Book 361: Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Shelley, Mary - FrankensteinAs with 99% of the Classics I’ve read, I’m wondering what took me so long to read this one! Not only is it under 200 pages, but it’s quick and fascinating read. Add in that Shelley was only 19 when she wrote it and I’m like WHOA. This is my second Classic’s Club book this month, so yay for finally making progress on that again.

As when I read Dracula, I was surprised at how much of Frankenstein’s story was different from what has become the common perception of Frankenstein and his monster in pop-culture.I am happy to report that my reading of this coincided really well with other books I’ve read that are fan-fiction pieces, like Meghan Shepherd’s A Cold Legacy, and tangentially related books about the authors and their connections like another piece of fan-fiction, like Michael Thomas Ford’s Jane Fairfax Trilogy (Jane Bites Back in particular).

I’ve never seen a film adaptation of Frankenstein and I may be thinking of Uncle Lurch (Wikipedia), but to me all of the pop-culture references of “the monster” really do look and feel like Uncle Lurch. But when I read the (self-)description of the original Frankenstein’s monster, Uncle Lurch did not come to mind,

“…endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs.” (Loc. 2003)

Perhaps this is because I’ve never seen an adaptation and only know the images of “the monster,” but not what I was expecting. I think this is one that I will have to seek out a film adaptation to see how they’ve actually portrayed him. If you have a recommendation for one to watch let me know!

Not only was Shelley young when she wrote the novel, it was basically expected of her,

“It is not surprising that she should make her own contribution, the masterpiece of the genre (or the cornerstone of another, science fiction), when she was not yet nineteen, at an age when her own sensibilities were responsive to scary stories, and when the actual events of her life were hardly less painful and shattering than the gruesome fancies she recounts.” (Loc. 55)

She married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she hung out with Lord Byron and other writers, and her parents were Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman anyone?) and William Godwin (a philosopher and prolific writer). So of course she was expected to be intelligent. The intro was fascinating and went on about free love and basically said this group was the hippies of the late 1700s/early 1800s.

What confused me though was the simultaneous brilliant storytelling and sometimes mediocre writing. Diane Johnson (I’m assuming a writer or academic) described the beauty of the story perfectly,

“The story is told in letters by an adventurous Englishman, to his sister. In the letters he recounts what Victor Frankenstein has told him; Frankenstein, in turn, recounts to Walton what the monster has told him. This structure parallels one of the themes of the book by taking us below the surface of reality, layer by layer, deeper and deeper into guilt.” (Loc. 190)

And then within the story you have Shelley writing about how the monster became aware of the world and began learning about the world which astounded me. Shelley’s descriptions of the moon and fire were so perfectly simple and beautiful that you could imagine someone seeing them for the first time (with higher learning ability than a small child) coming to consciousness as she wrote it. The way she wrote the monster learning speech was also wonderful, even if she did just throw in new words and concepts without explaining when, how or why the monster learned them, but I guess the book doesn’t need to be that long.

The mediocre writing, mostly surrounded the foreshadowing in the novel. The novel is around 200 pages and as such the reader didn’t need to be beaten over the head, but Shelley did it and at times it was frustrating enough to shake the book!

“But, as if possessed of magic powers, the monster had blinded me to his real intentions; and when I thought that I had prepared only my own death, I hastened that of a far dearer victim.” (Loc. 3090)

Either Frankenstein was an idiot, more on that later, or Shelley really wanted the reader to know what was coming.

Frankenstein, if anything, was the major problem of the book. According to this Amazon review, I should have chosen the other version of the book as Shelley re-wrote it to be more religious and forgiving of Frankenstein. What this did for me was that I highlighted many passages (see below) about Frankenstein’s idiocy and seeming lack of responsibility and ownership. I honestly felt Shelley, and Frankenstein, took it too far when I read this line,

“I felt as if I had committed some great crime, the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed drawn down a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime.” (Loc. 2642)

When I read this line and highlighted it for later, I wrote down “asshat Frankenstein.” There were not other words. Not only did he create this “monster,” but he let it run lose and he then took no blame and had a constant “woe-is-me” attitude throughout the book. Seriously dude, take responsibility and own it.

