Frankenstein | book review


Title: Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Publisher: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones
Publication Date: 1818
Rating: 3.5 stars

Opening Line:

St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17 —

TO Mrs. Saville, England

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

Though this novel was written in the early 1800s, practically everybody knows the name “Frankenstein” today in the 21st century. Most people (and unfortunately I, too, was in this group) commonly think this is the name of the monster. Well, it’s not. The monster does not have a name; Frankenstein is the scientist, AKA the creator of the monster. I had to read this novel in preparation for my final exam in my adaptation class. My professor picked a scene (the animation scene, go figure) and we had to write about some aspect of adaptation with three films and the novel. It was actually a fun exam, but two hours was not enough time to say what I wanted to say. Anyway, I digress; the point is, I am glad I was forced to read this novel, but wish I would have had more time to do so.

Frankenstein is about an ambitious guy (named Frankenstein) who really likes philosophy and science. He decides to dedicate his studies to piecing together a body and bringing it to life. Spoiler alert: he succeeds, and Frankenstein’s monster is born. Though he’s not a monster, at first — he’s just a big, lanky, confused creature who has no idea how to function in the world. He’s essentially a giant baby. Frankenstein grows fearful of the monster and hopes that if he ignores it, his creation will just disappear. And then it does — the monster escapes. Frankenstein believes himself to be free of this burden and continue on with his life while his monster learns to live on his own. But the monster finds life to be cruel to him, and he grows lonely, resentful, and angry. Frankenstein does not live happily ever after and pays for what he has created.

Though most people commonly refer to it as a horror novel, I myself think of Frankenstein to be more of a gothic. The novel features a lot of death, some romance, and features a very uncanny undertone. Luckily for me, I’ve never watched a Frankenstein film, so I went into this novel completely blind. I thought the structure of the novel was interesting: it was a story within a story within a story within a story, which was only slightly confusing. First there’s the novel itself. Within that, there is the narrator of the novel, Robert Walton. Then there’s Frankenstein, who tells a story to Walton as he writes it down. Finally, there’s the monster, who tells the story to Frankenstein who relays that story to Walton who writes that story down which becomes the novel Frankenstein. Are you following along? If not, that’s okay, because it makes a lot more sense if you just read it. There are a lot of voices to follow, but the transitions are easy enough to understand.

The writing is beautiful. Though Shelley uses 15 words to explain something that would only take 5 (like most early British authors do), she does so with beauty and grace. The best part is that you don’t need a dictionary to figure out what Shelley is saying — her language is easy to read and comprehend. I know this novel used to taught in a lot of high schools, and I can see why — like The Great Gatsby, it is simple to understand the most basic meaning on the novel and at least a shallow level of literary analysis.

The characters are very interesting. I admired Frankenstein for his ambition and genius, but as I read, I discovered he’s kind of an asshole. He’s also in love with his adoptive sister, and I realize I am looking at this with a 21st century eye, but that’s still weird to me. However, I think he was incredibly irresponsible in creating this monster and then completely deserting it. For an intelligent man, he handled the situation horribly. I felt sorry for the monster for a while, and then he started killing people, and though I still sympathized with him, he reached the point in his intelligence where he knew right from wrong and was still committing brutal murders, so I had to dislike him too. The only character I really liked in the novel was Walton, though we don’t get much from him except letters written to his sister.

I had to rush through this novel in order to take my final exam, but I hope to return to it again one day. I really enjoyed reading the story and experiencing Shelley’s writing. One of the clips we watching for the final exam was Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder, and after having read Frankenstein, I actually have a desire to watch it and other adaptations. Though it’s not a modern gory horror story, it’s still a creepy novel that is wonderfully written and fairly interesting. There are definitely sections which I skimmed through and thought were needless additions to the novel, but overall it was a good read. And now I have another classic to add to my library!

Favorite Quote(s): “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

“…when falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?”

“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”

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