Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

A Story Grid Masterworks Analysis Guide

Maya Rushing Walker, Shawn Coyne, Leslie Watts

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eBook - ePub

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

A Story Grid Masterworks Analysis Guide

Maya Rushing Walker, Shawn Coyne, Leslie Watts

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About This Book

How does a book written in 1818 by a teenage author remain a classic and a bestseller, still permeating our culture and haunting readers 200 years later?

In this Masterwork Guide to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Story Grid editor and novelist Maya Rushing Walker leads us deep into the heart of the story, demonstrating how Shelley blends essential elements of the horror and morality genres to spectacular and chilling effect.

The Guide opens with an analysis of the context in which Mary Shelley wrote and explores themes of loneliness and fear in her work. Walker then dives into a scene-by-scene analysis, drawing lessons from the way Shelley crafts each turning point, crisis, and resolution.

This is a Guide by a writer for writers. Walker takes care to highlight passages that evoke emotion and build character as well as those that propel the horror plot forward. As she explains: "Mary Shelley will teach you a lot about what it means to play with fire... which is a good thing for anyone who wants to write stories that have the enduring impact of Frankenstein."

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Year
2020
ISBN
9781645010340

LETTER 1 - SCENE 1

St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—

To Mrs. Saville, England

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking. [A somewhat cocky or defensive tone here?]

I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes.

Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There—for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigators—there snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. [A rather bizarre and delusional belief!] Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever. [He has grand scientific goals.] I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, [So he is both delusional and arrogant.] to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good Uncle Thomas’ library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. [He is self-taught—so was Shelley.] These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father’s dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life. [A theme of parents forbidding “exploration.”]

These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven. I also became a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation; I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned into the channel of their earlier bent.

Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked harder than the common sailors during the day and devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate in a Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own I felt a little proud when my captain offered me the second dignity in the vessel and entreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness, so valuable did he consider my services. And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. [More interesting arrogance—he has no particular education but has worked hard and feels he “deserves” glory.] Oh, that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage, the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when theirs are failing.

This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stagecoach. The cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in furs—a dress which I have already adopted, for there is a great difference between walking the deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no ambition to lose my life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh and Archangel. I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend to sail until the month of June; and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister, how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, you will see me again soon, or never. Farewell, my dear, excellent Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings on you, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude for all your love and kindness.

Your affectionate brother,

R. Walton
• ANALYZING THE SCENE •
LETTER 1 – SCENE 1
A Story Event is an active change of universal human value for one or more characters as a result of conflict (one character’s desires clash with another’s or an environmental shift changes the universal human value).
A Working Scene contains at least one Story Event. To determine a scene’s Story Event, answer these four questions:
1. What are the characters literally doing—that is, what are their micro on-the-ground actions?
Robert Walton is describing his current situation in a letter to his sister in England. He is in St. Petersburg, preparing for a journey to the North Pole.
2. What is the essential tactic of the characters—that is, what macro behaviors are they employing that are linked to a universal human value?
Walton is justifying the decision he has made to go to the North Pole.
3. What universal human values have changed for one or more characters in the scene? Which one of those value changes is most important and should be included in the Story Grid Spreadsheet?
Walton was a failure as a poet, but when he inherited a fortune, he was able to defy his father’s dying injunction to never adopt a seafaring life, which was Walton’s fantasy since childhood. He has been working for six years toward this trip, and he is afraid he will fail but also hopeful he will witness the mysteries of “eternal daylight.”
In a Horror story, the global value spectrum is Damnation to Life, and indeed Walton does address the possibility of death, but his journey to self-actualization seems to require this risk. He doesn’t want to play it safe although there is some sense that he thinks science will keep him safe, and this belief in science is a recurring theme in the book. In the spreadsheet we will note Walton’s progression from Despair (at being prevented from exploring the seas) to Hope (at inheriting a fortune and being able to pursue his dream although ironically approaching death).
Despair to Hope
4. What is the Story Event that sums up the scene’s on-the-ground actions, essential tactics, and value change? We will enter that event in...

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