“No more let life divide what death can join together.” ― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais
Here’s the truth. I didn’t personally connect to Frankenstein b “No more let life divide what death can join together.” ― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais
Here’s the truth. I didn’t personally connect to Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, though I very much wanted to – it didn’t ‘curdle my blood’ as Shelley had intended it to, perhaps due to the overexposure to the Frankenstein trope. However, I admire it and understand the significance of it in literary canon as well as its immense contribution to culture, hence the rating.
What is it about? This is the story of the ambitious Swiss student, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life, trying to going beyond what had been achieved in natural sciences ever before. He confines himself to his laboratory for two years, denying himself sleep or rest. His obsession becomes his only drive. The night he completes his work, he gazes upon his creation and recoils back in disgust and horror. He realizes he has created a monster. Deprived of compassion from his ‘father-creator’ and constantly scorned by other humans, the monster wreaks revenge upon Victor’s loved ones.
What did I like about it?
"I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness…….. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.”
Frankenstein, I think, is essential reading because there are several important themes which still reverberate and in many ways, have gained in their significance, given current realities.
Man’s hubris is the overarching theme. His ambition to surpass all previous achievements and his thirst for pushing the boundaries of human limitations can do wonders, maybe save lives, at the same time destroy, when the full extent of the consequences are not realized. Victor’s pursuit of glory consumes him to such an extent that he doesn’t stop to think of the simple fact – what he is creating is another human, after all, not a machine. His first reaction on beholding the visage of his creation is to seek escape and oblivion in the form of sleep. All sense of responsibility is gone once he has managed to execute his ambition.
Nature vs. nurture has long been a debate of psychologists. The creature, after its ‘birth’, is essentially an infant, albeit in a giant’s body. Having been left behind by his creator whose responsibility it was to see him through the chaos of his initial steps into the world, he struggles to decipher and differentiate all his sensations, to survive on his own, to learn language and also what it means to be human. When his first attempt at making contact with a family goes awry as they recoil from him just like Victor, his need for love gives away to fury & violence. So it speaks about how society as a whole can reject differences. The author suggests that it’s the lack of compassion that makes a monster, yet man is not inherently evil.
Yet, the term ‘monster’ is not always tangible. One of the questions that this books asks by showing us the perspective of the creature and letting us sympathize with him is this: who is more monstrous in the true sense? The arrogant, irresponsible Doctor suffering from a constant victim complex or the creature whose fault, after all, it was not to begin with? The following quote from the very underrated Penny Dreadful said by the Doctor (who, in the show, to some extent admits his faults, unlike the book version) illustrates this point:
“I have conquered death and created monsters, none more so than the man who sits before you.”
Finally, there is the question of identity. We know who we are mostly because of our relationships with loved ones. Our memories of childhood and with significant others are essential to our identity and in making us human. The creature realizes that without memories and without the support of a family, he is essentially a no-one, and he has no past or future.
What I didn’t like about it The melodrama was too much to take at times, while I understand that such immense expressiveness is also an essential part of the English Romantic movement. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate subtlety in writing (though I enjoyed gothic fiction much more in my teenage), so while reading, sometimes it felt like I was constantly being beaten on the head with a barrage of emotions.
While I concede there was also much beauty to the prose, I also felt it was quite dense and also a lot of work to get through at times, especially when the narrators seemed to deviate into absolutely irrelevant territories.
Finally, I felt that emotional resonance was missing. It felt hard to connect to the very selfish Doctor or the creature, who initially has our sympathies, which doesn’t last very long due to his destructive nature. However, I have loved books with unlikable characters who are fleshed out and three-dimensional, but the range of emotions that our two main characters seemed to evoke was too limited.
But, I remember this was, after all, written by an 18 year old, talented beyond her years and who pioneered a genre. This is the reason why I would recommend everyone to read this at least once....more