Classics Circuit: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Title: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
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.

3.5 stars

Warnings: Murders, murders, murders.

To read other posts for this tour, go here.


  1. I read Frankenstein ages ago, its themes are always current, especially now when people dare to take so much control of life from God. I agree with you on the responsibility one has to take for his/her actions. Great review!

  2. Great review!

    I posted about Frankenstein for the Classics Circuit as well.
    It's amazing to me how different things can jump to the forefront for different readers - the mark of a truly great novel (in my opinion).

    I enjoyed your application to Prometheus and I agree that it was more about taking responsibility than partaking of anything forbidden.

    I too found Shelley's writing to be so simplistically elegant and beautiful. The year's not over but I think that Frankenstein will go down as one of my favorite reads of 2011.

  3. Lovely, thoughtful post. Thanks.

  4. Excellent review! I really liked your discussion and thoughts about the humanity of the 'monster' and, in effect, the inhumanity of its creator, Frankenstein. I think that this was one of the moral messages that Shelley was striving for. I also think you nailed it with your observation about the impact of unintended consequences.

    I've always loved the backstory of this novel too. Can you imagine Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Polidori (who happened to be the uncle of Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti), and Mary Shelley all involved in a writing competition to see who could come up with the best horror story? Mary Shelley apparently came up with her idea through a dream that she had. Polidori came up with one of the earliest vampyre stories as his entrant in the competition. Cool stuff!

    Well done, and thanks for sharing your thought! Cheers! Chris

  5. I think this is the third review I've read on Frankenstein in the last couple of days - and each one's been interesting in its own way. I find more and more that i would like to give this one a try. I realised, by the end of your review, that I might have to change my approach to the book if I am to see it in the non-traditional light. It's amazing how popular culture can change the aim or perspective of something, right?

    This is a really good review. :)

  6. I really LOVE this book. I studied it in lit class. But my prof never covered the "Modern Prometeus" meaning, or the question: who is the moster? He focused on the rotating viewpoint, and the fact that Shelley is challenging you to see the same story through several perspectives. You start to form prejudices and she snatches away the perspective.

    Interesting points, Lorren! Makes me want to reread. :-)

  7. I want to read this at some point. I just recently read Dracula to see what all the buzz was about, but I haven't read this one ever. All I know is it is a bit different from the regular story and one blog I follow considers this her favourite book ever.

  8. @Pepca - Thank you! I liked the themes of taking control of life from God too - I think it isn't the most current theme in our day and age so it gets overlooked. I was glad to read about it.

    @everybookandcranny - I agree with you that the mark of a great novel is its ability to stimulate all kinds of discussion. That is one of the things I love about reading and blogging -- the way we all find different things to highlight and new ways to understand the world.

    @Falaise - Thank you!

    @Chris - I was completely unfamiliar with the backstory of this novel! Thank you for sharing it with me.

    @Risa - I think it is interesting how our ideas of popular novels, films, etc. change through the lens of popular culture as well. And there certainly have been a lot of Frankenstein reviews this month - I think with all the new genetic and technological advances of the last several years, this is a story that really rings true for many of us!

    @Jillian - Oh, thank you for sharing the way your professor taught the book! I love looking at novels from new perspectives, and now that you mention it I can certainly see the elements you bring up. Very interesting!

    @Kailana - Part of the reason I wanted to read this was because a former roommate of mine also considered this to be one of her favorite books. I am the reverse from you - I haven't yet read Dracula, although at this point I think I am going to save it for next October.

  9. I really like your review of/thoughts on Frankenstein. It's not a book I count among my particular favorites (primarily thanks to the frustrating moments you mention--Victor drove me crazy), but reading through your thoughts I'm reminded why this is still on the book lists. (Stopping by thanks to Classics Circuit!)

  10. @simpler pastimes - Thanks for stopping by! Yes, this book isn't a favorite for me either but it certainly made me think!


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