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LitEditor
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Discuss the Early Chapters

These discussion topics are suitable for readers who have read the first part of Frankenstein, through Chapter IX.

1. The opening sequence of letters that frames the story does not immediately involve Victor Frankenstein, but introduces Robert Walton, the passionate young explorer who encounters Frankenstein on his Arctic ocean journey. Why do you think Mary Shelley used such an elaborate framing device? How does Walton's correspondence with his sister echo the themes played out in later chapters?

2. What is Victor's motivation for carrying on his work? How is his scientific training and exposure to modern (that is to say, late-18th-century) philosophy crucial to his decision to undertake the project. Do you think the author is critical of science?

3. Upon his completion of his work, Victor turns away in horror and disgust from what he has done. He seems unable to face the creature or treat it as a living being. How is Victor's failure symbolic of other social failures?

Respond to any of these topics by clicking on "Reply" -- or start a new topic of your own by going back to the main board and selecting "New Message."


Note: If your post refers to events beyond this section of the novel, please add "spoiler warning" to your subject line.

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Sensorymoments
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters

1. The opening sequence of letters that frames the story does not immediately involve Victor Frankenstein, but introduces Robert Walton, the passionate young explorer who encounters Frankenstein on his Arctic ocean journey. Why do you think Mary Shelley used such an elaborate framing device? How does Walton's correspondence with his sister echo the themes played out in later chapters?


OOOh. I am so impressed at my interpretation skills here :smileyhappy: My mind usually goes in a million and one directions when I read, and I usually draw wrong conclusions, but having not read Frankenstein before, I felt like the letters were somehow an "outline" of the story to come.....

I have just finished the letters so I will have more to say about this as I read the story :smileyhappy:
Owy

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Kourt
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters *****Possible Spoiler

Wasn't Mary Shelley pregnant when she wrote this novel? Wouldn't she been portraying young Victor as the baby's father. Wasn't she concerned about being a mother and giving birth? Thus the grotesqueness of the monster
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IlanaSimons
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters *****Possible Spoiler

[ Edited ]
You’re right—Mary was dealing with a lot of anxiety about pregnancy when she was writing this book.

Her husband, Percy Shelley, and his friend Byron were often accused of being irresponsible with the women they impregnated. They ascribed to a free love ethic, and Shelley impregnated his first Wife, Harriet, while also starting a family with Mary. Mary was indeed pregnant during the writing of Frankenstein. Harriet, the ex-wife, had Percy’s child out of wedlock and killed herself, the same year Frankenstein was written.

Mary’s own mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), had died just ten days after giving birth to Mary Shelley. Mary suffered a hard time becoming a mother. Her own first child died soon before she began Frankenstein. Between 1815 and 1819, she lost three of her four children.

This wasn’t an easy relationship between having kids and feeling good about them.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 10-25-200602:38 PM




Ilana
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Kourt
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters *Victor's Motivation*

I think that Victor's motivation comes thru as Mary's worrisome pregnancy. I think his undertake is Mary's resignation to the fact that she must bear this child. Like Victor it is a project that he must see completed.

Am I reading to much into in being a mother of a almost threee year old and currently 2 months pregnant?
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IlanaSimons
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters *Victor's Motivation*

I think what you're saying makes a lot of sense. Not only must Mary have felt anticipation and stress about her pregnancy; she was also watching her husband's ex-wife move towards suicide with a feeling that he'd abandoned her during pregnancy (abandoned the duties of making a family). The theme of abandonment really only comes out in later chapters though, so no spoilers here.



Ilana
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zebulak
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Surprises abound

This was my first time reading Frankenstein, and frankly, I was amazed how different the story was from its many representations in the media. Where are the bolts in the creature's neck? The scars from the sewn-together skin? Where was the blast of lightening which brought the thing to life? In fact, where did all the various parts come from? Oh, so many misconceptions. The book is so much better than anything I've ever seen on TV/movies. And I think that is mostly due to what Shelly did not include in her text. Hard to believe that at 18, she was so intuitive about the capacity of the imagination when faced with unknowns.

Robin in VA
Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine so I may wet my mind and say something clever. --Aristophanes
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donyskiw
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters

1. There is some credibility given to the story when it is told this way. Robert Walton and his crew saw a huge manlike creature in a sledge pass by their ship and then they encounter Frankenstein close to death in pursuit of him. When Frankenstein tells the story, and it is reported in letters to Walton's sister, along with what Walton and the crew saw, it is more believalbe than if Frankenstein had simply told the story. This is echoed during the story when Frankenstein sees the creature on his way home after William's murder and he knows who killed William (and knows it is not Justine) but he would never be able to tell anyone because, without someone seeing the creature, they would surely believe he was imagining it.

