Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley

Nine stars

With only days until All Hallow’s Eve, I chose to indulge in another story of a seasonal creature while also dabbling into the world of a literary classic. Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein poses less the spooky and bone-chilling tale that it has received in subsequent permutations, but rather serves more as a warning in regards to scientific exploration. The novel opens with a set of letters by Captain Robert Walton to his sister back in England. Captain Walton is travelling through the Arctic to further his scientific appetite. The captain and crew notice a large creature travelling over the ice and eventually stumble upon a nearly-frozen Victor Frankenstein, who tells the story of his scientific struggles and tries to dissuade Walton from any such pursuits. From there, the narrative shifts to Frankenstein’s story, who was encouraged by his parents to explore the world of science and nature. Armed with the knowledge of the ancient natural philosophers, he takes this passion with him to university in Germany, where he is introduced to more modern ways of thinking. Grief befalls Frankenstein after his mother’s death and he turns to science to assuage him, discovering how to bring the electricity of life to that lacking its spark. Creating a being in secret, Frankenstein soon sees that it has gone horribly wrong, both the physical appearance of this eight-foot behemoth (tempered with translucent skin and pulsing veins) and the decision to play God. Frankenstein rages against his creation and flees for the city, only to return and see that the being has fled the confines of his flat. Frankenstein becomes ill and recuperates over a four-month period before returning to his native Geneva. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his younger brother has been killed. Frankenstein sees the tell-tale signs of his creation having strangled the young boy, though the crime is saddled upon a nanny and she is executed by hanging. Full of guilt, Frankenstein chases his creature and learns of the personal journey ‘he’ had over their time apart. The creature tells of how he learned the nuances of language and speech, the complexities of emotion as well as discovering of his hideous appearance. The creature vows to ruin the life of his creator unless he is gifted with a female companion. Frankenstein ponders this and promises to make one, having been threatened with more personal anguish if he fails. Frankenstein travels to the far reaches of Scotland to begin his work, eyed by the creature from afar. When Frankenstein has a final epiphany that his hands can create nothing but increased terror, he disposes with his experiment, knowing the consequences. More agony befalls Frankenstein, who seeks to destroy his creation once and for all. By the end, the story returns to Captain Walton’s ship and a dramatic set of events which solidifies the story’s underlying thread once and for all. A brilliant piece that is full of social commentary and much foreboding as it relates to science. Shelley’s original is less spooky than it is chilling for her thematic messaging. A wonderful read for those who like a good challenge.

Deemed the first ever piece of science fiction, Shelley’s story tell of the downsides of playing God with human life and creation. The themes that emanate from the story at hand are numerous and thought provoking. The reader can easily get lost in the narrative and its linguistic nuances, but it is the characters and their messages that permeate the text. Victor Frankenstein and his creature prove to be two very interesting and yet contrasting characters, developed primarily through their individual narratives. Frankenstein is the bright-eyed scientific mind who seeks to alter the path of events by imbuing something of his own making with life, only to discover that thought and reality do not mesh. On the other hand, the creature tells of a struggle to find ‘himself’ and suffers through the reality beset upon him, forced to learn to adapt under the most problematic circumstances. The plethora of other characters develop and support these two, with Captain Walton playing an interesting, yet seemingly background, role in the entire narrative. The attentive reader will see that this original piece lacks the ‘Hollywood’ flavour that has been placed upon it, where crowds with torches chase the protagonists and lightning is used to jolt the creature to life from his metal bolts in the neck. Instead, it is a piece of social commentary that prefers to scare in its foreboding and provides a much more academic approach than might be suspected by the unknowing reader. I was certainly expecting more spook to complement a recent read of a Transylvanian classic. However, I was pleased with the novel and all it had to offer. I am sure it will provide a wonderful soapbox for those who wish to open a discussion on the matter. I would welcome it.

Kudos, Madam Shelley, for this wonderful piece. That you started it at the ripe age of eighteen baffles and impresses me. I will be adding this to my annual late October reading list!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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