Book Cover
Book Cover
Title Frankenstein
Series ---
Author Mary Shelley
Cover Art Odilon Redon
Publisher Collector's Library - 2004, Oxford University Press - 1994
First Printing 1818
Category Gothic horror
Warnings None

Main Characters

Frankenstein, Frankenstein's Monster, Walton, Elizabeth

Main Elements Science fiction

Edition 1 - Frankenstein is the most famous novel by Mary Shelley: a dark Faustian parable of science misused that was an immediate success on its publication in 1818. Purporting to be the record of an explorer, it tells of Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant but wayward student of science, who builds a human from dead flesh. Horrified by what he has done, he abandons his creation. The creature, an outcast for his horrific appearance, learns language and becomes civilized. In time, he attempts to join society but is rejected because he is assumed to have murderous intentions. Spurned, he seek vengeance on his creator. So begins a cycle of destruction, with Frankenstein and his 'monster' pursuing each other to the extremes of nature until all vestiges of their humanity are lost in monomaniacal hatred. In 1831, Mary Shelley succumbed to conservative pressure and toned down the more radical elements of the work. The novel is here presented in its original, unexpurgated form.

Edition 2 - Frankenstein was Mary Shelley's immensely powerful contribution to the ghost stories which she, Percy Shelley, and Byron devised on wet summer in Switzerland. Its protagonist is a young student of natural philosophy, who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from the relics of the dead, and with horrific consequences.

Frankenstein confronts some of the most feared innovations of evolutionism: topics such as degeneracy, hereditary disease, and mankind's status as a species of animal. The text used here is from the 1818 edition, which is a mocking expose of leaders and achievers who leave desolation in their wake, showing humanity its choice - to live co-operatively or die of selfishness. It is also a black comedy, and harder and wittier than the 1831 version with which we are more familiar.

Drawing on new research, Marilyn Butler examines the novel in the context of the radical sciences, which were developing among much controversy, and shows how Frankenstein's experiment relates to a contemporary debate between the champions of materialist science and of received religion.

How does one go about reviewing a gothic literature classic like this? I don't want to go into the many themes addressed in the book, as you can find that anywhere on the web.

To start with, this isn't really what normally falls under horror (demons, ghosts, etc) nor is it fantasy (no magic), but rather an example of the earliest science fiction tales, something worth keeping in mind. Yes, it's meant to be scary, but its a tale of science gone wrong.

Now how did I come to read this so late, or maybe at all? Well, when I was younger, my cousin had this DOS computer game about Dracula. We could never win, always getting drained, turned, or locked up in a mental asylum, so we decided to read the book to see if that would give us an edge. She lived about 6 hours away, so whenever we got together we'd read the book aloud to each other. Took us several years but eventually got through it (I have since read it in a normal fashion on my own). We decided to start on Frankenstein next, but we were older then, and the fun of reading aloud to each other has worn off and we never got very far. Probably around 20 years after that I figured I'd better get around and actually read the thing!

So my thoughts?

Frankenstein was...annoying. So he goes and creates his monster (no lightning bolt people! I was almost disappointed by that, in fact the whole event had so little detail and buildup it was rather anti-climatic) and the moment it opens its eyes, the mad scientist takes off and hides in his room. And that's pretty much the way he is throughout the book. Between being arrogant, full of his own importance and righteouness, but at the same time so fragile that he keeps driving himself into sickness and nervous breakdowns at the slightest thing, well, let's just say there aren't many redeeming features in this character. You know how in my reviews of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles I complain about the vampire's constant introspection and just plain whining? Maybe they get it from Frankenstein! At the very least he and Lestat were contemporaries. I know this is the way Victorian literature was written, overly emotional...but it just made me think that those emotions that women are always accused of succuming to are nothing to the fits and hystics Frankenstein went through. Elizabeth was solid as a rock in comparison.

The monster on the other hand, is never given a name, to add to his monstrousness. And while he does start out as a sympathetic creature, abandonned by his creator, he does ultimately go around killing children and getting the innocent executed for his crimes just because the world doesn't like him. You feel sorry for him, but at the same time you see, that while he wasn't created so, he became just as evil as his maker. You feel he deserves a female of his own kind, for all the suffering he went through, but maybe Frankenstein was right to deprive him as well.

And then you throw in the narrator/chronicler Walton, filled with the same ideals as Frankenstein but destined to see where such things can lead, and you're left with three characters, none of which you can actually like!

I felt that though the book is nearing two hundred years old (in just two more years!), it still has great relevance in the modern day. What with cloning, printing of organic material, and other new technologies we are closer than ever to actually achieving what Frankenstien did a couple centuries ago. I wonder if Mary Shelley in her wildest dreams ever thought her story could one day be more than just a story. Perhaps she did and it's why she wrote it. And the ethical dilemas remain. Is it right to play God? What are your responsiblities to your creation, and to the rest of the world upon which your creation is unleashed? This is also a tale about a father than abandons his child, and the effect that has. And of society's reaction to anything different. Finally, I thought the complete lack of religion was interesting too, something Mary was forced to revise in her 1931 version.

Both copies had additional materials. The one in the Collector's Library was very interesting. The one in the Oxford University Press was more detailed but bored me to tears the way it was written. I did however like the inclusion of a document discussing on scientist (a friend of the Shelleys who might have influence Frankenstein with his ideas) especially given what was know now about evolution. I had to laugh as the scientists described "being related to an oyster" as being absurd, and heaven forbid we are descended from monkeys. Of course Lawrence wasn't right about everything either but they wrote in such uppity terms I was disappointed those know-it-all's never got to see how wrong they were.

Posted: October 2016


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