Inspired by HP over at Every Day Should Be Tuesday, who has been talking Frankenstein in honor of the season, I decided to give the book a go.
I’m glad that I’d read Dracula a couple years back; Frankenstein was, superficially and stylisticly, a similar kind of beast to tackle: Victorian era English, very wordy and frilly, and somewhat more philosophical than you generally find in this kind of fiction these days. Although Frankenstein and its monster are usually tossed into the horror bin, and the story certainly was an early contributor to the genre (and a forerunner to weird fiction), I found it more of a tragedy with horror and science fiction elements. It is interesting to note that certain critics do point to Frankenstein as the first science fiction novel (and Jeffro asked me about this on Twitter). Looking at the definition and key elements of scifi, I have trouble arguing against that assertion. For my part I’d just say it doesn’t really feel like a science fiction story. The scifi element is central to the story and yet seems almost incidental. Had Victor animated his creation with sorcery rather than science, the main story could probably still have unfolded relatively unchanged.
A few further thoughts to share. *Moderate spoilers head.*
My, how emo Victor Frankenstein is, and how selfish. Though we’re constantly told how virtuous and attractive a human being he is, he seems to focus an awful lot on his own guilt and tortured feelings. When Justine is about to be executed for the crimes his monster committed (and at this point Frankenstein doesn’t have the courage to come forth and confess what he had done):
Justine’s tortures did not equal his own. Poor Victor. Meanwhile Justine is trying to comfort her friends, though she herself is about to be put to death. I found this passage particularly moving, actually. It’s interesting that Victor is perhaps the least sympathetic character of the book, despite all the loss he endures.
Hearing her words, Victor continues to dwell on his own grief.
The best part of the story, which takes a while to get to, is the monster’s narration. Actually quite eloquent and articulate, he describes his awakening to life, his encounters with humanity, and his joys and pains. Seeing the world through his eyes, I thought, provided a deeper and more thoughtful reading experience than the woes of Victor in his dangerous pursuit of knowledge and godhood.
Incidentally, the monster doesn’t hate fire. This was one of several misconceptions spread by the 1931 film.
He learns of virtue and vice. And despite Victor’s condemnation of his creation, when the monster initially awakens to the realities of saintliness and sin, he chooses to be good and kind.
One must wonder what good Frankenstein’s monster could have done for the world, had he been accepted by man or at least by a man. The creature, in listening in on his neighbors and learning from them, proved himself not only kind, but incredibly intelligent and quick to understand. Had he only received spiritual guidance and moral formation…
(By the way, I’ll note that the following passage proves somewhat problematic, and I debated excluding it. Although Shelley compensates somewhat by being rightly critical of America and her colonists, she is awfully bigoted against Asians and later Muslims. Perhaps we should consider revising Frankenstein).
The abandoned monster, spurned again and again by humanity, eventually takes out his rage and hate on Victor and his family. At this point I don’t know that I fully blame Victor, as I don’t know that I’d be able to forgive and embrace someone who murdered friends or family of mine. However the monster is pitiful indeed, and his entreaties for acceptance and companionship are stirring.
Eventually Frankenstein’s monster asks Victor to create a female companion, that the two may run away and live together in self-imposed exile, and achieve some degree of happiness. Victor at first resists, then relents and agrees to do so. He takes forever and despairs and moans, but eventually gets on with his work. It was at this point that I thought about how in his initial creation and then his second attempt, he was actually collecting body parts and storing them at his living space. We can suspend some disbelief here, but still. Ew.
And this second time, he’s actually carrying this stuff around with him in England. Good thing his buddy never noticed the reek.
Well, Victor decides to be a prick, after thinking about how his new creation could be just as evil or more evil than his first, and how the two could wreck devastation upon mankind. I think he’s being melodramatic.
At any rate, he seals his fate by tearing up the pieces of the yet unliving female companion and defying his creature. The monster, enraged, proceeds to exact revenge upon his creator. He kills his friend, he kills his wife, and then Victor’s father dies of grief.
Ultimately Victor, seeking revenge upon the monster, expires in his pursuit. Rather than rejoicing and going on to do more evil, the monster grieves and expresses remorse.
It’s a lot easier to feel bad for the monster, who was perhaps emotionally closer to a child than a man, and without any love or guidance, rejected by all. That’s what you get for being a dick, Victor.
I’ll also note that there was no assistant, no Igor character. Another invention of the film!
Frankenstein was a good read and certainly worthwhile for anyone interested in the classics or in the evolution of fiction. Now I need to read something a little quicker-paced and actiony, though. Maybe that Dickson book I’ve had in my bag, untouched, for week.