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In The Art of Fiction (I've put a copy of it in the Annotated Literary Texts space), Henry James laments that "It is still expected...that a production which is after all only a 'make believe' (for what else is a 'story'?) shall be in some degree apologetic — shall renounce the pretension of attempting really to compete with life." However, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelley makes no such apology, but presents her story — a plainly fantastic one — as real. How does she attempt to create a sense of reality and authenticity for her story, and how far, in your view, does she succeed?

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  1. Unknown User (kp7)

     In answer to this question, I apologize ahead of time if I may not seem as clear as I could or want to be, or if I do not get to the point of my response, but I do tend to have a hard time of trying to explain myself clearly, so I'm sorry! 

     I first read this book while I was at community college about 2 1/2 years ago. Skimmnig through it agin, I am beginning to remember bits and peices of the novel that I had formerly forgotten or rather, just put to the back of my mind. Being able to recollect some of what I had read, I believe that to an extent, Mary Shelley has not created this novel as being a sense of a "make believe" story, but has shown the horrors and tribulations that her individual characters go through during the course of their life. For example, there is the clear revulsion that the novel's main protagonist feels at having created such a monstrosity. Unfortunately for Victor, his creation flees before he is able to stop him; Victor realizes his mistake in having been so thoughtless as to what exactly he was creating or what the consqeuences wuld be of when he was finished with his "experiment". There is the realization that Victor feels when he realizes that in pursuit of what he wanted to do, he became so obsessed with waht he wanted to achieve, that he just wound up neglecting his family and friends, much to their dismay; his health deteriorated, to a degree. Victor reflects on what it takes to have to achieve one's goals and that nothing should stop you from doing what is set in your mind; but at the same time, one needs to realize that there are limits as to how much one can do.

     The novel reflects to a great extent the nature of humans. It shows how it is that we tend to get so wrapped up in our work that not only will we, not to say "ruin", but...I can't think of the word word I want to use, but that we would tend to not take care of ourselves as best we can and that in being so wrapped up in other things, we forget the most basic needs to care for ourselves. We forget that there are other people in our lives who care for us a lot. Even if they may not understand what it is that you, as an individual, are doing or going through at the moment, we must never forget that they are there for you in a time of need. Victor only realizes to late (after the deaths of so many close to him) that he didn't fully realize or think through the consequences of what his experiment would bring about. That is something that humans need to work on. Yes, we may not be perfect, but at least learning to think before doing would be beneficial in the long run.

  2. Unknown User (kec3)

    I think in some ways Ms. Shelley was following the tradition of "horrible and fantastic stories told to sailors in exotic locations, half of which are not to be believed."  She doesn't introduce the protagonist or his creation directly, but goes through the whole rigamarole of having the scientist writing to his sister, and hearing the tale from another source.  This makes Victor's story at least third hand by the time it reaches the eyes of the readers, which may induce a small amount of credulity on their part.  People have a general habit of taking such hand-me-down stories with a grain of salt, and may be willing to partially suspend disbelief until they learn more about the true events.  Also, Shelley introduces several layers of insulation between Victor's world and that of the average reader: he was brought up in an odd way by eccentric parents, somewhat isolated from modern scientific thinking, and exposed as a youngster to all sorts of fantastic, alchemical and pseudo-scientific writings.  So even though Victor appears in some ways to be just another man, he may perhaps be credited by the reader with a bit of the mystique of the old, "magical" days, a magician of sorts, making his strange story a little more believable.  Finally, both Victor and Mrs. Saville's brother are credited with sober, rational minds, not given to flights of fancy, adding to the impression that the story is "true."

    I am not sure as to the extent of her success in actually making anyone believe in the truth of the story, but I know she succeeded in producing one of the most popular and enduring "science fiction" stories of all time; that she brought back to life an age old desire to extend life beyond the grave; and that she invented a monstrous character who yet inspires pity in her readers, who for over a century has been a poster child for the victims of science gone too far.

