The structure of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is like the layers of an onion; step by step we come closer to the core of the story. The novel begins with captain Walton’s letters to his sister, then Victor Frankenstein tells his story to captain Walton. At the core is the Creature’s own narrative. After that we return to Victor Frankenstein’s story and finally we are back with captain Walton who began the story.
The beginning with captain Walton’s four letters to his sister, which precede volume I in the 1818 edition, is notoriously difficult to get through for a first time reader. On a re-reading they are an important part of the novel because they set the tone (perhaps in the same way that an intro to a song is important, even if it lacks melody and rhythm).
Captain Walton’s letters describe how he travels north via St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk (Archangel) and out into “the land of mist and snow“, looking for the Magnetic North Pole. This scientific exploration shows Enlightenment ideas. Captain Walton’s description of love and friendship, on the other hand, is very Romantic. He is impressed with the master of the ship who gives up farm and future to a young couple in love and his highest wish is to find a good and close friend.
Once you have read the novel, it is interesting to go back and read Walton’s letters again. Do they give us any hints about what is to come? Does Walton parallel any of the other characters in the novel? Is the theme presented in these letters?
What did you discover after a first reading of Walton’s letters?