2. Victor is motivated to advancing science the way the modern scientists advanced beyond Agrippa and the other ancients. Late 18th-century philosophy does not deal much with cell biology but instead believes life seems to be part of the organism as a whole. Therefore, Victor believes he can put all of the parts together in the right way, fix the damages, they will live. Mary Shelley, not being a scientist, simply leaves out the details that her readers, not being scientists either, will not miss. The author is critical of science in the way it appears not to include ethics.

3. Victor does not even try to deal with anything uncomfortable but simply gives up. He does not like the creature, so he runs away (what did he think he was going to do with it in his apartment anyway at this point? Come back and housebreak it later? Hope it just dies if he does not feed it? Let the neighbors adopt it?) He gets all wrapped up in his work and does not right to his loved ones and does not go home to visit until years later when his brother is murdered. He knows Justine is innocent but no one would believe the story of the creature anyway so he lets them execute her.

Denise
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LizzieAnn
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters

First I have to comment that everything I thought I knew about Frankenstein was so different than the actual novel. Having never read the book before, all I have is years of media hype - movies & shows, interpretations, and even Halloween costumes!

The actual story is different, not only on a deep level of the story & its emotions, but also on so many of the superficial. The creature never had a name, let alone that of his creator; yellow skin as opposed to the accepted green; no castle in a village; assistant; and although the implication is of electricity & lightning - no details are given as to the creature's birth.

I was surprised that the book opened on letters from Robert Walton, but the similiarities can be seen. Walton, like Victor, are driven by a need to achieve something phenomenal. Each leaves behind a woman he loves - one a sister, the other like a sister & soon to be so much more. They isolate themselves in their quest; driven by ambition that all else falls away. Their endeavors are all that matter. They are also alone, even when others are with them. And Walton seeing the creature before coming upon Victor was staggering - it foretold the horror to come.

Victor becomes motivated after hearing his chemistry professor, M. Walden, lecture and then speak to him personally. When Walden tells Victor that early philosophers laid the groundwork for their current science; that those early men helped open up mankind to many new learnings; and that his contemporaries were accomplishing so much in learning about nature - he somehow strikes a spark that ignites Victor's interest and passion. Victor wants to be a pioneer in his field - to explore the unknown - to discover & conquer the mysteries of nature & life. I don't know if Shelley is so much critical of science as saying that everything needs to be tempered with humanity, reason, & common sense - that caution must be taken and responsibility accepted.

Victor's failures are totally symbolic of the failings of society: to fear that which is different or not the socially accepted "norm"; to lack compassion; to avoid instead of help; to run from responsibility instead of accepting it; to ignore instead of face; to refuse to believe that actions have consequences that cannot be avoided.

Liz
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EvieJoy
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters

I don't know if Mary Shelley's intention had been to criticize science but Victor's horror at what he has done comes across as a criticism of science. This always reminds me of a favorite line from Jurassic Park - You were so busy asking if you could (restore dinosaurs to the earth with all the risks that would entail) that you never asked whether or not you should. Frankenstein seems like a cautionary tale, Victor was busy discovering whether he COULD create a human but he didn't think about whether or not he SHOULD. Surely the novel is warning of that possible danger inherent in science.
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a reply to the four above

[ Edited ]
A few of you have recognized a rigidity in Victor. When he’s faced with a difficult situation, he gets defensive. He protects himself in the face of unknowns. Zebulak says Victor sometimes lacks the “capacity of the imagination when faced with unknowns.” Donyskiw adds, “Victor does not even try to deal with anything uncomfortable but simply gives up.”

Yes--He’s a scientist, and loves predictability. He would like to feel more compassion, but he seems to be comfier with the black and white. That rigidity also seems to be related to his ambition: He wants to know exactly where he stands against others in history; he's uncomfortable with the ambiguities in humane interactions.

Shelley's probably writing to encourage comfort with the grays. Your comments are reminding me of an article on Frankenstein by Lawrence Lipking. Lipking said that the best thing that literature can do for us is to get us to sit still with ambiguity. That is: Frankenstein is a book that tells us how “moral tales” are all too simple. Good intentions often lead to bad results. That’s an awful truth, the books says: Sit with it. Literature is unlike science because it makes us sit with the prickly side, the imperfections, in human ethics.

