More on the three narrators

More on the three narrators:

In a useful essay entitled ‘Narratives of Seduction and the Seductions of Narrative: The Frame Structure of Frankenstein', Beth Newman discusses this aspect of the novel. She points out that:

  • although it is important to listen to the dialogues between the three narratives, Frankenstein is not offering the reader multiple viewpoints in the usual sense. The two spoken and one written narrative of which the novel is composed are not designed to reveal, through their language and expression, the unmistakable psychological make-up of the narrators
  • No particular one of the stories is the ‘right' one and none of them contains the ‘real' meaning of the story: meanings can only emerge for the reader by considering the narratives side by side.

There are, Newman points out, two striking features in the way Mary Shelley uses the conventions of reported narratives:

  • Most eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels that employ the convention of manuscript narratives depend on the device of documents discovered, transcribed and presented to the reader. In Frankenstein, the only written evidence is provided by Walton, who ‘discovers' oral narratives and transforms them into written form.
  • There is very little distinction made between the three main voices we hear/read, and the way in which they pass on the stories they hear leaves almost no narrative distance between the original and the next teller. That is to say that each listener/narrator tends to accept fairly uncritically what he is told, so that, as Beth Newman argues, their stories tend to corroborate rather than to question one another.

Note that Beth Newman's essay is reprinted in Fred Botting (ed), ­Frankenstein: Contemporary Critical Essays (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995).


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