Reading Frankenstein

Mother Culture Selection November 2016

Most current editions of Frankenstein are the 1831 version, edited by Mary Shelley from her original 1818 version. There are some important differences between the two texts, some of which are detailed here and here. This time at Providence Prep, most of our students had the inexpensive Dover edition (1831 edition), but next time we will probably use the 1818 version.

Reading Helps

The ideas below for a close reading build on the principles and practices detailed in my post on High School Humanities. The master aim of literature study should be to read and delight in the story. Keep these reading helps in their rightful place as servant to that master. Our co-op meets once a week; we read and discussed Frankenstein over three meetings.

Background and ContextFrankenstein

Read about Mary Shelley’s life. This Wikpedia article is really pretty good. Follow the links to find out a bit about her father, her mother, and her husband, as they were all large influences on this young author.  Also, a bit of background on both the Enlightenment and Romanticism is in order. My favorite brief summary is in Reading Between the Lines, by Gene Edward Veith. You can actually read the pertinent chapter (Chapter 10) in this Google book previewBut do put this book on your wish list – I refer to it constantly as a reader and a teacher.

Commonplace Entries

(Read my series of posts on Commonplace Books here.) Always read with a pen in hand! Mark possible passages for commonplacing at a future time. Of course, commonplacing favorite passages as you read should be a regular habit. In addition, look for specific passages to copy that will aid understanding about

  • Victor Frankenstein’s reasons for creating the monster
  • the monster’s complaint against Frankenstein
  • the monster’s self-assessment
  • Victor Frankenstein’s thoughts on his creation and what he has done

Also, look for passages that reflect the influence of Enlightenment thinking and Romantic thinking, along with any places where Shelley may offer some evaluation of those ideas.

Reflections As You Read

In addition to the general reading journal options, there are a few specific Reading Journal assignments that may be helpful. This is not meant to be a deep analysis. Use this kind of guided journaling only as a way to enhance enjoyment of the story!

  • In consideration of the subtitle, “The Modern Prometheus,” read and briefly summarize the story of Prometheus, his crime, and his punishment  (Bulfinch’s Age of Fable – read Chapter II: Prometheus and Pandora).
  • Name the books which the monster listed as the content of his education. Briefly summarize the subject and significance of these books, and how each influenced the monster.
  • Journal your impressions of the main characters: Victor Frankenstein, the monster, Frankenstein’s father, Elizabeth, Clerval, and Walton.
  • Journal your thoughts on these questions: Should Frankenstein have created life? Why or why not? Did he owe anything to his creation? Why or why not?


Each week after class discussion, we usually ask students to write one or more Connections entries in their Reading Journals. We always ask for one open-ended entry, noting similar ideas or themes that they may have encountered in their reading and study of Scripture, history, or other literature. Sometimes we ask for a more specific Connections entry as well. Frankenstein offers possibilities in poetry, art, and music for this kind of journal entry.


Obviously, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley had direct influence on this novel from the start. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was also a friend of her father and part of her circle of friends. The Romantic poets make a wonderful accompaniment to your study of Frankenstein. Remember that poetry is meant to be heard, so do read each poem aloud several times.

  • Poetry by Lord Byron, especially “Prometheus
  • Poetry by Percy Shelley, especially “Mutability,” a few lines of which are quoted in Frankenstein
  • Poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, especially “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a few lines of which are also quoted in Frankenstein


The 1831 edition of Frankenstein was illustrated by British artist Theodore Von Holst (1810-1844). Here is his frontispiece engraving:

The artwork on the cover of the Dover edition is “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. (Credit to Pastor Biggs for pointing us to Friedrich’s paintings.)

This quintessential example of Romantic art was painted in 1818, the same year that the first version of  Frankenstein was published.

This earlier work by Friedrich, “A Ship in the Ice-Sea” (1798), evokes a bit of the setting of Frankenstein:

View other works from Friedrich here.


To round out the atmosphere of the Romantic age, Pastor Biggs suggests listening to Beethoven’s Third Symphony (“Eroica”) as you read.

Mother Culture Community

Mother Culture Community is an online fellowship of Christian classical home educators and other reading mothers (and aunts, and sisters, and grandmothers, and daughters), sponsored by The Reading Mother. Our mission is inspire our students in the pursuit of a life well‐read. We believe our own pursuit of a life well‐read is the best place to start.

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