Recommendation: DEFINITELY! The original is fantastic, even if I didn’t like the religion and excusing of idiocy. I found the story enthralling and thrilling, even if it’s not in the same way thrilling as a lot of today’s horror stories are. I also, very strangely because I didn’t know the story, found “the monster” to be so incredibly sympathetic that it made the story that much more enjoyable.

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

Closing Line: “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.” (Whited out to prevent spoilers.)

Additional Quotes from Frankenstein
“It is always possible to reduce a work of literature to its basic psychic components and flatten it; but in the case of this curious novel, psychological explanations work better than others to account for what would otherwise seem to be defects in the plot and construction.” (Loc. 237)

“…nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.” (Loc. 426)

“Strange and harrowing must be his story, frightful the storm which embraced the gallant vessel on its course and wrecked it—thus!” (Loc. 647)

“It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.” (Loc. 746)

“None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.” (Loc. 939)

“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.” (Loc. 975)

“A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.” (Loc. 990)

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule.” (Loc. 1015)

“Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.” (Loc. 1543)

“The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnizing my mind and causing me to forget the passing cares of life.” (Loc. 1649)

“All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.” (Loc. 1685)”Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” (Loc. 1697)

“For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.” (Loc. 1725)

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change. The sun might shine or the clouds might lower, but nothing could appear to me as it had done the day before.” (Loc. 3186)

“Even where the affections are not strongly moved by any superior exellence, the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.” (Loc. 3402)

“My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.” (Loc. 3524)

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22 thoughts on “Book 361: Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

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  3. I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it as well. I felt the same way about Frankenstein and how he didn’t take responsibility for his actions, total assjat, as you say. I also felt sympathy for the monster, it’s not his fault he came into being. In the copy I read, I think there was a forward that said the story actually came about when Mary and her husband and a few friends got together to tell scary stories to pass time during a storm or something like that.

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  4. It’s been a long time since I read it (in fact, I should probably give it a re-read now), but I think Frankenstein’s asshat-edness did a lot to amplify my compassion for the monster.

    Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation was torn apart by critics but I remember loving it when I watched it. That was 20 years ago, though, to be fair. Oh god, getting old…

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  5. Nice review. This is sooo close to brilliant, but there are some holes. The 94 film rendition, entitled Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (presumably to assert it is true to Shelley’s version), is indeed the most faithful rendition I know of…but even it, takes a strange detour from Shelley’s vision in the final 30 minutes. Before that, though it was very faithful and did a superb job of filling in some of the holes (shortcuts) that I thought Shelley took.

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  6. We had to read this in school and had to compare it to Dracula. I preferred this to Dracula, but still not as much as i hoped. Maybe i will read it again one day out of the shadow of homework and the boredom of Dracula.

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  7. I loved Frankenstein, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it and now you’ve got me curious about which version I have!! Great review, so glad you liked it! As far as movies go, all I can say is DON’T watch the one with Robert DeNiro and Helena Bonham Carter. It was terrible.

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    • Ha! That’s the one everyone (above) has said is most true to the book. Interesting. I’m not sure I’ll ever watch one unless it happens to be on TV.

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      • I realized that after I commented =X I honestly don’t remember how true to the book it was, and it was almost a decade ago that I saw it (watched it for extra credit in high school after reading Frankenstein for an English class) but the general class consensus was that it was horrible. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t do well with gore.

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  8. Agree with you that there are some moments of brilliance in this book. The scene where Frankenstein sees his creation for the first time is stunning. But there were too many points where my credibility was stretched too far (the part where the creature is learning a language via a hole in the cabin) so overall I didn’t enjoy it.

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  9. I have to agree that the writing in this was a bit hit or miss! I also find that I enjoy most of the classics I pick up, but one exception is the Odyssey, which I just read and wow did it drag for me.

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  10. Pingback: July Recap 2015 | The Oddness of Moving Things

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