Friday, July 20, 2012

"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley Review

Why haven't I read Frankenstein sooner?

Sometimes I feel this overwhelming apathy when it comes to picking up books I know I should have read by now. I read books on my own terms, whether every self-proclaimed lit lover has read them or not. For some reason, I just never had a sense of urgency when it came to digging my face into Frankenstein. I think it had something to do with the fact that it's used as in allusion in so many other books/movies/etc that the novel itself almost screams "cliche."

But the day did come when I felt that overwhelming motivation to read Frankenstein, and it came yesterday morning when I looked at the calendar, noted when school started, and hyperventilated because I was incredibly behind on my summer reading. Nothing works as potently as the fire of procrastinated summer reading under the butt.

Yesterday, I journeyed via two planes and a four-hour drive back to my home from a college tour in St. Louis, and knowing that I had to get a good head start on the book in order to keep reading, I delved straight into it on plane #1 while the lady next to me indulged her fantasy in Fifty Shades of Grey. By the end of the first flight, I was a third of the way through. I finished the second third on the next flight, and the last bit I read on the drive home. So mission accomplished, summer reading back on track, and Ari the lit lover is supremely happy.

For all of you who aren't acquainted with the specifics of Frankenstein and have only the stigma of a monster with a crowbar through his neck that the average human has, let me first address a common misconception: Frankenstein is not the monster. I've heard the monster called "Monster Frankenstein", but I don't remember seeing him being called such in the novel, so I'm not sure that's correct. The named Frankenstein is the narrator, who begins his story in the most seamless and normal of ways; a history of his mother and father.

Victor Frankenstein comes from the noble roots of a loving family. His father is a doting husband and daddy, his mother is a fragilely beautiful woman with the tenderest compassion, and he is the first child to whom all love and caresses are given. As he grows up, his family becomes larger. His parents adopt a strikingly beautiful and well-tempered little girl to bring up as Frankenstein's sister and potential wife, and afterwards more children follow. Frankenstein matures happily and normally, but one hitch in his character is revealed plainly from the start.

Frankenstein is allured by the source of life and the natural philosophy and chemistry behind how Adam came into being from nothing. Captured by the works of discredited ancient scientists, he keeps within him this inborn desire to change the world by finding the key to life and becoming a creator. As he studiously proves himself the best scientist in his college, he begins fashioning a human that might change the face of science. Driven by some kind of animalistic obsession for glory, knowledge, and success, he finishes his creature and jump starts it to life, only to regret that he created such an ugly thing and rue the fact that he breached the limits of scientific knowledge. The monster escapes, and initially Frankenstein's guilt seems almost dissolved until the thing he created comes charging back into his life causing misery wherever his creator goes.

The audience finds that the monster is not the illiterate, unintelligent brute that movies and allusions paint him to be, but rather an articulate and eloquent user of words. He insists that he is not bad by nature. In fact, he aspires to be a noble and loving creature like the people the world smiles upon. He is lonely, however. His vile appearances make him incapable of receiving human sympathy, even when his heart is loving and his deeds are good. He turns to Frankenstein, the creator that hates him, for one last plea for happiness by asking the scientist to fashion him a mate that might love him and provide him company since humanity has determined to spurn him and the creator who was supposed to love him has turned his back on him.

There is, however, a certain hitch to his proposal. The monster insists that if he is given a companion to act as a source of love and similitude, he will peacefully resign to the deepest jungles of South America and never be heard from again or cause any harm or grief to any living creature. But if Frankenstein chooses not to give him a mate, the monster swears to avenge himself by terrorizing him and everyone connected with him so that Frankenstein might feel the wretched loneliness that the creature himself has been fated to live with forever. The conflicted Frankenstein must choose to either perform a revolted task in order to save his family and friends from what he created (while potentially releasing another danger into the world) or not comply with the brute's request and see those he loves plagued by the freak of nature to which he gave life.

This novel is a breath of fresh air for anyone in search of a short and invigorating read. I wouldn't rank it amongst my favorite pieces of literature, but I would happily read it again if the opportunity presented itself.

The thing about Frankenstein is that it was one of the first. It is the sci-fi/horror novel that set the standard for the genre. It's the stuff of legend. But, when you strip away that piece of overwhelming information and just read it for what it is--a book--it is solid, but rather unspectacular in my opinion. The plot is enticing, but predictable. The literary elements are all there where they should be. The protagonist has all the components of the average dynamic main character. Mechanically, it is just a good book. But there is nothing that ups the ante and makes it the incredibly conflictual and paralyzing tale that everyone paints it to be.

On the other hand, I don't mean to say that I didn't like the novel or didn't appreciate it. I found the underlying content to be very interesting and quite thought-provoking. Frankenstein's creature provides an outside view of humanity and asks basic questions that we all ask ourselves throughout many points in life. How can humans be so filled with nobility, goodness, and kindness, and then at times prove to be the most barbarous and unfeeling species? The monster's relationship with his creator also has a strange resemblance to the conflicting sentiments humans feel in relation to a God or what they believe to be the spring of life. Frankenstein causes one to reexamine the basic questions of life and revel in thought. But perhaps, as Frankenstein himself asserts, that is the potential danger. 


  1. Well, hooray! I'm not the only lit-lover who is underwhelmed by Frankenstein. I'm sure that, in its day, it was revolutionary and shocking, but I find it to be kind of pedantic and dull. Bits of it are great, and the monster himself inspires pity in me, but overall I think it has not stood the test of time as well as other books of that era.

    1. Welcome :)

      I understand exactly what you're saying. It's considered a classic moreso because at the time it was something completely knew and it (arguably) invented a genre. That is something to be appreciated, but for people aren't fans of classic literature, this will probably be just another book. You're right though, some parts of it are great.

    2. ::waves:: Hi! I saw you following my blog and thought I should check yours out. You have some good insights and a lot of fun, so I'm returning the favor and following you. It's always wonderful to meet another person who loves lit, and you also dig movies, so bonus! You remind me a lot of myself about 14 years ago. As I get time, I'm reading back through your posts, so don't be surprised if I comment on something from a while ago, lol.