In writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's aim was to "awaken thrilling horror" in a novel whose deeper purpose is registered in its subtitle: the modern Prometheus. The horror she arouses is moral and psychological, as well as sensational.
First published in 1818, Frankenstein's nightmarish vision of an idealistic scientist who attempts to play God by creating a new species of human being could be classified in more than one way. Its sinister plot, its gloom and foreboding belong with its melodramatic style to the gothic novel. But its far-sighted concern with the misuse of science foreshadows the more prescient kind of science fiction, just as the dark satire of its perfectibilian hero anticipates the utopian science of Brave New World. Yet, essentially the story of Frankenstein is a timeless one of human pride.
In her portrayals of Victor Frankenstein and the deformed creature of his scientific experiment, Mary Shelley touches the tragic depths of human nature. Both are drawn with a compelling psychological realism, which offsets the more fantastic elements of their story. Their mutual hatred and the attrition it unleashes gives the novel its central interest and driving force. Surrounding them are characters of a much lighter hue. Victor's friend, Clerval, his wife Elizabeth, his family and their friends are all happily innocent people by comparison. Likewise, the De Lacey family to whom the creature grows attached. The only person resembling Victor in his blind ambition is Walton, the maritime adventurer whose letters to his sister provide the vehicle for the story of Frankenstein.
If the author's use of the epistolary technique is strained to its utmost, it does at least enable the main characters to deliver their own stories with a vivid immediacy.