Frankenstein Background Materials


Background Materials


While journeying through the North Pole, Robert Walton saves the frozen Victor Frankenstein from the ice. After learning his story, Robert Walton sits with quill in hand ready to tell this tale to his sister—a cautionary tale about the limits of science.

Victor Frankenstein is a nobleman with a passion for alchemy and dreams of creating the elixir of life. After the death of his mother, Frankenstein becomes inspired by his grief and combines alchemy with modern science in the hopes of creating life. After two years of experimentation, Frankenstein succeeds. However, when he sets eyes upon his creation, he becomes horrified by the very thing he created. Repulsed by his own creation, Frankenstein abandons it.

Months after bringing his creation to life, Frankenstein’s brother is murdered. Family servant Justine Moritz is accused of the crime, but Frankenstein is certain that his creature is the murderer. However, Frankenstein is frozen by the fear of being thought mad and does not come forward during the trial. Justine Moritz is executed, and Frankenstein becomes haunted by the death of two innocent persons.

In his guilt, Frankenstein retreats into the mountains. He is found by the creature seven years later. After telling Frankenstein of its life for the past seven years, the Creature demands that Frankenstein re-create his experiment because it yearns to be loved. With a promise for the Creature to leave Europe forever, Frankenstein begins work on creating a lover for his creation. Plagued by premonitions of his creatures procreating, Frankenstein destroys his half-finished companion. Upon seeing this, the Creature vows vengeance on its creator for denying it of love.

Frankenstein returns to Europe to wed the woman his mother always wanted him to marry, Elizabeth. On his wedding night, Frankenstein discovers the true capabilities of his creature when he finds his wife’s lifeless body and the Creature grinning over her with hands around her wilted neck. The man swears vengeance on the Creature and chases it to the far reaches of the world in the cruel North Pole where Robert Walton’s crew spots him still chasing the Creature across the frozen sea of ice even though he is haggered, worn, and dying.

Robert continues writing to his sister after Frankenstein’s story ends. Frankenstein vows to complete his quest, but he dies two days later. From the dead man’s room, Robert hears a noise. He enters the room to find the Creature mourning over Frankenstein’s dead body. After delivering an oration over the body, the Creature vows to kill himself now that his purpose in life has gone and surrenders itself to the arctic blizzards where “he was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.”

Mary Shelley Biography & Legacy 

Mary Shelley was originally born as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on 30 August 1797 in London. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft died eleven days later. As the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, arguably the first Feminist and proponent of women’s education, Mary Shelley received a quality education, something unusual for most women in the early 19th century. Her father, William Godwin, ensured that her mother’s ideals from  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman  were applied to Mary’s upbringing.

At the age of ten Mary had her first experience with publication when the Juvenile Library printed her witty poem,  Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or, The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris . At the age of fourteen, Mary was exposed to yet another broadening influence, when Godwin sent her on an extended visit to the Baxter family in Dundee, Scotland.

Shortly after her return to the family home, she became reacquainted with her father's youthful admirer, Percy Bysshe Shelley. He became a frequent visitor to the Godwin household, and the two of them fell in love. At age 16, Mary eloped with Shelley to the continent accompanied by Mary's step-sister Claire.

It is perhaps to be expected that this couple, immersed as they were in the world of books, would turn the journal of their elopement into a travel book, which Mary wrote and published as  History of a Six Weeks' Tour  in 1817. When they returned in 1814, the couple was penniless, and Shelley was forced to hide from creditors. Godwin, feeling injured by his daughter, would not even see her lover.

Later, Claire, needing to establish Lord Byron as the father of an expected child, confided in Mary, who, in turn, convinced Shelley of the importance of this claim. So came about the famous summer of 1816 on the shore of Lake Geneva. Mary made the acquaintance of, and then developed a particularly intense intellectual friendship with Lord Byron, the foremost poet of the age.

Upon her return to England in September of 1816, Mary quickly began to develop the novel she had started in the summer. Its progress was twice interrupted by family catastrophe, first the suicide of her half-sister Fanny in October, then the discovery in December of the body of her sister-in-law Harrie Shelley, who also committed suicide. Two weeks after they were notified of Harriet's suicide, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped.  married. This event brought about an immediate reconciliation with Godwin.

On the first day of 1818  Frankenstein  was published anonymously, followed shortly after by Shelley's book-length narrative poem,  The Revolt of Islam . In March, Mary and Percy, with their two children Clara and William, along with Claire and her daughter Allegra, departed from England to make a new home in Italy.

The four years they spent in Italy saw the establishment of Percy Bysshe Shelley as one of the foremost poets in the English language. It likewise furthered the career of Mary Shelley as "The Author of  Frankenstein ," the rubric under which she continued her anonymous publication with a second novel immersed in medieval Italian history,  Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca  (1823). After Percy Bysshe Shelley's death by drowning in 1822, Mary Shelley found herself without sufficient financial means to remain in Italy. With some reluctance, she returned to England to begin a second existence there in the fall of 1823 where her society was rejected by the respectable people in England due to her breach in social decorum from her elopement.

She never equalled the popular success of  Frankenstein  (1818 & 1831), but she published a number of other novels after  Valperga The Last Man  (1826),  The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck  (1830), the 2nd edition of  Frankenstein  heavily revised (1831),  Lodore  (1835), and  Falkner  (1837). In addition to her novels, she produced a large volume of miscellaneous prose: short stories, biographies, and travel writings, including the retrospective  Rambles in Italy and Germany  of 1844. She likewise supervised the publication of her husband's  Posthumous Poems , which appeared in 1824, his  Poetical Works  (1839), and his prose (1839 and 1840). Her only surviving child was Percy Florence Shelley, who was born in 1819 and who acceded to the baronetcy upon the death of Shelley's father, Sir Timothy, in 1844. Mary Shelley died in her home in Chester Square, London, on February 1, 1851.

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