Contents Index

Chronology of Frankenstein

The frame narrative of the novel begins with Walton's initial letter from St. Petersburg, which is dated December 11, 17--, and it ends just short of ten months later, in the early morning hours of September 13, 17--. In addition, before this timeframe covered by Walton's epistles the interior sequence of events narrated by Victor Frankenstein and his Creature arch over several more years. The attempt, however, to pinpoint an exact chronology from dating within the novel has shown it to be inconsistent:
{333} There are two clues to work with. In Robert Walton's fourth letter, dated August 5, we are told that the preceding Monday was July 31; and in Alphonse Frankenstein's letter to Victor (1.6.2) giving him the news of William's death, we are told that William died on Thursday, May 7.

If we consult a perpetual calendar we learn that in the late eighteenth century:

May 7 fell on
a Thursday in:
July 31 fell on
a Monday in:
1761 1758
1767 1769
1772 1775
1778 1780
1789 1786
1795 1797
{334} The question then is whether a single calendar can be created to accommodate the certain dates with which we started. Since we know that four years have elapsed between the murder of William and the time when Walton sees the creature on the Arctic ice, we should expect our extrapolation to carry us neatly from Thursday, May 7, 17--, to Monday, July 31, 17-- + 4. Sadly enough, that does not happen. There is no way to bring our two dates into a single calandar.
-- Leonard Wolf, The Essential Frankenstein (New York: Plume, 1993) -- from Appendix D, pp. 333-34.

The events of the central narrative involving the De Laceys, their reading of Volney's Ruins of Empire (pub. 1789), and the absence of hostilities across the novel's European landscape might suggest a timeframe in the early 1790s, after the fall of the Bastille but before Europe was engulfed in warfare in 1793.

Frames on Chronology