Victor--many of you seem to be saying--is a scientist who lacks nuance in his ethics. A great phrase by LizzieAnn: Victor's failure is “to fear that which is different or not the socially accepted ‘norm’; to lack compassion; to avoid instead of help; to run from responsibility instead of accepting it; to ignore instead of face; to refuse to believe that actions have consequences that cannot be avoided.”
And EvieJoy: “This always reminds me of a favorite line from Jurassic Park - You were so busy asking if you could that you never asked whether or not you should."

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 10-29-200609:39 AM




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zebulak
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Re: a reply to the four above


IlanaSimons wrote:
... Zebulak says Victor sometimes lacks the “capacity of the imagination when faced with unknowns.”
Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 10-29-200609:39 AM




Well, that wasn't what I meant, but now that you frame it that way, I can see how it applies. And yes, Victor was extremely rigid. Hard to believe for a man whose parents were anything but doctrinaire. Perhaps it was the lack of boundaries as a child that caused him to withdraw into his confined little world as an adult and to hide from his mistakes in illnesses. I kept wondering what would have happened if he had sincerely tried to convince the authorities, before Justine was killed, that he'd made the creature. You know, provided notes and all the nasty little details of where all the parts came from. They would have locked him up as a ghoul, to be sure, but mighten the authorities also have gone looking for the creature? He should have tried. An innocent life was on the line. Was Shelly mocking the presumed nobility of the priviledged class when she wrote the story in this fashion? I wonder.

But really what I was trying to get at in my first post, was that Shelly's brilliance was leaving out the details and letting the readers' imaginations fill in the blanks. Thinking back, the scariest thing I've ever read was the first chapter of Stephen King's It. A man gets a phone call and commits suicide. The reader doesn't know what was said or from whence came the call, only that what the man heard was terrifying enough for him to slit his wrists in the bath tub. As a reader, I was left to imagine the man's horror and, though I never put a face to the menace from the past, I was terrified . . . until I met the clown at the end.

Robin in VA
Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine so I may wet my mind and say something clever. --Aristophanes
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IlanaSimons
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Re: a reply to the four above

My goodness. I went back to your post and just saw how horribly I did take you out of context. Sorry. I had cut and pasted your line into a text, and then used you for my own devices...!

In fact, in your first post, you were also saying that Victor's ambitions were even _fuelled_ by the mystery of unknowns, yes?



Ilana
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters

In past readings of Frankenstein I never paid that much attention to the opening letters because they did not seem to be part of the actual story, but a closer analysis due to Ilana's first question led me to rethink their significance. Framing is thought to lend credibility because of the alleged objectivity of a third person reporting the action from a neutral perspective, but a closer look at Shelley's structure yields frames within frames which lead to a layered structure where the facts must pass through many filters. We have the monster saying things to Frankenstein, Frankenstein telling Walton what the monster said, and Walton telling his sister what Frankenstein told him the monster said. It resembles the game we all played in kindergarten where a message starts at one end of the class and is relayed around the room and the message ends up very different from the way it began. So framing may validate the message but I think it also may obscure the details, which makes an already surreal tale even more detached from reality.
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Choisya
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Re: The fears and hopes of Shelley's society - and ours?



EvieJoy wrote:
I don't know if Mary Shelley's intention had been to criticize science but Victor's horror at what he has done comes across as a criticism of science. This always reminds me of a favorite line from Jurassic Park - You were so busy asking if you could (restore dinosaurs to the earth with all the risks that would entail) that you never asked whether or not you should. Frankenstein seems like a cautionary tale, Victor was busy discovering whether he COULD create a human but he didn't think about whether or not he SHOULD. Surely the novel is warning of that possible danger inherent in science.





There were many fears about science in the Age of the Romantics and Mary Shelley's pessimistic nature seems to have seen science as a negative force in society. In her book The Last Man she implies that a plague is necessary to cleanse mankind and that if Utopian ideals (ie: revolution, communism - themes of the times) are not checked by moral and ethical standards they will cause the death of mankind. A prophecy of what happened after the French & Russian Revolutions perhaps?

On the other hand, her mother Mary Wollstonecraft and other Romantics foresaw a great unleashing of the good things that a Scientific Revolution could bring, especially in the field of medicine and the improvement of ordinary people's lives. The later Romantics also embraced Socialism, particularly Fabianism - which is gradual, democratic socialism - and saw the communal (but not communist) sharing of the nation's and the world's resources as being the answer to mankind's problems. We are perhaps the inheritors of all these prophecies.

