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The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant re-imagination of the classic tale that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries from the incomparable Peter Ackroyd.
Victor Frankenstein, a researcher, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley form an unlikely friendship as first-years at Oxford. Shelley challenges the conventionally religious Frankenstein to consider his atheistic notions of creation and life—concepts that become an obsession for the young scientist. As Victor begins conducting anatomical experiments to reanimate the dead, he at first uses corpses supplied by the coroner. But these specimens prove imperfect for Victor’s purposes…
Filled with the literary lights of the day, including Percy Shelley, Godwin, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley herself, and penned in period-perfect voice, The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is sure to become a classic of the twenty-first century.
1. In his early discussions with the fervently atheistic Bysshe, Victor begins to question the existence of God. Indeed, he wonders, "This deity was venerated as the creator of life, but what if others of less exalted nature were able to perform the miracle? What then?" What connection is there between science and religion in this novel? Are the two arranged as opposites here? As complements? As substitutes?
2. Were you surprised that Victor was willing to perform his experiments on the body of his friend, Jack Keat? Victor asks himself, "Was I now to abandon his, and my, beliefs for the sake of my conscience?" His answer is quite clear, but how would you answer this question?
3. What were your impressions of the creature Victor brings to life? Were you repelled by him? Did you feel sympathy towards him? Did your impressions change over the course of the novel?
4. What was your reaction when Victor fails to do anything after the murder of Harriet Westbrook? Why doesn't he tell the authorities what he knows, and inform them of his suspicions? Did you have any inkling as to what would happen as a result?
5. Does Victor go too far in his pursuit of science? What does he sacrifice? Are the discoveries he makes and the feats he accomplishes worth the price he pays? Is there a larger lesson about human nature and the drive to succeed in Victor's story?
6. At one point the creature charges Victor with the ultimate blame for all of the evil he wrecks. Indeed, he asserts "Once you create life, you must take responsibility for it. You are responsible," a claim that Victor eventually seems to accept. Do you agree that Victor is ultimately responsible? Does he shoulder this responsibility adequately? Does his benevolent intention, his belief in "the perfectibility of mankind," mitigate his culpability in any way?
7. Were you surprised by the revelation on the book's final pages? Were there any hints left earlier on? If you weren't surprised, when did you know and how?
8. In the original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor loses practically everyone he loves to the monster's violence, and dies himself in pursuit of vengeance against his creation. What is the effect of the new ending Ackroyd imagines? Are there different implications for the nature of man and the pursuit of science offered by this version's conclusion?
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Peter Ackroyd is a master of the historical novel: The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde won the Somerset Maugham Award; Hawksmoor was awarded both the Whitbread Novel of the Year and the Guardian Fiction Prize; and Chatterton was short-listed for the Booker Prize. His most recent historical novel was The Fall of Troy. He is also the author of London: The Biography, Shakespeare: The Biography, Thames: The Biography and Acrkoyd's Brief Lives series.