We begin class by recapping what our expectations of the beginning of Frankenstein were and what the actual beginning of the novel was.
Students are confused as to who Robert Walton is and why he is writing letters from the far north. "Where is the castle and laboratory? Where is the thunder and lightning? the grave-robbing? We discuss the themes that seem to be present in the early letters: loneliness, isolation, an obsession with gaining new knowledge, and making a name in the annals of exploration and science.
The students find the first few letters slow-paced and cumbersome. "Why should I care about Robert Walton?" they ask. I explain that Mary Shelley went back and added the letters to create a frame story and to foreshadow the end of the novel. I also explain that it was popular at the time for novels to use the frame story technique. The novel's protagonist (or an interested party) tells the story to a curious bystander. Wuthering Heights is another example of this technique in action. I explain that there are advantages to this technique, both in mood, tone, and perspective, and that it gives the novel the feel of revelation as the story unfolds. We become the innocent, yet curious bystander, developing a stake in the story as it unfolds.
I also point out the parallels between Walton and the stranger, and the immediate connection Walton feels to Frankenstein. If time allows, I develop the parallels further with a T-chart or Venn diagram to help students better recognize the similarities between Walton and Victor.
Finally, I ask students: 'In what ways are the mariner from 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and Frankenstein similar?' Students usually point out that both the mariner and Frankenstein feel a compulsion to tell their stories as a warning to others.
Next I have students get into small groups of three to four. I assign them the last set of letters 'Letters IV' pgs. 9-21 in the Bantam edition
I instruct them to take turns reading the letters in the section aloud, marking difficult or unknown vocabulary words in the text with pencils, and noting character traits of Walton and the stranger. I ask students to make a note of four to six of the most puzzling words and to look them up after they are finished reading the section.
Once students are finished reading I have them share their list of words aloud and then we create a list of the most common words, looking those up together. Then I ask them to look up the remaining vocabulary words, write a brief reaction to those characters.