Review: Frankenstein

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The story of Frankenstein that is in the public consciousness is so far removed from the actual novel that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, that I can hardly equate the two. I could see glimpses of things that are considered part of the Frankenstein lore, but it seems that the popular idea of it couldn’t be more off the mark of Shelley’s intention if it tried. So, if you haven’t read the novel (or at least a synopsis, although I’m not sure how you could really get an idea of the novel from just that), this is going to sound completely opposite to the idea of Frankenstein that you may have.

It’s popular these days to reiterate over and over that Frankenstein wasn’t the monster, he was the man who created it. But, is that really true? Sure, the creature that Victor Frankenstein assembled and brought to life never had a proper name (the wretch or fiend is the most common way it is addressed), but Victor himself is a very dangerous man. He sort of admits this in the narrative, but in many ways the horrors that he experiences are compounded by how little ownership he takes in the whole thing. Honestly, this male ego that he displays is still kind of around, most recently depicted in that terrible Gamergate nonsense. Instead of going after the monster immediately upon realizing that he should not have imbued a creature with life, he just pretends it didn’t even happen. Victor (I’m going to keep referring to him by his first name so as to not cause confusion) is able to delude himself completely until he receives word that his younger brother has been murdered.

He returns to the scene of the crime in order to grieve and make sense of everything, when he sees the monster in a flash of lightning, at a distance. He suddenly realizes that the monster murdered his brother. Then, when a servant (sort of, hard to explain) of the family is accused of the crime, he doesn’t even speak in her defense, despite knowing that she is innocent. He is too afraid to be seen as a nutjob to talk to the court himself and insist that he saw the murderer. So poor Justine receives the death penalty. Sure, he feels bad about it, but not bad enough to do anything. What a sociopath.

He goes on some sort of spiritual quest or something to be alone in the mountains, and comes across the creature. He insists that Victor listen to his story of what has happened to him since his creation. The story is pretty sad, because essentially he spies on some poor people that live in a French cottage, learn their language and customs, helps them out by supplying firewood every day, and then when he introduces himself those people get out of town as fast as possible. He realizes that he will never be able to have companions, and that he will be forever alone. He asks Victor to create a female mate for him so that he will have companionship. Victor suddenly grows a conscience and refuses (albeit partway through the creation of Mrs. Monster). The monster is enraged, and murders his best friend (although I seriously felt some homo-erotic vibes going on between Victor and Henry Clerval. Just me?), and tries to pin it on Victor. Victor is so distraught that he goes into some kind of catatonic episode for several months, waking to find himself in a jail cell or dungeon.

Through events that I couldn’t entirely follow, Victor is released into the care of his father, who asks him to put all this tragedy behind him and marry his adopted sister. (Ah, the 1800s when this wasn’t weird at all.) He agrees, mostly because the monster had threatened him, saying he would reappear on his wedding night, which, Victor assumes – since the world begins and ends with himself – that the monster is threatening to kill him. I don’t know if the readers of this book in the early 19th century saw this coming, but I know anyone reading this blog right now totally knows that Elizabeth is gonna get it. Afterward, Victor has one plan in mind, and that is revenge. Especially since his father dies days later, in apparent grief over Elizabeth’s murder.

He isn’t successful. He chases the monster pretty far north, and in exhaustion and from exposure, dies after conveniently telling the whole story to a ship’s captain. So not only was he not successful in killing the monster, he waited way too long to do it. He avoids responsibility the entire time. In some of his less lucid catatonia, he apparently wails about how he has murdered his family members and friends, but he doesn’t ever really own up to his part in this entire thing. His end goal after he is alone is to seek revenge. He never reflects on what damage he has inflicted on the creature he created.

Victor and his monster aren’t so different. When Victor has everyone taken away from him, he also turns to violence. The monster has nothing, so Victor’s object is to kill him. The monster wants revenge too, but mostly he wants Victor to really feel how miserable his existence is. I’m sure books could be and have been written about all of the themes in this book. It was seriously amazing.

The only slight detraction was the writing itself. Modern book publishing is an entirely different animal, and editing really helps get ideas across clearly and concisely. This book could have benefited from some editing, although it is way more readable than many other novels written hundreds of year ago. There are a lot of lengthy poetic descriptions of things and feelings that don’t really add much to the story. It’s not a fast-paced thriller like a modern day version would be. But the horror element is definitely not the core to the story. Science run amuck, personal responsibility, and what makes a true monster are much more interesting themes in this story.

4 stars.

This book completes the book more than 100 years old, and a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t requirement for the challenge.

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