Saturday, October 30, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
ISBN: 0-393-96458-2


The epic battle between man and monster reaches its greatest pitch in the famous story of Frankenstein. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor himself to the very brink. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship …and horror.


Aside: The blurb comes from since my special Norton Critical Edition mostly just talked about how great it is and how many bonus essays you get in it, which, as you might guess, makes for an excellent summary of the story.

Aside the Second:  Wren and I once more bring you a dual review of a book and one of its movie adaptations.  I hope you enjoy our thoughts on a classic in literature and film, Frankenstein.

My Thoughts:

Ah, Frankenstein, a great Romantic tale.  As much as I love this book, I have some issues with it.  As a literary period, Romanticism is my favourite and I've devoted a lot of my official studies to exploring it. What does this mean for you, the reader? Well, my dears: I’m used to writing about Romantic texts in an academic fashion. You may need to bear with me on this one.   

I think the language of the novel might put off some modern readers, but I rather enjoyed it.  I miss when English was a little more flowery in its execution.  Although, I will admit that during some of Victor's more prolonged outpourings I may have skimmed a little (it was 11:30pm and his whining was beginning to grate on my nerves).

And really, that brings me to the one big issue I have with Mary Shelley’s novel: Victor Frankenstein.  While I definitely see elements of the typical Romantic hero in him – striving for the unknown and messing with forces best left alone – he’s just really whiny.  He creates this being, and rather than being responsible for his creation, he abandons it and then he’s surprised and upset that it doesn’t turn out great.  There is a clear opportunity for the monster to be a benevolent creation, but Frankenstein totally blows it and he ends up with a vengeful murderous villain bent on making his life miserable.  Not once does Victor truly understand what he’s done.  He comes close a couple of times and then his Icarus-like pride in his research and egotism obscures his understanding again, and he further antagonizes his creation.  His woe-is-me speeches eventually made my eyes glaze over and I started skimming them rather half-heartedly.

The story itself is still interesting nearly 200 years after it was first published (which was in 1818).  The issues of science presented here are as pertinent now as they were in the 19th century.  Sure, our science is more complex and our test tubes are mightier, but we still struggle with the same moral issues regarding research; Victor's irresponsibility towards his experiment is just as reprehensible.  Do the means justify the ends? Is a question we must always continuously ask ourselves (or we risk ending up a boring whiner like Louis...I mean Victor).  Mary Shelley clearly grasped this idea in this novel.

I do worry, that you, my dears, might not enjoy this one.  I don’t mean this as a judgment on you, specifically (except you over there, you know who I'm looking at), but as a comment on the post-modern reader.  We all want a quick pace with lots of action and a gripping, spine-tingling narrative.  Alas, when you read novels from the 19th century you won’t necessarily find any of those things.  Personally, I enjoy these books that are part story, part meditation on human nature, but they are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.  So just be warned that there is a fair bit of meditating, (a lot of whining from Victor) and plenty of descriptions of rugged landscapes and that very little of the action happens “on screen” so to speak.  Rather, most of it is related through oral narrative which is then reproduced in letters – Victor tells his story to the would-be Arctic explorer Walton who writes it all down in letters to his sister (there's something to be said about the chain of evidence and the reliability of third-hand accounts here, but let's not go there).

Alright, let me just step down from my lectern now.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre and you haven’t read Frankenstein you most certainly should do so.  The horror it evokes is much more subtle than what you might be used to as you really have to think about the implications of Victor’s hubris before you get that creeping sense of unease.  While the pace can come off as slow, it's really worth the effort in the end.


  1. i admit i've tried reading this book, i never get very far.
    a few years ago my former college did a play based on this book that was supposedly very close to the novel (it was the year after i graduated); and as much as i loved the set and seeing my friends; i agree the whining sucked the fun out of it.

  2. It's definitely not for everyone, but I prefer it over Dracula.

    I wonder if the aversion to the whining is a modern reaction to it. We've just seen too many woe-is-me protagonists.

  3. i got allot farther in Dracula; but i think you may be right.