Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University

Mary Shelley:


Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. NY: Signet, 2000.

Mary Shelley:

Mary Shelley's mother died within two weeks of Mary's birth in 1797. In 1814 she eloped with the married Percy Shelley. She had a miscarriage, a dream of the dead baby come to life after being rubbed before a fire. She then gave birth to a son in 1816, shortly before the famous night of ghost stories prompted by Lord Byron. Frankenstein was published in 1818.

The Frame:

Walton's adventure literalizes Frankenstein's journey into the unknown and parallels the isolation such overreaching entails. Walton's letters to his married sister, Mrs. Saville, home back in England gives a very indirect glimpse of the domestic world ambiguously cherished in the novel. The narrative framing -- like boxes inside boxes ultimately -- filters the fever-dream-like story through more rational voices. But whose story is this ultimately? It can be called a decentered text.

"my father's dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life."

"I begin to love him as a brother, and his constant and deep grief fills me with sympathy and compassion. He must have been a noble creature in his better days, being even now in wreck so attractive and amiable."


"my mother had said playfully, 'I have a pretty present for my Victor....'"

Interestingly, in the 1818 version of this story, Mary Shelley cast Elizabeth as Victor's first cousin. In the 1830s version, Elizabeth is born of a completely separate family. What are the implications of these changes in the novel from 1818 to the 1830s?

Victor seems to have an idyllic childhood and ideal relationships with his parents. So why does he go so wrong? Why isn't Victor Frankenstein perfectly bland? Later, what happens to all mothers? They seem to exist only to be eradicated and leave orphans. Meanwhile, all fathers seem to be withering.


"After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began."

"None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science.... After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils."

"'Compose yourself,' said Clerval."

"I felt also the sentiments of joy and affection revive my bosom; my gloom disappeared, and in a short time I became cheerful as before I was attacked by the fatal passion."

"trembling with passion, [I] tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me...."


A "doppelganger" (literally, double-goer) is an alter ego, a projected other self, a shadow or dark side -- often an outward manifestation of a repressed side of the self. It's a psychological/literary phenomenon. What evidence do we have that this is a term appropriate for Victor and the creature? What happens to Victor right after the moment of creation?

Both say, "I bore a hell within me" (84, 130).

"my own spirit let loose from the grave" (74).

"I almost began to think I was the monster he said I was" (83).

"I learned from your papers that you were my father."

"I shall be with you on your wedding-night."


Shelley herself called her novel "hideous progeny" or "offspring" (xii).
Early Gothics all share a major technical problem.... They cannot be efficiently told; they cannot be properly framed. Especially at the end, they are narrative flops. As Coleridge said almost two centuries ago, horror stories are "fever dreams," and like nightmares they don't fit symmetrically. Structurally, they are unaesthetic, anti-artistic, preserving only the unities of the subconscious. (Twitchell 41)

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. NY: Signet, 2000.

Monster Index