What’s more romantic than a eight-foot science experiment with daddy issues? Nothing! Including this classic of Romantic literature (and arguably the first science fiction novel) is a no-brainer! Here is my recommended Frankenstein reading schedule.
Frankenstein reading schedule (four parts)
Letters – Chapter 5 (pages 5-36)
Chapters 6 – 12 (pages 37-71)
Chapters 13 – 10 (pages 72-105)
Chapters 20 – 24 (pages 106 – 143)
Note: The pages numbers refer to ISBN-13: 978-1512308051
I choose to break up the novel this way for several reasons. I teach this novel at the high school level, and I expect students to read the majority of the text out of class. While Frankenstein is dense reading, it is not especially long. The four parts of this Frankenstein reading schedule break the novel up (fairly) equally. Lastly, each of these readings offer plenty of fodder for discussion and analysis.
Note: Despite what this video explains, the Doctor never says that he electrifies the creature. He talks about being impressed by the lightning strike as a child and says that he “might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing.” The idea that electricity brings the creature to life is conjecture.
Frankenstein reading #1: Letters – Chapter 5
The frame of this frame tale
“I had determined at one time that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won me to alter my determination… I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale…”
In this reading students will be introduced to the sea captain, his ambitions, and the frame for the tale of Dr. Frankenstein. The section concludes with the doctor trying to recover after the shock of animating (and abandoning) the creature.
The most important literary element for students to think about is motivation. What drives people like the doctor (and the captain) to such ambition? Are their motives selfish or altruistic?
- What kind of character is the doctor?
- What led him to pursue his “unhallowed” practices?
- What clues can we find in what he relates about his young life?
- Does he really care about helping mankind or only his own success?
- What are his motives in telling the tale and can we believe everything he says?
We can also think about Shelley’s motivations. Why is it important that the captain relate the story? What are the benefits of this point of view? Is it too early to determine Shelley’s purpose beyond entertainment in writing the novel?
Frankenstein reading #2: Chapters 6 – 12
Feeling all the Feels
“While I watched the tempest, so beautiful yet terrific, I wandered on with a hasty step. This noble war in the sky elevated my spirits; I clasped my hands, and exclaimed aloud, ‘William, dear angel! this is thy funeral, this thy dirge!’ As I said these words, I perceived in the gloom a figure… A flash of lightning illuminated the object…its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed that that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon, to whom I had given life.”
This section recounts the murder of William, the execution of Justine Moritz, the Doctor’s quest for solace in the natural world, and the beginning of the creature’s tale. When the monster starts to tell of his early days, we are entering a frame within a frame.
The key literary elements to address after this reading are mood/tone and imagery (especially of the natural world). Students should analyze the connection between the imagery and the mood / tone and why this is key to Romantic literature. The mood and the imagery are reflective. The doctor and the creature see their emotions mirrored in the natural world and vice versa.
Frankenstein reading #3 Chapters 13 – 19
Love in the Time of Animated Corpses
“…I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained through stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows. The gentle words of Agatha and the animated smiles of the charming Arabian were not for me. The mild exhortations of the old man and lively conversations of the loved Felix were not for me. Miserable, unhappy wretch!”
The creature unfolds his story of learning what it means to be human. He also learns that the joys of human bonds will never be his. The doctor accepts the creatures unhallowed proposal, and by the end of this reading, is endeavoring to create the monster’s companion.
In this reading Shelley offers her Romantic philosophy on what it means to be human and the value of knowledge. The students should reach conclusions on Shelley’s themes on the human condition. The monster conveniently offers his perspectives on Paradise Lost and Plutarch’s Lives and the Sorrows of Werter. Students should explore what existence means to the monster, Dr. Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley.
This is the point in the novel to think about the characterization of the monster. It is already apparent that the original monster is quite different from the dull-witted lug shown in popular culture.
We feel pity for the creature, yet the doctor responsible for his creation (and who claims to be caring and conscientious) does not. The doctor is not motivated by a sense of pity or benevolence but simply by a desire to be rid of the problem that he created.
Frankenstein reading #4 Chapters 20 – 24
A Tale of Two Wretches
“I was answered through the stillness of night by a loud and fiendish laugh. It rang on my ears long and heavily; the mountain re-echoed it, and I felt as if all hell surrounded me with mockery and laughter… The laughter died away, when a well-known an abhorred voice, apparently close to my ear, addressed me in an audible whisper, ‘I am satisfied, miserable wretch! You have determined to live, and I am satisfied.'”
The conclusion of the novel takes us through the destruction of the second creature, the murders of Clerval and Elizabeth, the pursuit of the monster, and the devastating resolution. Ultimately and despite of his inconstancy, the Doctor’s warnings on obsessive ambition have been heeded by the captain; the Arctic voyage is cancelled.
There is much to explore in concluding the study of Frankenstein:
- Theme subjects on guilt, obsession, revenge, parenthood, abortive creation, ambition, isolation, and the survival instinct
- Structural elements like tension and suspense
- Allusions to the Bible, Greek mythology, etc.
- Symbolic elements of the Arctic ocean, the island, and silence
- Characterization of the doctor and his sudden relapses into his true, glory-seeking self.
The most interesting element might be how the doctor and his creation mirror each other. The doctor gives the monster life and the monster gives the doctor a new reality. The obsession of the doctor creates a monster obsessed with creating another monster. The monster feels isolation and creates isolation for the doctor. By the end, both “wretches” only seek revenge upon one another. I want students to explore how and why Shelley creates this symmetry.
Frankenstein Reading Schedule conclusion
The fact that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein at the age of nineteen is both marvelous and depressing. There is so much for students to explore regarding themes, style, the Romantic movement, symbolism, characterization, structure, and the rest. Whatever elements you decide to emphasize, I hope that you find this Frankenstein reading schedule helpful.