It is a dearly held stance of mine that if you love someone, you should read their favorite book. Once you’ve read their favorite book, it is now a shared experience. It can give you insight into that person: what they value or what they think of themselves. Sharing a book will bring you closer. About a year ago, I started making a point of finding out what my friends’ favorite books are so I can read them. When my good friend, Morgan, told me that Frankenstein was her favorite (and granted me one of her multiple copies) it was the push that I needed to finally read the classic.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is considered one of the first science fiction novels and was written by teenage badass Mary Shelley. Going in, I was aware of the premise, but not much of the story; while reading, I felt that I wanted to appreciate the significance of the work, but mostly I was caught up in how much I disliked Victor Frankenstein.
Victor Frankenstein is a whining jerk. As a student, he becomes fascinated with the application of science and the limits of human knowledge and works obsessively on his secret project of animating flesh. Unfortunately for everyone, the moment his work comes to fruition, he is instantly repulsed by his own creation and runs away, then spends months hiding in bed. This is a recurring problem for Frankenstein throughout the novel: every time he starts to feel scared or guilty about his work, he gets sick and spends months recuperating while his family and friends care for him without ever knowing what is distressing him so much. Frankenstein could have confided in someone that something was haunting him, he could have warned them that they were all in danger, but instead he repeatedly ends up being waited on by his loved ones who are left completely in the dark and unable to help him or themselves.
The monster, although abandoned at the moment of his birth, develops a deep love for life, nature, and other humans and has a passion for learning. He is astoundingly intelligent and sympathetic, but deeply lonely since every time he tries to approach another person his ugly visage stirs them to violence against him. He manages to track down his creator and eloquently begs for a companion since his father has abandoned him and no other human will tolerate his presence. Frankenstein initially agrees, but at the critical moment suddenly sees that attempting to create life again could have disastrous consequences and chickens out, leading the creature to kill more of Frankenstein’s friends and family in retaliation. I couldn’t help but think: Frankenstein spent so much time creating his first monster – couldn’t he have seen at any point that it was ugly and bothered to make it a little prettier if its face was the biggest problem? Couldn’t he have just sucked it up and loved his ugly creation, anyway? Perhaps if the monster had the love of his father (or at the very least a calm introduction from Frankenstein to one of his college instructors or friends that might have paved the monster’s way into society) he would have had the tutelage and companionship he desired and never become a murderer. Having failed at either of these stages, couldn’t Frankenstein have at least completed his job and given the monster a partner, rather than leaving his creation incomplete without companionship? Frankenstein had every chance to remedy his failures, but instead languished in indecisiveness and fear and this is the cause of all the suffering around him.
Ultimately, Frankenstein dies and the monster hovers over his corpse, sorrowful and repentant, but still alone; from there he is chased into snowy wastes to escape those who still want to kill him for being ugly.
Mary Shelley subtitled the story “The Modern Prometheus.” Like Prometheus, Frankenstein uses knowledge previously only known to gods and brings it to humans; and like Prometheus, Frankenstein suffers for his transgression. The difference, arguably, is that Prometheus stole fire to nobly make the lives of humans better; whereas Frankenstein created life without forethought, without the conviction to nurture that life, and without accountability – and therefore failed, to the demise of everyone involved.
In reading Frankenstein, I felt the story fell a little flat. However, the characters and their trials have vividly stuck in my mind since finishing it a couple days ago. I think I would enjoy studying this story with someone who has a bit more literary and historical background to gain a better appreciation of the themes and Mary Shelley’s classic work as a whole.
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