‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley [Book Review]

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This is a novel that teenager-me loved to the point of obsession, which has a kind of irony to it given the title character’s obsession to his creation. Not the normal kind of novel for a fifteen year old to reread all the time–most of my classmates were into Twilight at the time–but it was one of the most fascinating novels I had read up to that point. I have to admit that on rereading it now, my love has somewhat lessened. I still adore this novel but as I’ve changed–and read more widely–I’m not as much of a fangirl as I used to be. That being said, I knew as soon as I decided to write about Gothic novels this month that this had to be one of them.

Goodreads Blurb

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Frankenstein refers to the doctor who created the monster and not to the monster himself. Got it? Awesome.

But at the same time this raises an interesting question: who is the monster in this novel?

Of course we can’t forget that the “monster”–who likes to refer to himself as Adam–does kill a few people… In some pretty terrible ways. But hear me out. What if Victor is the real monster? I mean, the monster wouldn’t have been about to murder anyone if Victor didn’t built him. I will also argue that if Victor had taken the time to love and educate his creation instead of literally running away from it at the first chance he got, things would have turned out differently. Of course, whether or not you believe in inherent evil might change how you feel about this.

Supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the creator of the world.

Mary Shelley

I can’t help but wonder while reading this novel what would have become of the monster if anyone had shown him compassion, before his view of humanity became so twisted. I can’t be the only person who gets to the end of this novel and kind of hates humanity… Right?

Image from Etienne Marais

It all circles around this idea of playing God. Victor wants to bypass the natural order of creating life and instead builds a new form of life. Only to be horrified by what he had done and abandon his creation in disgust. There are all kinds of Biblical references throughout the novel and it almost seems like a cautionary tale, especially with the arctic journey framework that bookends the novel.

Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.

Victor is not God and for him to overstep himself in creating his own life, taking the place of God, he falls victim to many tragic consequences. But if Victor is taking the place of God than the question remains: who is the monster–Adam or the Devil? And at the same time, there does seem to be some duality between the monster and Victor.

There is this constant struggle for power between the two. Even when it seems like the monster has taken control of Victor’s life, Victor rises from his grief and fights back. The ending (not to give too much away) leaves their relationship in an ambiguous state and leaves this question of who is in power for the reader to answer themselves.

At 15, I would have told you that obviously Victor was the true monster and that his creation only needed to be nurtured properly to find his compassion. However, now that I’m a bit older and my beliefs have changed, I’m less sure about how to feel at the ending of this book. And I think Shelley wanted it to be that way–that she herself was unsure of which side she fell on. This is a novel that ultimately wants the reader to think and not to communicate a specific message.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

References

Crash Course Literature

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