice. Victor almost catches up with the monster in a dogsled chase but the sea beneath them swells and the ice breaks, leaving huge gap between them.

It is here Walton encounters Victor and the narrative catches up to the time of Walton’s fourth letter to his sister. The remaining story is narrated by Walton in another series of letters to his sister. Victor is already ill when the two men meet; his health worsens and he dies shortly thereafter. Several days later, when Walton returns to the room in which Victor's body lies, he is shocked to see the creature weeping near Victor's body. The monster expresses his feeling of immense solitude, suffering, hatred, and remorse. He says now that his creator has died, he too can end his suffering. The monster then leaves for the northernmost ice to die.

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