  3. Unknown User (kms43)

    Mary Shelley, in my opinion, does a great job of making her story "real." I have been able to read about 1/3 of the novel so far and I think the most important technique she used was the letters at the start of the text.  They introduced the plot to the reader as if it was truly happening and one was truly reading correspondence.  I found myself immediately intrigued, especially when she wrote about the ship stuck in the ice. I wanted to know immediately what was going to happen.  The background of the speaker works in the same way.  It is written as if someone is speaking and Shelley is a fantastic storyteller who can pull off a lengthy narrative while still holding the reader's attention.  I'm personally glad she doesn't apologize for her story being a story because I'm not sure it would be as good then.  I like the air of mystery at the start -- it makes me think that this story might be possible.

  4. Unknown User (mmg8)

    I read Frankenstein in high school as well and not only was I surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but to this day I cannot believe she wrote it at such a young age.  She succeeds in creating a reality in which Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature live through various means:

    1. The epistolary portion of the novel gives the story a sense of authenticity.  We are hearing about Victor's trials and tribulations second-hand and I think it is this distance that Shelley gives us from the actual events that allows us to believe its contents.  Were we to read it from Victor or the Creature's POV, I think that it would have taken away from the story's overall impact.

    2.  She concentrates on character growth and development (already stated by someone), and I believe that focusing on this, rather than the events themselves, is what gives her writing power.  If the characters are believable, then the events they go through are, in turn, more believable than they might be had they been experienced by weaker characters.

    3.  While the creation of a humanoid being is a bit unbelievable, she makes it believable by writing matter-of-factly and including the science of the day, such as galvanism (stimulation of nerves and muscles through electricity), which Victor was incredibly interested in, as (I believe) were many others during Shelley's time.  Such realistic factors give weight to her story, and thus make it more real.

    4.  As stated in The Art of Fiction, James claims that "[Fiction] must take itself seriously for the public to take it so."  Frankenstein takes itself quite seriously; it does not give off the "apologetic" vibe, which James dislikes so much.  Furthermore, he states that "The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does compete with life."  Shelley's tale easily competes with life, not due to the fantastic events that unfold in the text, but through the development of characters who are so distinctly human and relatable that the story is quite realistic and believable to its readers.

  5. Unknown User (gd3)

    While I have not been able to get too far through the novel just yet I will write as best as I can to the subject.

    The letters that are written in Frankenstein give the novel a sense of "normality."  It's explaining the normal every day life of Walton with normal occurances that happen in real life.  It give the play by play of where he is, what he sees when he is there, where he is going, what he is doing, and what he wants to become of it.  I, however, don't believe that Shelley fully or even partially rejects James' idea of being "apologetic" but I have no substantial backing for that assumption -- simply a hunch I believe will be apparent as we get farther along in the novel.

  6. Unknown User (cal15)

    In Frankenstein, Shelley has made the story really seem true and believable.  As of right now I have made it a little past the first volume.  In the first volume the thing that stands out the most to me are the letters that Shelley includes in the novel.  Having letters to and from Victor makes the story seem very real and down to earth.  It also makes you truly believe in the novel's charaacters and start see who they truly are and what they are thinking.   The use of the letters to make a story seem real and believable reminds me of another famous author that did the very same thing.  In Mark Twain's short story of "Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog and other stories" starts off with letters to convince the reader of its validity.  In Frankenstein, it seems that Shelley is using the letters ina similar manner.  When people see letters with exact dates (even though in this novel the exact date is left blank) and to legit people, the reader has more evidence of the truth of the story, because it is not coming solely from the mind of the character.  In Shelley's case she lets us see the story from first accounts, as well as a retelling of the incidents.  For me the letters are Shelley's main source of making the story seem real and valid in every way possible.

