Elizabeth's Reviews > Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
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it was amazing
Read 15 times. Last read October 1, 2014 to October 28, 2014.

Even more amazing now than it was when I first read it.

My video version of this review complete with very important illustrative clips of Benedict and Johnny Depp and Rocky Horror is available here.

So Frankenstein you may be aware is about a man who makes a monster. But this story is actually about a monster who makes a creature. Because let’s say it right now Victor Frankenstein is massive dick.

Frankenstein actually opens with a whole set of letters from a guy called Walton who is planning and then making a journey to explore the Arctic. His letters detail how a Swiss man called Victor Frankenstein is found stranded on the ice and then sets down a version of the life story that Victor gives to Walton. Then we get to hear about Victor’s life and it turns out that after an excessively long description of his childhood he got obsessed with science, discovered the secret process for imbuing things with life, and then decided it would be a jolly good idea to stitch together a bunch of dead bodies into one super-strong 9ft tall humany sort of creature, give it life, and then promptly have a massive freak out, run away and try not to think about it. Because that is how grownups deal with problems. Well these days we mostly just drink wine and watch netflix but same deal. I mean exactly how attractive did he expect this creature to be? Dick move Victor, dick move.

Then two years later the creature appears in an appropriately dramatic fashion and very eloquently explains quite how dickish Victor has been and gives him a rundown of his horrible life so far. And kids prepare yourself for ALL THE SAD in this part. There is then the funnest game of guilt-trip and revenge your way across Europe before a holiday to arctic that nobody want to take. And we emerge from Victor’s tale back into Walton’s observations for the dramatic finale.

Now onto the thoughts:
So the main thing that I came away with was that this story is overwhelmingly about opposites and reversing them, about boundaries and transgressing them. In so many of themes that we talked about and as I was tweeting out all my rage about Victor’s behaviour I kept noticing how often we’d see both sides of an idea or a behaviour reflected. Or where a traditional concept was turned on it’s head and seen from another point of view. You can pick it out in just about every theme, concept and character and I love it.

Death becomes life, male becomes female, authority is transgressable, power changeable, justice and injustice both occur and no special reasoning is given for
either. And these endless reversals don’t conclude with right prevailing and wrong vanquished, everything just blurs to grey and becomes fallible and uncertain.

So for example loads of people commented on the lack of decent female characters and I totally agree but this is in part because Victor takes a traditionally female role of childbearing when he creates the monster and puts it into the male domain. He is a dude who has a baby and it's this that brings about all the freaking chaos. He is subverting nature with science, another opposition, and actually the whole thing is often read as a sort of warning story about letting science just go off and do it’s thing because it removes all the natural good things like emotions and kindness and also family and it can be very dangerous. But what’s even more interesting is that actually Mary Shelley doesn’t let this became a one side is better than the other because nature is shown to be just as dangerous and heartless. There was a popular romantic image of man in harmony with nature, of how it inspires the spirit and the happy rustic shepherd boy in his innocent sweetness is all pure of heart and noble and good. And Shelley shows this with both Victor and the creature being calmed by the beauty of their surroundings but she also shows man at the mercy of nature, and how a man without civilisation becomes a wretched animalistic being.

And speaking of wretched beings lets talk about the characters Victor and the creature are so often in opposition to each other. Master and slave, good and evil, Creator and creature, god and devil, hunter and hunted. But who is in which role changes as we go through the novel. They each take both positions at one time or another. Victor desperately wants us to see the creature as a monster but through these endless reflections and reversals we eventually come to the point where we realise that Victor didn’t create a monstrous creature, he created a man and made into a monster and actually the creature’s monstrosity only reflects that of the men that surround him.

And for an extra layer of mind boggling reversals and reflections lets quickly cover how the story is constructed. The whole novel is actually contained in letters which are being written by Walton so we first see his story, then his transcription of Frankenstein’s story, who then relates what the creature told him of it’s life, who then relates the stories of some other people, and then we come back out the other side up the layers again until we come back to Walton. I mean talk about unreliable narrators - we’ve got about five of them here. The layers add to the reflections as each story changes our perspectives on the characters and theirs on each other and actually you begin to see that Walton begins to fit into this series of mirrored characters as his actions are a bit of an echo of Victor and the creature and then you realise that you as the reader of the letters are staring right into a big mirror of humanity and that’s why Frankenstein is a scary story.

It’s about man and monster and how in the end we’re all both.
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March 20, 2012 – Shelved
October 1, 2014 – Started Reading
October 1, 2014 –
page 1
0.37% "#sassyreads begins!"
October 6, 2014 –
page 40
14.65% "Seeing so much more in this book the more times I read it. Also kind of laughing at how bad my dissertation notes are. :D"
October 20, 2014 –
page 150
October 28, 2014 – Finished Reading

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Melanie Fritz Brilliant review, thank you!

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