Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Author: Mary Shelley
Genre: Classic, horror
Publisher: Originally published by Harding, Mavor and Jones, 1818
Source: Free ebook for Kindle
Read for: Classics Circuit; R.I.P. VI Challenge
Young scholar Victor Frankenstein, inflamed with a passion for science, embarks on an experiment that results in the formation of life and the birth of monster. Horrified by the frightening appearance of his creation, Frankenstein abandons the monster and tries to forget its entrance into his life. However, as the monster slowly learns about life and love, it is stirred into dark feelings of revenge upon the creator that abandoned it.
This is my first read of Frankenstein, although I was familiar with the story thanks to Great Illustrated Classics (shout out!). However, the versions I had read of the classic novel emphasized the horror and fear felt by Frankenstein and the atrocities committed by the monster rather than the themes of irresponsibility, revenge, and humanity present in the novel. This made reading Frankenstein a stimulating experience provoking much thought.
I find the subtitle The Modern Prometheus to be especially appropriate here. If you are unfamiliar with the myth, Prometheus is a mortal who stole the secret of flame from the great Olympian gods and gave it to the mortals. Infuriated at Prometheus' arrogance, the gods bound him to a rock where his liver was eaten daily for the rest of eternity. Similarly, Frankenstein "stole" the ability to create life. He was then tormented by the creature for the rest of his life, slowly losing every person that he loved. This could be seen as a punishment from God for accessing knowledge that was forbidden or taboo. Frankenstein had the ability to create a life, but he didn't have the wisdom to nurture and teach the creature or the capacity to love it and allow it to feel that it had value.
A far more common theme that I've seen in analyses of this novel is the question of who the real monster of the story is. Multiple times throughout the novel, we see the monster capable of great love. He performs secretive acts of service to a family he admires. He learns to communicate. He reads great literary works. Without any help or direct teaching from anyone (although he does learn most of what he knows from observation), the monster becomes a creature possessing humanity. He does commit atrocious acts; however, he has lived his life with absolutely no indication of love or kindness toward himself. On the other hand, Frankenstein abandons the creature because he hates its appearance. He rejects the monster even after it explains its life and its feelings to him. He refuses to help it in anyway. He creates the monster and then flings it into the world, with no sense of responsibility for his action other than his tortured feelings. And sorry buddy, but weeping and moaning about how guilty you feel and how much you miss your dead family members doesn't absolve you of your guilt. A better action would have maybe been dealing with the situation.
I don't find myself agreeing with the Prometheus-type of theme that Frankenstein was over-stepping himself by reaching into forbidden knowledge. However, he was over-stepping himself by allowing himself to delve into that knowledge with no idea of the responsibilities that it would entail. Which, I guess you could say, is the reason that the knowledge is forbidden in the first place. However, if Frankenstein had been willing to teach and care for his creation, he would have had a devoted son. It also probably would have helped if he'd had a more aesthetic eye, but you can't have everything.
As for the writing itself, I found Shelley's sentences to be beautiful -- simple and concise, but evocative. I'm one of the select few that actually enjoy long out descriptions, and I found her passages describing the scenery of the mountains to be breath-taking. I also felt the anguish of the various characters as it was presented, even though I didn't usually sympathize with them.
Frankenstein has its frustrating moments, especially in dealing with the title character. However, the book is filled with thought-provoking themes and questions what truly makes us human.
Warnings: Murders, murders, murders.
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