chapter  3
38 Pages

Reading Frankenstein

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the most accepted classics of English fiction and is a fitting place to test ideas about the genre of the realist novel. This chapter discusses another very famous but very different text-Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (1818)—by Mary Shelley. The chapter also considers the genre of the Gothic novel and explores how genres and their rules can interact within a single work. We are accustomed to thinking of novels like Pride and Prejudice or Frankenstein as single entities; the pages of each individual book sit within their bindings separate on our shelves. However, thinking of a novel as part of a genre means thinking about what one novel shares with others, and about the way in which these shared elements, acting like rules and existing outside any particular novel, make the genre what it is. The boundaries between one novel and another seem to dissolve. Both Frankenstein and its author lend themselves to discussion of this dissolving of the boundaries of texts. Frankenstein is the name of a novel as well as a character in the novel, but also the name of a film made in 1931 and of a number of later films. On occasion the name ‘Frankenstein’ is used to refer to the creature in the novel rather than to his creator. In the same way, the name ‘Shelley’ belongs to the writer of Frankenstein, but also to her husband Percy Shelley, author of poems such as Ode to the West Wind (1819) and plays such as Prometheus Unbound (1818). Mary Shelley’s self-identity is an important consideration in discussion of Frankenstein.