Last year around Halloween, I could not resist detailing my excitement over reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time. This year, on Halloween and at the risk of this becoming cliché, I am going to do it again. Only now with Mary Shelley’s mind-blowing Frankenstein.
If you have not read this book yet, you can find it here. This post will still be here when you are finished. See you then. Just kidding. Please keep reading, but put aside everything that you thought you knew about the story of Frankenstein. If you have already read this novel, please suspend your judgement of my only just finding it in my thirty-ninth year. It is inexcusable.
From the first page to the last, Frankenstein was astounding. One by one each of my pre-conceived ideas about the book was crushed beneath an onslaught of remarkable creativity, brilliant writing, and surprising relatablity. Mary Shelley not only changed the game with this book, she refined what writing could be. The book gives you drama, action, suspense, thrill, moral dilemma, emotional trauma and leaves you in wonder. What is famous for being a “monster story,” is eerily human.
Every single thing I thought I knew about this story was wrong. I cannot detail for you the ways I was wrong without giving away key parts of the story, but suffice it to say the Frankenstein pop culture lore and the actual novel differ a very great deal.
Definitely not this:
But more this:
I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were, high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these acquisitions; but without either he was considered, except in very rare instances, as a vagabond and slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profit of the chosen few. And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded their’s. When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?
For all that pop culture has gotten wrong with this story, it has had one positive effect. And that is that now the real story has even more depth and meaning when taken in juxtaposition with what we have been told. For my part, there are a few things I found most compelling.
- Mary Shelley was brilliant and I am thoroughly jealous of her. To have written a novel of this magnitude by the age of nineteen is indeed remarkable and enviable. I would encourage you to read the foreword, written by her, describing the process of how this book came about in her imagination. It is fascinating. While I am jealous of her abilities, I do not envy the life experiences she had that gave her the capacity to write like this at such a young age.
- The uniqueness of this story is undeniable. While there are many components that make that true, the one most significant to me is the lack of a clear hero. Both main characters are equally admirable, pitiable, and inexcusable. The story is not the quintessential one of a good guy versus a bad guy, but rather a story of each character battling good versus evil within themselves. It makes for fascinating moral dilemmas and ambiguities, the likes of which could be discussed for centuries. As they have been.
- Unrequited love is devastating on an individual scale, but whole scale, world-wide unrequited love is the worst kind of living. Shelley describes this perfectly with the monster’s famous quote: “I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
- The question of how to balance scientific advancement and moral obligation is not new.
- Moral responsibility, or a lack there of, can have extreme ramifications.
I am left asking, “Who is the real monster?”