Engaging with the text

Reading and working with Frankenstein

  • Remember the kind of novel that Frankenstein represents – that it tells a story of scientific daring, which turns into a nightmare and a narrative of flight and pursuit.
  • Allow yourself time to become accustomed to the language: the novel was written nearly two hundred years ago and linguistic forms have inevitably changed, so don't worry if you read slowly at first.
  • Put yourself into the novel: try to imagine what it might be like to be Margaret Saville, receiving her brother's letters, or Walton himself, listening to Frankenstein's extraordinary story.
  • Set aside time for reading: identify blocks of time when you can read without interruption.
  • Make notes as you read: this is the best way of keeping your reading alert and active – note down such things as the relationships between people, perhaps in a diagram form, and the locations of various parts of the story.
  • Make links with other books, films or TV programmes with similar plots and themes – about robots or androids, for instance, or about scientists whose experiments get beyond their control.

Get to know the text

  • Read Frankenstein several times: this is essential if you are to develop a well-informed response to the novel.
  • Follow up advice on reading given by your teacher or in study guides.
  • BUT don't rely on plot summaries:
    • they tell you nothing about language and style
    • they don't identify themes and motifs in the text
    • however detailed, they are intended as reminders not substitutes.
  • Read the text in different ways. Once you have a firm grasp of the overall narrative, you may wish to:
    • re-read a particular section, such as the monster's account of his time living close to the de Laceys or Walton's opening and concluding letters
    • concentrate on a theme or motif, such as the use of mountains, lakes and other kinds of natural features
    • trace the development of a character or a relationship between characters, such as Frankenstein and Elizabeth.

Know the complete text

This requires a separate section because examiners often report that students know the start of a play or novel well, but not the end. Classroom study often emphasises the beginning of a book or play, where the author introduces characters, themes and imagery, and is then less detailed about the remainder of the text. So:

  • Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes or episodes in the later chapters of Frankenstein
  • Remember that themes, motifs and images may be developed and modified as the book goes on
  • Remember that characters change and develop and that the reader's attitude towards them may also change.

Keep a record of your reading

  • Make notes under headings, with page references to particularly useful passages
  • For major topics, you may find it helpful to have separate pages: one for Frankenstein, say, or for the monster, or for ideas about science. However:
    • don't let your notes become too separate and take care to comment on links and relationships
    • use specimen essay questions to give you ideas for headings for your notes.
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