  7. Unknown User (knw4)

    I think Shelley's most successful attempt at presenting the story as "real" is the fact that she is so entirely without the "apology" mentioned by James.  But as to her success,  I feel that if the letters were meant to enhance the reality, they had the opposite effect. I think they lend themselves too much to becoming a clumsy narrative device of exposition rather than adding to the plot in a more subtle way.  The most glaring example for me was the beginning of chapter six in which Elizabeth writes to Victor introducing for the first time the character of Justine.  She says, "Do you remember on what occassion Justine Moritz entered our family?  Probably you do not I will relate her history, therefore, in a few words."  Even allowing the possibility that these things occurred when Victor was too young to remember, the way in which Justine came to the house would in all probability have been made known to him as he grew.  I find it extremly unlikely that Victor would need to be reminded of the existence of someone who was a "favourite of his".  This shatters the illusion that Elizabeth is writing to Victor, and that we are being allowed to read the letter.  It makes me feel more so that Elizabeth is aware of the reader's ignorance of Justine Moritz and awkwardly provides the information to us without directly acknowledging our existence.

    Taking into account that this is a Romantic era work and the style of writing of the time, I still find the language to be overwrought and so the dialogue unbelievable.  I'll admit that this may just be another expression of my impatience with exagerrated emotion.  But I have read novels that descend to the darkly melodramatic and unbelievable which still maintain their air of the realistic and can engage the reader without flowery prose.

  8. Unknown User (ads10)

    I think Shelley manages to add realism to the fantasy by her vivid descriptions. All throughout Frankenstein's narrative he is describing the scenery; whether it be the landscape or his house. It makes it easy to picture what is going on despite the improbabilities. However, I don't think she did a very good job. The imagery worked to an extent, but for the most part I found it tiring. I got bored of reading about scenery and, to me, all it did was fill the pages.

    Shelley's method of the letters at the beginning relating the narrative add to the reality a little, but all in all it seems too obvious what she's doing. By having Walton relay the story after coming to believe it himself, it makes it easier for readers to believe as well. Plus there's the insertion of the monster's own evidence to support his narrative. It's all a little too forced.

    Her image of mankind itself is so concrete that I found it hard to believe. The point was to show how little compassion the monster received, but I think that by making everyones' hatred so extreme, she made the whole story an exaggeration. I find it hard to believe that not one person could find it in themselves to show a little kindness. The story doesn't need a sugar coating or anything; that would defeat the purpose, but one instance of generosity toward the monster might have made a difference.

  9. Unknown User (mw10)

    Mary Shelley successfully creates her own fantastical reality through emphasis on character and on detail. She enters and describes to us the mind of V. Frankenstein by letting him narrate this ghost-like type story. Perhaps one reason this particular novel has transcended so many decades and generations is the strength of the voice of the book. The manner in which she introdues the story, the reader almost feels like the story itself is a piece of gossip that they're listening in on. This forbidden element is appealing and wills the reader to listen or read further. We get to know the main character not by hearing about him, but by hearing from him the story of his personal life. We therefore are reading not only a series of events, but also the way one particular man views, feels, and responds to such events.

    Shelley paints a story that relies on human relationships and emotions and only then introduces the monster element. In order for this to be a true horror story, Shelley deemed it necessary to make it feel as real as possible; in doing so, she creates an even scarier tale based on the element of reality. Another detail that Shelley heavily focuses on is places. Names of cities and countries and abundant and are further described in relation to other places. Not only does Shelley name these locations, but she paints a vivid picture of the traveling and the holidays and life spent in the setting of Frankenstein. This detailed novel regales us with not only a story but the life of a man and how he chooses to live it.

  10. Unknown User (sjm18)

    I think the "realness" of Shelley's story comes from her use of the human element--of issues having both universal and timeless appeal, issues that individuals of any race, gender, economic status, time, etc. can relate to. The story's sense of reality is furthered by her ability to stir these particular thoughts and emotions of the reader: she doesn't simply TELL the reader about these relatable themes, she helps the reader FEEL them. In doing this, she is able to ultimately persuade the reader to "feel" her characters, specifically the monster and Victor.

    Shelley's keen use of detail certainly aids in helping the character's actions, thoughts and emotions seem relatable, though I'm convinced it's the complexity of Shelley's underlying message that encourages the reader's tenancy to relate to the story, which in turn heightens the sense of "realness". I'm sure that anyone reading the text can see, feel, and understand the gamut of emotions experienced by the characters throughout the story, and the reader is able to do so based on both the reader's own past/experiences and what is presented by Shelley, and how it is done so.

