Reframing the Story. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1831) and Dorothy Louise's "Frankenstein" (2004)

Term Paper, 2017
18 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Novel's Introduction of 1831 and the Play's New Frame
2.1. Mary Shelley's Introduction: Framing the Story from the Outside
2.2. Framing the Story Anew in Dorothy Louise's Frankenstein
2.3. Results

3. The Novel's Narrative Structure and Its Representation in the Play
3.1. Narrative Frames Within Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
3.2. Adapting the Narrative Frames
3.3. Results

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a tale that continues to capture the imagination of generation after generation. Countless adaptations for screen and stage show that the ambitious scientist and his creation remain as popular today as they were during Mary Shelley's time.1 One of these adaptations is the postmodern play Frankenstein by Dorothy Louise, which was published in 2004 and attempts to remain more faithful to the novel than many other adaptations.2 This is an aim that cannot only be applied to the novel's content, but also to its formal aspects, which will be the focus of the following paper. To a certain degree, Dorothy Louise's Frankenstein represents the novel's narrative structure, but it also adds a new frame to the story, which includes the characters of the author Mary3, her father William Godwin and her friend Lord Byron. Much of the information incorporated in the play's frame can be found in Mary Shelley's introduction to the novel's version of 1831, but Dorothy Louise also adds further biographical information about Mary Shelley.

The aim of this paper is to analyze the way in which the described additional frame influences the representation of the story. In order to discuss this question, both the novel and the play have to be considered in detail. In chapter two and its subchapters, the novel's introduction and the play's frame will be analyzed in order to determine which biographical aspects mentioned in the play have their source in the introduction and which ones do not. This section will also examine reasons for the focus on Mary Shelley's biography and the effect it has on the way the story and the characters are perceived.

Said analysis leads to a second aspect that shall be investigated in chapter three, namely in which way the reframing of the story affects the representation of the novel's narrative stmcture. To answer this question, the narrative levels found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein will be looked at as a first step. Here, the focus will be on Captain Walton and Victor Frankenstein, because, in contrast to the character of the Monster, they are subject to certain changes in the adaptation by Dorothy Louise, which will be analyzed as a next step. The overall findings will then be summarized in the conclusion.

2, The Novel’s Introduction of 1831 and the Play’s New Frame

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was first published anonymously in 1818 with a short preface by Percy Shelley. In 1831, a new version was published, which not only named Mary Shelley as the author, but also included an introduction written by Mary Shelley herself. Such a paratext can certainly contribute to the way a story is read and interpreted, which is why Fred Botting recognizes it as “a significant frame for the novel in its provision of a moral and an outline of literary origins.”4 Thus, the introduction can be interpreted as a metaframe to the tale of Frankenstein and will be analyzed as such in the following subchapter 2.1.

Attempting “to honor [...] the thrust of [Mary Shelley's] tale”5, Dorothy Louise's Frankenstein resembles in particular the publication of 1831, because it uses the introduction as an additional source text. With regard to the novel, the introduction presents the external perspective of the author, but in the play, Dorothy Louise moves it, as well as further biographical information about the author, inside of her Frankenstein story. In doing so, she creates a new frame in addition to the three narrative frames of the novel. This frame will be the focus of section 2.2. The findings of both subchapters will be summarized in section 2.3.

2,1. Mary Shelley's Introduction of 1831: Framing the Story from the Outside

According to Mary Shelley, the purpose of her introduction is to give “some account of the origin of [Frankenstein]”6, and she does so by retelling the immediate circumstances of the tale's creation. During the “wet, ungenial summer [with] incessant rain”7 of 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (not Shelley quite yet), Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Byron's physician John Polidori spent many days confined in Lord Byron's residence, where the reading of ghost stories inspired a ghost story contest. Mary Shelley had particular trouble to think of a story, but inspiration was found after listening to a conversation between Lord Byron and Percy Shelley concerning galvanism. Subsequently, she had a mental vision of a “pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together [...] the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, [...] [which] stir[red] with an uneasy, half-vital motion.”8 This vision is essentially what she defines as the origin of Frankenstein, as she began writing the story because she was haunted by it.

By presenting herself as a creator who becomes utterly obsessed with the idea of bringing the tale of Frankenstein into existence, Mary Shelley also “offers an analogy between herself and Victor Frankenstein”9, because Frankenstein10 is also obsessed with and then haunted by his own creation.11 Additionally, both have to face hardships: Similarly to the author's daily occupation of “think[ing] of a story”12, which is presented as difficult and frustrating, her literary character spends “much time [...] in painful labour”13. Mary Shelley and Frankenstein are not only both creators, but the creation processes they undertake can also be paralleled. Tellingly, Mary Shelley describes the act of invention as “moulding and fashioning ideas”14, which reminds one of Frankenstein who shapes his creation out of dead body parts. Similarly, when Mary Shelley uses the term “hideous progeny”15, “the reference is doubled, signifying both Frankenstein's creation and her own, Frankenstein,”16

By sharing the events of the ghost story contest and her vision, Mary Shelley does give “some account of the origin of the story”17, but she does not give a comprehensive account. She only discusses immediate circumstances and mentions further impacts only in passing, if they are mentioned at all. These other influences are generally thought to include a variety of biographical aspects, which is why many critics “have inevitably ventured into biographical speculations”18, as Knoepflmacher puts it. Since many of their findings seem highly probable and have been adapted not only in literary criticism but also in Dorothy Louise's adaptation of Frankenstein, a selection shall be mentioned in the following paragraph.

