For me, Frankenstein has been a book that I always felt kind of bad for not having read but never bad enough to actually read it. So, when I had to study it for university I was really surprised to find that I loved it!
Despite being published by Mary Shelley in 1818, Frankenstein is so ingrained within modern popular culture that most of us feel as though we already know the story without having actually read it or (in my case) without even having seen any adaptations of the text. Upon reading the book, I realised that I didn’t really know much about the actual story at all!
The first thing I really loved was the way that Shelley tells the story, framed by letters from Robert Walton, a man on an arctic exploration, to his sister. Walton writes about his encounter with a miserable man, Victor Frankenstein (yep, the scientist is called Frankenstein, the monster is just called… the monster). Frankenstein tells Walton about his woes and this is how the story is conveyed to readers.
What I found most surprising about Frankenstein was that the monster isn’t actually the conclusive ‘bad guy’ and that a strong case could be made for the villain of the text being Frankenstein himself. Shelley invokes a great deal of sympathy for the monster early on in the story – he is immediately abandoned by his horrified creator and is repeatedly rejected and let down in his quest for acceptance in the human world. Arguably, it is only when Frankenstein eventually refuses the monster’s request for a companion, a female ‘monster’, that things turn really nasty.
The most interesting question that I think this texts asks is about the nature and merit of scientific advancement, and knowledge in general. The story is driven by a scientific discovery and conquest that ultimately would have been better left alone – something that is acknowledged repeatedly by Frankenstein and serves as a warning for Walton, who also has a curious mind which he has committed to human advancement. In the end, Frankenstein’s success in reanimating a corpse results in a lot of death and the message we come away with is that humans should not play God, or meddle with nature.
BEHIND THE TEXT:
Almost as interesting as the novel itself is the well known story of how Mary Shelley came up with the idea, which (especially for a young girl in the 1800s) was pretty scandalous and provoking!
Mary Shelley was a part of a very impressive circle and as the story goes, in 1816, she, Percy Byssche Shelley (her husband), Claire Clairmont (stepsister), John William Polidori and Lord Byron went to Geneva for the summer. As Shelley explains in her introduction to the text, Byron suggested that they all think up a ghost story and this is how Frankenstein was born. Becoming increasingly worried that she couldn’t come up with anything, Mary Shelley found herself in a discussion about science and galvanism (to do with electric currents) and had a terrible dream that night about how terrifying it would be for “any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” and this became the basis for her first novel. This competition also spawned Polidori’s The Vampyre, which is considered the first proper introduction of the vampire into literature, so all in all it was a pretty productive summer for the group and an incredibly influential one for the English literary tradition.
4/5 | highly enjoyable and definitely worth reading!
If you haven’t gotten around to reading Frankenstein but love science or Gothic fiction and/or morally complex characters and plot then you will love this book and I would definitely recommend it!
Let me know in the comments what you think about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! Have you read it? Do you plan to? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who you saw as the ‘villain’ of the text!