    Shelley is not apologetic for forging a false reality, nor should she be. Though the story line and plot of Frankenstein may be fiction, the emotions and questions she presents within the text are certainly not.

  11. Unknown User (klh11)

    While I certainly don't think that anyone reads Frankenstein and truly believes that Shelley's fantastical tale is reality, she definitely does present it as such. Doing this however does not create the feeling of a charade or glorified "make-believe," it rather draws attention to the very real emotional and psychological aspects of this novel. There are three methods that I think Shelley employs in order to make Frankenstein feel as real as possible. First, she focuses on the emotional impact of every event in the novel, whether it's the death of Frankenstein's mother or the abandonement of the creature. This gives everything, fantasy or not, a very grounded reality in human/ not quite so human affects and consequence. Secondly, she uses forms like letters and a specifically dated narrative to give her story the illusion of owning a place in the real world. Lastly, Shelley doesn't pretend to write about things she doesn't know about. When Frankenstein mentions his creation of the creature, he declines to say anything about his method. This is not only to supposedly protect the world from his knowledge but it also gives Shelley the freedom to create new scientific miracles and possibilities, without needing to explain how they happen. Any contrived, obviously fictional explanation for how Frankenstein creates life would make the novel much less metaphorical. Shelley definitely creates a world in which the creature seems to belong, even if the reader knows it is fiction. The creation and plight of this creature and his effect on others is very real in the setting and atmosphere that Shelley creates in Frankenstein.

  12. Unknown User (smc20)

    After struggling for hours trying to find the add comment option i've finally found it through searching other blogs...it's late but better late than never i guess!...Anyway I really enjoy Shelley's writing style.  I do agree with the others that mentioned the letters.  I too believe that it adds a more realistic twist to the story.  Also, I believe that it is succesful in creating a fantansy that seems to be real.  I feel like this novel was the starting point of many new ideas.  We see now in science that there has been so many experiments done that relate to this book.  When I was reading it I began to relate it to real life.  One thing I thought of was cloning and somehow the idea of Frankenstein reminds me of this idea of creating a living being from an experiment.  I really enjoyed the emotions and personality that Shelley gave the monster.  I think she made the story realistic by setting a good plot and adding great characters.  Also, I'd like to mention that this novel is a good example of how science can be taken too far.

  13. Unknown User (hes3)

    Shelley creates a real sense of veracity because she only adds one element of the fantastic into her story. The wildly ambitious student, the familial bonds, the mentoring professor...all of these factors are realistic and completely plausible. When she does introduce the one unrealistic, "make believe" aspect, she keeps it fairly vague on all intimate details regarding just how this is so. Frankenstein doesn't reveal what the spark of life is; he only presents the ceaseless work involved and the physical characteristics of the finished product. The reader can then remain unconcerned about the actual probability of the event and just focus on the event itself. Because next to no time was spent detailing the exact processes that brought the creature to life, the reader has no investment in it. He or she is concentrated on the before and after, where the real narration revolves.

    Had I been a reader in the 19th century, it would have been far easier for me to so readily believe Mrs. Shelley's monster was real, or maybe plausible. But because there is that one element of the fantastic and I'm further removed from it by the archaic writing style, it is more difficult for me to invest in it. However, once I've been reading for awhile and the writing style is much more naturally read, it is much easier to accept Shelley's monster and its maker as genuine and not simply make-believe characters.

  14. Unknown User (laf9)

    Shelley creates a sense of reality in Volume I via the letter format between R. Walton and his sister Mrs. Saville. Walton's personality and his quest for knowledge come alive as the reader travels with him on his journey from St. Petersburgh, to Archangel, and on into the Arctic. Letter I gives the reader the sense of innocence in Walton as he anticipates reaching the Arctic a, "region of beauty and delight" (Shelley 7). Embracing the woman, Shelley created Caroline Beaufort, Elizabeth Lavenza and Justine Mortiz all who encompass Victorian qualities of strength, perseverence, kindness, quiet suffering that help to make the text more real to readers. Furthermore, the dedication Victor Frankenstein takes to create his creature is almost parent-like. There is a "birth of passion" (21) within Victor and eventually he finds a "passage to life" (31). There is a combination of Victor's quest for scientific discovery and knowledge and this sensibility. Shelley provides her impression of the characteristics desirable in humans of her time when she writes, "A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility" (33). Additionally, she asks the reader to question what Victor's obsession would do to a man. This abnormal creation is compared to Dante's Inferno and leaves Victor is "in reality very ill" (37). The letter format continues as Elizabeth gains her voice (39-41). The characters live and die, suffer trials and tribulations and in the process of reading the reader develops a knowledge of the characters as if they were acquaintences or even friends. Sometimes there is a sense in the reading of the letters that the reader is more like a "peeping-Tom" with the details provided by Shelley. In providing intimate details about the characters as well as writing in a letter format a sense of reallity surrounds this classic novel.

    Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

    1. Unknown User (amm36)

      The correspondence between Walton and his sister acts as our introduction to the incredible story that will unfold, but also as a guise of normality to shield the reader from what the story will truly cover. To the modern reader, Frankenstein is a well known and replicated tale and as such we pick up the book with expectations of monsters and mad scientists. Without this prior knowledge however, one would begin the book like any other: acknowledgement of the story as fiction and as such not to be taken literally. I believe that this is the disposition of all readers throughout the history of fiction, and as such any apology is unnecessary. Fiction is read to escape and replace the reality in which we exist, something Mary Shelly acknowledges by forgoing an apology. If anything, I believe that an upfront apology will lead the reader to seek out which pieces of the narrative fail to match reality and this destroys the very purpose and pleasure of reading fiction.

      Shelly succeeds in creating suspension of disbelief in her readers by creating a rich and vivid world for her characters, after which she introduces the fantastic elements. By avoiding in the beginning of the book any of the fantastic, the reader is drawn into the artificial world and sees it as a plausible reflection of our own. Once the implausible elements are factored in, the reader is already too far along to have the entire created world fail and fall to pieces. In this manner the story holds together and Shelly successfully leads the reader,unapologetically, into a world deviant from our own.

  15. Unknown User (skg3)

    I remember my mother handing me a Macdonald's happy meal at age six on Halloween. I furouciously tore to the bottom of the bag for the famous "toy" from Ronald. It was a puggy chicken nugget in a Frankenstein halloween costume, and yes for me it was real. It was very real. A few tears later, and after minutes of unconvincing babble from my mother, I concluded that Frankenstein was indeed a tangible monster, and that chicken nuggets were no longer my favorite food.

    So although many of you will find this comparison extremely degrading, I have no other choice but to say that Mary Shelley is indeed a chicken nugget in my mind. She creates a plausible picture of destructive science. By speaking through many mediums at different points throughout the novel, she is able to accentuate the validity of Frankenstein's actions. She plays on human emotions by making us feel sympathetic for both Victor and the monster. Emotional connection does not necessarily make us believe fiction, but rather draws us into nonsense of fiction and makes us believe in the fictional truth within novels. Shelley develops the characters of Victor and the monster synonymously. The two are more similiar than they are different, and this is what entangles the reader's fictional opinion of the monster with the reader's very real opinion of Victor. Both characters are searching for acceptance and relief--both traits we as an audience can connect emotionally with. To me, Frankenstein will always be real. The story stimulates my imagination, and the evidence that it is a plausible story fulfills my appetite.

  16. Unknown User (gdc2)

    Mary Shelley presents a fantastic story with no apology or renouncement because she truly believes in the metaphor she is presenting.  Even before the atomic bomb gave humanity a tangible means of self-destruction, Shelley foresaw that we would be our own undoing.  Frankenstein is in fact a dire warning against creation without restraint or judgement.  She sees no need to apologize or justify because in her mind, the monster is completely real.  Although the story may be fictional, its message has reached across the centuries and is and will be still applicable today, tomorrow, and until humanity itself eventually comes to an end.  

  17. Unknown User (laf9)

    This is a sample for how to log a discussion/