Perhaps most striking is that Mary Shelley elaborates on the described vision as the source of Frankenstein, but never mentions a very similar nightmare documented in her journals. Her journal entry of March 19,1815, reveals that the trauma of losing her first baby, a daughter, reemerged in a nightmare in which the baby came to life again.19 With regard to the theme of birth and death which is so prevalent in Frankenstein, another event that must be mentioned is the death of Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, just ten days after giving birth to her daughter.20 In stark contrast to these events, the author, in the introduction, presents her tale as the product of “happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in [her] heart”.21 It is also interesting that Mary Shelley does not mention any literary inspirations, not even the works of her parents. Neither William Godwin nor Mary Wollstonecraft are named in the introduction, even though both of their texts played an important role in Mary Shelley's education.22 She simply introduces herself as “the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity”23 and retains the impersonal dedication to William Godwin from the novel's version of 1818.

While giving an account of the immediate circumstances of Frankenstein'S origin and presenting some parallels between Mary Shelley and her literary character, the introduction of 1831 eludes other influences, many of which are biographical. As the following chapter will show, Dorothy Louise's adaptation not only includes aspects of the discussed introduction in her Frankenstein story, but also adds significant biographical material, which has also been introduced in this chapter.

2.2. Framing the Story Anew in Dorothy Louise's Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's introduction becomes part of Dorothy Louise's play through the addition of new characters. Mary, her father William Godwin, and her friend24 Byron appear as characters based on the historical figures alongside the well-known fictional characters of Victor, his family, his friends and his creation. Mary Shelley's mother is also included in the form of a portrait, but she does not appear as a character.

Through these additions, Dorothy Louise reframes the tale of Frankenstein anew. While Mary Shelley added her own external voice in the 1831 Introduction which was clearly separated from the main text, the play goes a step further and creates the character Mary who plays a part in the Frankenstein story. After the audience witnesses her birth and sees her, “about forty [...] at her writing desk”25, Mary speaks the first words of the play, which are quoted from the introduction.26 Just like Mary Shelley's paratext, the play's additional frame puts a high level of emphasis on the ghost story contest of 1816. In fact, the only two settings explicitly added in the play are Mary Shelley's writing desk and Switzerland in the summer of 1816.27 One intention of the additional frame is hence to retell the origin story of Frankenstein. The play actually tells two stories and fuses the 1831 Introduction with the narrative of Frankenstein. Using many quotes of the introduction, Mary and Byron retell the events of the ghost story contest including Mary Shelley's nightmarish vision.

However, Dorothy Louise does not limit herself to the introduction as a source for Mary Shelley's biography and thus continues to emphasize “authorial experience [which] beg[an] with Mary Shelley's retrospective comments on her novel”.28 This becomes clear immediately, when William Godwin appears as a character alongside his daughter and Mary Wollstonecraft's portrait is projected on stage.29 Whereas the impact of Mary Shelley's parents is greatly underplayed in the 1831 Introduction, Dorothy Louise portrays her parents as significant influences and the character Mary retells the story of her mother's death.30 Also,


1 Friedman, Lester D., and Allison Kavey. "Introduction: Singing the Body Electric." In Monstrous Progeny: A History of the Frankenstein Narratives. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016. p.2

2 Louise, Dorothy. "Introduction." In Frankenstein. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004. p.3

3 Whereas the historical figure of Frankenstein's author will be referred to as "Mary Shelley", Dorothy Louise's character ¡n the play will be referred to as "Mary".

4 Botting, Fred. "Introduction." In Frankenstein: Contemporary Critical Essays. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995. P-4

5 Louise, "Introduction", p.3

6 Shelley, Mary. "Author's Introduction to the standard Novels Edition (1831)." In Frankenstein. London: Penguin Books, 2003. p.5

7 Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.6/7

8 Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.9

9 Bronfen, Elisabeth. "Rewriting the Family: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein ¡n its Biographical/Textual Context." In Frankenstein, Creation and Monstrosity. London: Reaktion Books, 1994. p.35

10 From here on, the character of Victor Frankenstein ¡n the novel will be referred to as "Frankenstein" and Dorothy Louise's character ¡n the play will be called "Victor".

11 Compare e.g. Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.9 and Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Penguin Books, 2003. p.55

12 Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.7

13 Shelley, Frankenstein, p.53

14 Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.8

15 Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.8

16 Botting, "Introduction", p.4

17 Shelley, "Author's Introduction", 5, emphasis added

18 Knoepflmacher, u.c. "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters." In The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. p.91

19 Moers, Ellen. "Female Gothic." In The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. p.84

20 Bronfen, "Rewriting the Family", p.19

21 Shelley, „Author's Introduction", p.10

22 E.g. Moers, „Female Gothic", p.82

23 Shelley, „Author's Introduction", p.5

24 elemit, Pamela. The Godwinian Novel: The Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. p.141

25 Louise, Dorothy. Frankenstein. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004. Act I Scene I p.13

26 „As a child, I scribbled" (Shelley, "Author's Introduction", p.5; Louise, Frankenstein, Act I Scene I p. 13)

27 Louise, Frankenstein, Act I Scene I p. 13/14

28 Clemit, The Godwinian Novel, p.142

29 Louise, Frankenstein, Act I Scene I p.13

30 "She died when I was two weeks old" (Louise, Frankenstein, Act I Scene I p.13)

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Reframing the Story. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1831) and Dorothy Louise's "Frankenstein" (2004)
University of Heidelberg
Proseminar II: Two Hundred Years of Frankenstein: Adaptations for Stage and Film
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, Dorothy Louise, Stage Adaptation, Book, Play, Gothic, Mary Shelley´s Autobiography
Quote paper
Silvia Schilling (Author), 2017, Reframing the Story. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1831) and Dorothy Louise's "Frankenstein" (2004), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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