Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

I have wanted to read Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, for years.  I was pleasantly surprised awhile ago when I finally read Dracula--I don't read horror, except on rare occasions--but I really liked the book and could see how it captured an audience and never let it go.  I've been anticipating a similar experience with Frankenstein.  Furthermore, I think Mary Shelley is an interesting person--her position as daughter, wife, and friend to pillars of English literature and philosophy as well as her authorship of a book that sparked a legend and an industry makes her fascinating to learn about.  As someone interested in the evolution of the novel, it was simply a matter of time before I got around to this seminal work.

Now that I've read it, I confess that I was a bit disappointed, primarily because I found the character of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monster and the purported hero of the story, to be insufferable.  As a parent, I simply cannot forgive his abandonment of the creature he created.  I found the middle volume of the book, in which the monster tells his own story, to be the most interesting part of the novel and I felt far more sympathy for the monster than I could summon for his creator. 

The story of Frankenstein is told as a story within a story, and I also found the initial narrator, Robert Walton, to be as irritating as Dr. Frankenstein.  Their egotism and recklessness in the name of scientific ambition was hard to swallow, and I'm struggling to figure out whether Shelley intended for them to be seen as heroic or whether the point of her story was to show how tragically genius can be squandered when the aim is solely fame.  

The reason that I have mixed feelings about Frankenstein is that I really think that Shelley saw Frankenstein's decision to not create a mate for his monster as a noble one.  In her story, he consciously sacrificed the safety of his family for the good of mankind--without a mate, the monster can't procreate.  However, Frankenstein made a bargain with his monster that I don't think the monster would have reneged on.  While the creature thought that Dr. F. was making him a mate, he refrained from killing. Without hope for ever having love or companionship, the monster snapped and returned to killing everyone beloved by Dr. Frankenstein.  Dr. F. kept on saying how persuasive and eloquent his monster could be--he was right, he convinced me that he would have kept his promise to be good.

By assembling body parts and applying electricity to them, Dr. Frankenstein created a living being.  By denying him access to society and failing to teach him how to live productively, Dr. Frankenstein made that living being into a monster.  On Mother's Day, it seems fitting to point out the Dr. Frankenstein was a very bad parent. 

I think the idea behind the story of Frankenstein is brilliant--it is a thought-provoking book and provides incredible insight into the anguish of marginalized people, as well as society dealing with technological capabilities that outstrip the moral code.  It has some good writing, particularly the middle section in which the monster waxes as eloquently as Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost, one of the first books he taught himself to read!  

It's certainly not one of the best books I've ever read, but it definitely is one of the most interesting.

Frankenstein is part of my Back to the Classics challenge.


  1. I'm with you--I liked the premise better than the execution. I remember thinking that Dr. Frankenstein was unbelievably stupid.

  2. Great commentary!

    I found this novel unusually disturbing for something written so long ago.

    The Doctors abandonment of his creation and the subsequent results are so troubling. It makes one wonder who is the real monster here. It also, in my opinion reflects reality. Rejection by ones parents at times leads to terrible consequences.

  3. I always had more sympathy for Frankenstein's monster than for Dr. Frankenstein; I agree with you that the monster did not get treated well by his creator. I like this book, but have always found it sad. Dracula, for me, is a much better read.

  4. The Frankenstein movies, the older ones, are terrific too.

  5. Such an interesting review! I've never read Frankenstein, but now I just might...

  6. I haven't read this one -- just Dracula. I remember watching the old black and white Frankenstein movies with my dad at night when I was little:)

    Hope you've been doing well Jane.

  7. I love this book, but haven't read it in years. I'm thinking of rereading it and Dracula this fall. I'm also thinking of throwing in The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and maybe a few other classic "monster" books.

    1. I think a reading theme of "monster" books would be very interesting. I've been thinking a corollary to this would be the evil twin theme, in which Frankenstein would also fit, along with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

    2. Now I have to add two more books to my fall reading list :-)

  8. I tried listening to this one a couple of years ago and just couldn't get in to it at all. I might still pick up the book - at the very least is thought provoking.

  9. That's about right...Victor insufferable, the creature pitiable. Great review.
    My review: