Review: Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. 1818. Norton Critical Edition, W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, personal copy. Norton Critical Edition, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co., 2011, review copy from publisher. (Thank you to W.W. Norton & Co., who after learning about this project, sent me the newest edition).

The Plot:  Young Victor Frankenstein discovers the secret of life; discovers how to make something live. His creation isn’t what Victor intended: it is hideous. Victor flees.

Left alone, the creature wanders. Eventually, he finds shelter; he also gains language and knowledge. He learns enough to realize he will always be an outcast from society.

The creature wants revenge against his maker. He is also lonely and isolated, and wants Victor to create him a companion. These two conflicting desires ends up being costly to Victor, his family, and friends.

The Good: As I’ve explained, my familiarity with Frankenstein was strictly cultural. I’d never read the book. Oh, I knew enough to know that Frankenstein was not the monster’s name, and that in the book the unnamed creature learned to speak rather eloquently.

I’ve posted about my decision to read Frankenstein, and my chapter by chapter reactions to the text: introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII; chapters I to IV; chapters V to IX; chapters I to IV; chapters V to VII.

Oh, by the way? SPOILERS.

Bottom line, did I like? Would teens? Yes, and of course! But, really, the second part – teens liking a book – is almost a trick question as, seriously, there is no block of “teens”, but rather individual teens, and their reading interests, just like adults, are wide and varied.

Part of what I liked about Frankenstein is that the way the story is told is so different from how one is typically told today: the framing device of the letters, the relatively long amount of time before Victor appears on the scene, the many mini-stories about other people that are told. Part of what I had a hard time with was the language; as a general rule, I prefer more straightforward storytelling and dialogue. I appreciated the detailed description of scenery, but such things aren’t my cup of tea.

There was no “good guy”, no true hero, but some of the essays in these editions (more on that another day) showed how, at different times, Victor was viewed as truly heroic and noble or the creature was viewed as the only one worth identifying with. As those of you who followed my chapter read-along know, I saw both Victor and the creature as flawed. Victor came across as practically bipolar, with obsessive behaviors and mood swings. I lost patience with his reactions to stress: avoidance, run away, get sick. On reread, I realize the first “get sick” was actually that Victor had been feeling ill all along; and I also imagine that working around dead body parts is not the healthiest thing in the world, explaining both his illness after creating the monster and his illness following his work on the Bride. Despite all that, Victor was smart, tried to do the right thing in situations with no clear “right,” and he cared about his family and friends. Victor did not intentionally hurt anyone.

The creature, on the other hand, killed people. He directly killed three (William, Henry, Elizabeth), manipulated the death of a fourth (Justine), and is also arguably responsible for the death of two others (M. Frankenstein and Victor). And his excuse is rather weak: people don’t want to be my friends, so what choice do I have but to kill? In all honesty, the “I’m a victim” sympathy I felt for the creature ended at William’s death. I even tried reading that death as accidental, trying to silence but not kill William, but rereading has led me to realize that was naive on my part. To be even more honest, that sympathy had begun to slowly disappear earlier, during the creature’s stay in the hovel.

Yes, I admire the Frankenstein Charter School: how much the creature was able to learn because of his own drive, his own intellect, his own resources. Very admirable; in a way, the creature always doing things made me think more highly of him than Victor. Except, the creature had a repeated bad habit of misunderstanding human relations and interactions. His voyeurism of the cottage family, while the basis of his education, was still voyeurism; and it created a stalker type mentality wherein he believed that they would all be friend if they just knew him. A not dissimilar sentiment to certain fans of celebrities, who think they know a star thanks to magazines, films, and interviews. His “kidnap a child and mold him to be my friend” was creepy. Obviously, the creature was caught between a rock and a hard place: wanting society yet being rejected based on his appearance. That doesn’t excuse murder.

Part of what was fascinating with the story, then, was two flawed people, Victor and his creation, who are on a path of mutual destruction no matter how much they want to avoid it. Victor can run away, fall ill, attempt to create another being, spend time with family and friends, and all along, he has an appointment: to take out of the world what he brought into it. The creature, isolated, powerful, angry, educated yet ignorant, seems to have no possible path but self-annihilation, taking his creator along with him for punishment. Despite their flaws, I cared for both of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s