Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Books Yay!: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

After I finished and loved Dracula, I decided to give some more classic horror a whirl, and downloaded Frankenstein.  (Next up: something about mummies.  Just kidding.  Maybe.)  It did not have a cover of note but I do want to mention that this one, from the Penguin Classics line, is both gorgeous and fitting.  Cool.

Frankenstein is written in a similar style to Stoker's book, as a sort of conversational journal referred to as "epistolary form."  The story is a lot more thoughtful and philosophical than what you tend to get in modernizations of the tale - the few villagers-with-pitchforks scenes are almost throwaways, and pale before the larger project of asking what makes a human.  I was really impressed with the beautiful treatment of some really complicated questions in this book.

The Frankenstein monster is no lurching green guy here, but a man simply constructed from parts by a man who realized the tragedy of this half-human's existence.  This is relayed by Frankenstein to Captain Walton, who has found him half dead, chasing the monster over an icy ocean.  Frankenstein explains that he pursued knowledge with such abandon that he was driven to create this monster, which he immediately realized was an affront to nature.  The creature, however, is driven by a desire to be human and to pursue wisdom in his own right.  After Frankenstein abandons him, the monster travels the countryside, learning to read and speak in the process.  Unfortunately, people cannot get beyond his horrible appearance, and he is eventually shot at after rescuing a small girl from drowning by a man who sees the two of them; after this incident, he swears vengeance on mankind.  Once he has figured out the problems of his creation, he returns to kill several of Frankenstein's family members out of vengeance.  He demands that Frankenstein build him a companion, so that he can live out his life in social exile in companionship.  Frankenstein begins the project, but ultimately destroys it, unable to face having brought TWO such beings into the world.  The monster vows revenge, and kills Frankenstein's fiancee right before their wedding, touching off a pursuit which both vow can only end with one or the other dead.  It is in the middle of this pursuit that Walton finds Frankenstein. 

There is yet more to the story, but I think it would be best for you to read it yourself.  The whole book is a consideration of what it means to be human: is it the human body? Language? Speech?  Social interaction?  Through Frankenstein's tale, we are able to consider each, on our own and through the reactions of the characters in the book.  It's really an exceptional story, and the writing is beautiful.  I highly recommend this one, to be read when you have plenty of time to consider it.  Mary Shelley is an interesting story in and of herself, too - she published this in 1816, when suffice to say, not too many women were publishing.  She came up with the idea during a vacation with Lord freaking Byron and her husband, when they were stuck indoors by rainy weather brought on by volcanic eruptions.  Yes really.  They spent the time discussing things including galvanism or animation, and reading German ghost stories.  I don't know about you, but that seems like a guarantee that the product of such a vacation will be awesome!

1 comment:

  1. The question that illuminated the book for me was: Why was Frankenstein not satisfied with creating life naturally, as most humans are capable of, including the Baron? Ah, but there for me is the key to Shelley's vision, which I suspect could only or would most likely come from a human being of the female persuasion rather than one from the male persuasion. Use to teach this book in the Intro course at AC and loved it. Nice review.