Freaked out by how much you need to know about Frankenstein? Fear not – there’s nothing monstrous about this text when you’ve got your York Notes study guide and Top Ten Tips by your side. Conquer your revision demons by following our brilliant tips – you’ll feel victorious for sure! We’ve also got other posts on this text to help you through!
Frankenstein is a fairly short, intense read and has been described by leading Frankenstein academic George Levine as ‘the most important minor novel in English’.
So, what’s stopping you? At 200-odd pages, it really won’t take you long! More importantly, though, it is only through reading the book for yourself that you will be able to fully appreciate, understand and interpret this unique and influential novel. You might even find that it’s not quite what you expected!
Mary Shelley was born into a famous literary circle. Her mother was the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died 10 days after Mary was born. Her father was the philosopher and political radical William Godwin.
She married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the preface to Frankenstein details their holiday in Switzerland with the likes of Lord Byron. All these well-known characters influenced Mary Shelley’s writing, so explore their legacy in contemporary society as well as within her narrative.
REMEMBER: Knowing about the author you are studying is often a fruitful way to begin unlocking the novel and its influences.
Make your essay as easy to follow and engaging as you can by signposting your ideas.
There are many phrases you can use to guide the examiner through your argument, such as: ‘On the other hand …’; ‘This idea is explored by …’; ‘It is important to mention/remember that …’; ‘There is one other factor to consider …’; ‘Conversely …’; ‘One could argue that …’
REMEMBER: Always keep the essay title in mind! After each paragraph, ask yourself, ‘Does this answer the question?’
It is tempting to make a good point as quickly as possible, but you risk ‘overpacking’ your sentences and paragraphs. Don’t rush: unpack your argument. Take it step-by-step to clarify and refine your argument. There’s nothing more frustrating than a good point made badly – it can take the punch out of your essay!
The key to not overpacking your answer is – surprise, surprise – planning effectively before you begin your response! Check out the Essay wizard and Essay plans in the Revise section of our online guide for tips and guidance on writing your way to a great grade!
A common misconception is that Frankenstein, the novel’s namesake, is the monster. Wrong! Frankenstein in fact is the doctor, Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monster. A second misconception is that there is only one monster in the book.
Who is the real monster in the novel? This is a well-established debate in Frankenstein criticism. Whilst we have the archetypal monster – an unnatural being who is physically monstrous – he was not born a murderer or evil; he was kind, gentle and wanted to love and be loved. It could be argued that his mistreatment by society, and Frankenstein’s abandonment of his creation, are the real cause of his monstrous behaviour.
One way in which to really deepen your critical analysis is to look at seemingly simple questions from different angles. There are many different approaches to this question, so why not draw up a spider-diagram and see what conclusions you come to? Support your ideas with quotations and critical points of view!
Frankenstein is a novel all about language. We have the language acquisition of the monster, melodramatic and Gothic descriptive language, and the sublime Romantic musings of Victor Frankenstein.
Many of the central themes depend on powerful rhetoric, as do the many literary allusions, especially those of mythical and biblical origin.
Whilst Victor is on the one hand extremely articulate and eloquent, there is a preoccupation with the unnameable, the unspeakable, which is linked to the theme of The monstrous and the human. There are vast passages of description, of recollection, rather than action that takes place in the present – why do you think Shelley may have chosen this approach?
You should also examine the Godlike science of language (which links to the theme of Creation and divine aspirations) and the problem of voice (this links to the theme of The double). What are the effects of these?
REMEMBER: To get a high grade, consider the way in which the structure, form and language evoke particular responses in the reader.
Whether you use psychoanalytic theory or you apply a feminist reading to the novel, make sure you are aware of the critical debates that surround Frankenstein.
Try and group together different critical perspectives on Frankenstein – perhaps using a spider-diagram to organise the different opinions for each school of thought!
REMEMBER: Literary criticism can be used to bolster your argument as well as providing something to argue against! Be brave and argue well!
Much like the monster, who is composed of fragments of other corpses, so too the text of Frankenstein has been said to mirror the monster’s amalgamated identity.
There are plenty of analogies drawn between the characters in the text and those from myth. More striking is perhaps the common view that Shelley reappropriates and reworks Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), so make sure you read up on these two texts in order to refute or agree with this claim!
The context of Frankenstein is really important to understanding the furore the book met with when it was published. For example:
✓ The 18th century marked the Age of the Enlightenment, when huge progress in Natural philosophy (science) was made, as well as a move away from religious doctrine
✓ The French Revolution in 1789 delineated a major shift in society and the way institutions were run
✓ The Industrial Revolution was well underway, revealing a rapid growth in industry and technological progress
✓ Galvinism – the power of electricity, of bringing things back to life by charging them with electricity – had been developed
Frankenstein cannot be discussed without knowing about the Gothic tradition in literature. But is it a straightforwardly Gothic novel? Consider the following in relation to Frankenstein:
✓ The language of the Gothic alongside expressions of the sublime
✓ Chaos of the Gothic vs order of the scientific method
✓ Eloquence versus the unspeakable
✓ The Gothic genre itself – what was it borne from? Who are the influences on Gothic novelists?
REMEMBER: In order to write well about Frankenstein you must be able to situate it appropriately within the Gothic genre. Simply saying it is a Gothic novel will not suffice!