The narrative frames

The nature of the narrative in Frankenstein is inseparably linked to its structure, which combines three different narrative strands:

  • Captain Walton
  • Victor Frankenstein
  • the monster.

These narratives sit within one another, like a set of boxes of different sizes:

This structure could also be expressed as a series of brackets:


Included by Victor

The structure is further complicated by the fact that Victor includes in his narrative:

  • letters from Elizabeth and his father
  • Justine's account of William's murder.

Included by the monster

In addition, the monster is able to:

  • recount the story of the de Laceys
  • refer to Victor's diary of the months leading up to his creation.

Included by Walton

Captain Walton could be described as the overall narrator:

  • he introduces and ends the book with his letters to his sister, Margaret
  • he also retells Frankenstein's story and Frankenstein's account of the monster's story.

Perfect recall?

This structure requires the reader to accept that:

  • Robert Walton has perfect recall of everything he hears from Victor
  • Victor has perfect recall of the monster's narrative.

This is a convention that was widely accepted in eighteenth and nineteenth-century fiction. Mary Shelley, however, complicates this convention:

  • for all three narrators, there is a good deal at stake in presenting themselves to the reader, or to each other, in a particular light.
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