But has another monster Frankenstein been unleashed upon our society, another Prometheus Unbound - Global Warming (or even Terror(ism))? This may again justify Mary's pessimism and negate the Utopian ideals of her parents and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley or will our Frankenstein eventually be able to find Peace, Love and Rebirth? Will we, like Victor Frankenstein die without realising and repenting of the harm we have done? What will be our Nemesis? Victor Frankenstein's error was perhaps a lack of imagination, an inability to see what good his creation could be capable of. I am reminded of the words to John Lennon's song 'Imagine':-

Imagine there's no heaven,
it's easy if you try,
no hell below us,
above us only sky.
Imagine all the people,
living for today yu-huh.

Imagine there's no countries,
it isn't hard to do,
nothing to kill or die for,
and no religion too.
Imagine all the people,
living life in peace yu-huh.

You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us,
and the world will live as one.

Imagine no possesions,
I wonder if you can,
no need for greed or hunger,
a brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people,
sharing all the world yu-huh.

You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us,
and the world will be as one.
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Choisya
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Re: Discuss the Early Chapters *Victor's Motivation*



Kourt wrote:
I think that Victor's motivation comes thru as Mary's worrisome pregnancy. I think his undertake is Mary's resignation to the fact that she must bear this child. Like Victor it is a project that he must see completed.

Am I reading to much into in being a mother of a almost threee year old and currently 2 months pregnant?





I agree Kourt that much of the writing in Frankenstein (and other writings by Shelley) is influenced by her personal negative preoccupations about death, suicide etc. Her mother died in childbirth and so did a great many other women at this period of history. Even if their mothers survived childbirth, a very high proportion of children died before their first birthdays:smileysad:
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IlanaSimons
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the effect of letters

I think that's right on. We get more surreal, but we also get closer to what the experience of living feels like, in real-time, alongside a letter writer who doesn't know the future.
Conrad's Heart of Darkness is also told through multiple layers--one guy telling his story to another, to another--and so mirrors the experience of getting inside a head, with all the real-time fears.



Ilana
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ARMYRANGER
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Re: the effect of letters



IlanaSimons wrote:
I think that's right on. We get more surreal, but we also get closer to what the experience of living feels like, in real-time, alongside a letter writer who doesn't know the future.
Conrad's Heart of Darkness is also told through multiple layers--one guy telling his story to another, to another--and so mirrors the experience of getting inside a head, with all the real-time fears.




Thanks, I agree... I appreciate Conrad because he does so much within the frame, such as his use of delayed recognition and its ability to literally transfer states of consciousness between the layers of the narrative. For example, the globes on the posts outside of Kurtz's compound are later discovered to be skulls, and the sticks (or was it snakes?) hitting the boat are revealed as arrows being shot by natives. Shelley does not have this effect, but I beleive this is more a function of style rather than ability.

But back to the letters. Upon further examination, I was surprised at how many themes and motifs are foreshadowed in the letters. Such as in the second letter, Walton writes about the absence of and his desire for a friend, a role the monster could have fulfilled for Frankenstein, but instead kills his friend Clerval. In the third letter Walton alludes to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which shares common ground with Frankenstein in its themes of death, redemption, sin, guilt, and the supernatural. It is too bad Shelley did not allow seven letters instead of six, for that could have mirrored the seven parts of Coleridges poem, at least numerically. In the third letter Walton writes about the "determined heart and resolved will of man," which is intended to be a positive statement but instead describes the reason for Frankenstein's downfall. I think the most important portent is in the fourth letter when Frankenstein loses consciousness and Walton and the crew revive him. Frankenstein replies, "you have benevolently restored me to life." Finally, in the fifth letter, Walton ironically states that, "One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought..." Clearly the letters have much to offer, but their importance are not fully realized until the work is read for the second or third time.
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donyskiw
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Re: the effect of letters

Please do not talk about parts of the book that have happened after Chapter nine. Not all of us may have read beyond Chapter nine. This part of the message board is only for discussion up through Chapter nine.

Denise
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krislars
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The Letters

I was so anxious to read this novel that I went right to the first chapter, skipping over the letters. After a few chapters, it occurred to me that those letters might be important. The parallels between Victor and Walton were pretty clear to me, having read as far as I had. Their thoughts on science in general and their research were basically identical.

Kristi
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