“Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein” by Lita Judge: A Discussion Guide For Writers

Discussion questions prepared by Amanda SmithPicture1.png

Lita Judge’s biography of Mary Shelley, Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, is the haunting story of events and circumstances that led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. It is a biography told in free-verse, with illustrations, and reads like a YA novel.  By studying Judge’s novel, writers can examine tight purposeful story construction, word choice and symbolism.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Mary’s Monster. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Judge’s methods.

These discussion questions were inspired by the KidLit Book Club meeting at The Writers’ Loft. We’d love to have you join us. Check out the Loft calendar to find out about our next meeting!

Discussion Questions:

  1. When writing a biography, authors are often encouraged to pick one aspect of the person’s life and focus on the circumstances that led to that aspect. In fiction writing, this can translate to what lies at the heart of your story. In Mary’s Monster, Lita Judge focuses on the circumstances that led to Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein. Discuss in which ways her focus is purposeful. Do you feel she highlights the right events in Mary’s life? Do you see a natural progression that leads to a satisfying outcome? In your own work, do the scenes and aspects you highlight lead to the heart of your story?
  2. Even the structure of Mary’s Monster reflects aspects of Mary Shelley’s life. Judge uses not only words and illustrations, but also form to tell Mary Shelley’s story. Do you think it adds to the reading experience of the novel? What aspects of the structure did you find impactful? In your own work, do you use structure to enhance story or add meaning?
  3. Mary’s Monster is written in free verse. What are your thoughts on the way Lita Judge uses verse? Do you think it is an effective way to write a biography? Does it serve the story? What other MG and YA novels in verse did you enjoy? What does verse offer that prose doesn’t necessarily lends itself to? How much consideration do you put in the style you use to tell your story?
  4. Lita Judge weaves direct quotations from Mary Shelley’s journals and other biographies about her into the verses. The reader can find the references in the back-matter, but the text is seamless. What does Judge accomplish by using those quotations? How does it contribute to Mary’s voice? What devices can you employ to contribute to your characters’ voice?
  5. The relationships between Mary and her sisters are complex. Discuss the role of the two sisters, and how they contribute to the story. What do you feel for Fanny? And Claire? Examine the close relationships between your main and secondary characters. Are your secondary characters fully developed? Do they stir up emotion in the reader?
  6. Judge meticulously builds certain themes throughout the novel. Investigate how she develops themes such as home/ belonging, death, death juxtaposed with immortality, women’s rights, and monstrous men (Mary’s father, Bonaparte, Byron, and at times Shelley). How do these themes relate to Frankenstein? How does she develop themes? Are the themes in your work fully developed?
  7. Along the same vein, how does Judge build Shelley’s character. Initially he seems like Mary’s savior, but very quickly in their relationship the reader recognizes that all is not well. Discuss how Judge shows Shelley’s increasing mental instability throughout the novel. In your own work, do you show character development and flaws?
  8. Mary’s Monster is categorized as young adult. Do you think a teen audience will be able to identify with Mary? In what ways is the book relatable to a teen audience? How do you consider your audience in your work?
  9. Dark, haunting, gothic artwork is featured on every page of Mary’s Monster. Lita Judge said, “Like a picture book, it is a dance between words and art, in which each medium takes a turn telling the story and the two become inseparable.” Discuss the role of the illustrations. Consider the interaction between art and text, juxtaposition, metaphor and other symbolism. Mary Shelley was revolutionary in inventing the modern-day science fiction novel. Judge employed many unusual story-telling devices to write a biography. In what ways are you revolutionary in your own work? Is there a different way to tell your story?
  10. For insight into Lita Judge’s process, read her timeline for the creation of Mary’s Monster here. As a writer, what do you take away from her process in writing this novel? How does she inspire you?

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