Setting the scene

The Preface, which was actually written for Mary Shelley by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (see Author section: Political radicalism), outlines the circumstances in which the story was written and says something about the kind of narrative the reader might expect. It also offers a tentative defence of the probability of the events described in the novel. (See also Social/political context: How Frankenstein came to be written)

Going deeper

Dr. Darwin: this refers to Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin (whose book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, first proposed the idea of evolution and natural selection). Erasmus was also a scientist and a poet whose works are alluded to more than once in Frankenstein. (See also Religious/philosophical context: Erasmus Darwin).

some of the physiological writers of Germany: [note to follow] (See also Literary context).

The Iliad … Night's Dream: this list offers a series of well-known texts whose form justifies Mary Shelley's commitment to adhere to ‘the elementary principles of human nature' while retaining the right to ‘innovate upon their combinations'.

More on list of texts: All the texts referred to contain an element of the supernatural, myth, fantasy, magic or speculations about human potential. By naming Homer, Shakespeare and Milton (see Literary context), all famous and venerated authors, Shelley hopes to gain authority for her own endeavours.

the summer of 1816 … agreed each to write a story: See Author section for an account of the circumstances in which Frankenstein was conceived and written.

  • Think about the function of the Preface
    • Why might it be necessary for a book of this kind to have a Preface?
  • Consider the ways in which reading the Preface might affect readers
    • before they have read the novel
    • when they have finished reading of the novel.
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