Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is Shelley’s Frankenstein a Ring-Form Text?

I’ve not read Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, but I’m told that it has a complex narrative structure. Dorothea Wolschak explains:
In the core of the novel the Creature's story is presented to us framed by Victor Frankenstein's story which itself is enframed by Robert Walton's epistolary narrative. The overall structure of the novel is symmetrical: it begins with the letters of Walton, shifts to Victor's tale, then to the Creature's narration, so as to switch to Victor again and end with the records of Walton. In this manner the reader gets different versions of the same story from different perspectives. Mary Shelley's rather atypical approach not to stick to only one narrator and one defined narrative situation throughout the book creates various impressions on the reader of the novel.
Thus we have:

Walton (Frankenstein ((Creature)) Frankenstein) Walton

That looks like a ring-form. Until I’ve actually read the text I can’t say whether or not it functions in that way. It’s on my list.

H/t Giorgina Paiella


  1. I have no idea but now at least I know what a ring-form is.

  2. Ring-form or ring-composition is a peculiar topic, Jim. It’s been most often studied in classical text and the Bible (there’s a large online bibliography at a site associated with Brigham Young, though I don’t have the URL off the top of my head). But it’s never made much headway in mainstream literary criticism, where it’s viewed with disdain, if at all. I got interested in it through correspondence with the late Mary Douglas, who published a slender book on it in 2007, Thinking in Circles. Given that she was one of best-known anthropologists of the second half of the 20th century I’d have thought that would stir-up interest. But it hasn’t, not as far as I can see.

    Over the past few years I’ve done a fair amount of work on it, though not much formal publication. Most of my work is here, with posts then collected into working papers.