In response to a challenge by the poet Lord Byron, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Started in 1816 and published anonymously in 1818, the story chronicles the exploits of Victor Frankenstein. Well bred for a life of academic success, the young scholar submerses himself in the challenge of creating new life out of the lifeless remains of body parts and electric charges. He succeeds, but is immediately horrified with the monstrous result and spends the rest of the story alternating between running from his responsibilities and declaring revenge on his creation.
Amidst lots of unnecessary details, the crux of the story is the degree to which humans are responsible for their actions, regardless of their original intentions – a timeless conundrum, which is confounding on a good day and downright puzzling on a bad one. Ultimately, Frankenstein is undone by his egotistical desire to play God, but as soon as he is called to deal with the implications of wielding divine power, he realizes that nothing lies at the top except unmet expectations.
“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.”
– Victor Frankenstein | Volume I, Chapter 4
I know multiple great people who claim this book as their favorite, so my expectations were definitely high as I began reading. However, I really didn’t care much for the tale. The story is conveyed by three different narrators (the unnamed monster who relates some of his history to Victor Frankenstein who relates all of his history to a random ship captain who begins and ends the novel). This might be fine except they all narrate with more or less the same tone and verbiage, just with slightly differing levels of angst. For a monster (who at first creation apparently can’t clearly see and doesn’t understand any language) to later converse perfectly with depth and emotion seemed a bit far-fetched. However, he is also described as having super human strength and endurance, so perhaps I just needed to suspend my disbelief a bit more in accepting the science fiction elements.
Knowing that the story was written by a teenager (Mary Shelley was only 18 when she wrote Frankenstein) makes the book interesting and understandably notable in literature. I know that not very many teenagers write complete novels that cause the reader to question the inherent nature of humanity. And yet, why did it have to be so brutally sad?
In a similarly depressing plot style of Game of Thrones, all of the good people are pointlessly destroyed by someone who is also debatably “good.” At the end of the book, I just felt plain bummed out. Other than reminiscing about personal travel experiences through Switzerland (the main setting of the story) and getting to cross Frankenstein off of my list of “famous literary works that I should read to feel intellectually accomplished,” I have no positive associations with this particular book.
This book is for you if you like: horror stories, poetry from Lord Byron, any stage or screen adaptations of Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Halloween (the holiday), books that fall into romantic, Gothic, or science fiction genres.