Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review Tuesday: Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley - #ReviewTuesday #Philosophy #precocious


Frankenstein cover

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley

Everyone knows the story of Frankenstein's monster, Mary Shelley's famous cautionary tale about the risks of playing God. Realizing recently that I'd never read the book, I downloaded a copy from ProjectGutenberg.

My mind was full of images from Ken Russell's film "Gothic", about the so-called "haunted summer" when Mary Shelley, her lover Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and the ambiguous Dr. Polidori gathered at Byron's mansion and challenged each other to write a horror story. I expected lightning, gore, darkness, and philosophy from the precocious author (only nineteen when she penned the book).

Alas, I was deeply disappointed by this novel. The entire book is a one post-hoc narration (from the God-defying scientist Victor Frankenstein) embedded within another (an adventurer traveling in the Artic, whose name and history matter not at all). At one point, the tale-telling goes to a third level, when Victor Frankenstein repeats the account shared by his monstrous creation, who is both intelligent and gentle initially, craving acceptance and love, but who is universally rejected and feared.

There is no direct action whatsoever, and no detail about the methods used by Frankenstein to create his unnatural offspring. All we know is the horror he claims to have felt when he first looked upon the monster's face. He abandons the being he has fashioned, and sets tragedy in motion.

I was embarrassed to discover that all the bits I thought I knew about the Frankenstein tale were all products of Hollywood. And to be honest, I found myself puzzled by the enduring influence of this slim novel. It raises a few philosophical questions, about the nature of humanity and personal responsibility, as well as the dangers of judging based on exterior appearance, but overall, the book had little emotional or intellectual impact on me.

The main lesson I took from the experience of reading Frankenstein involved the power of culture and media to twist a story from its original form into something quite different.

3 comments:

Tim Smith said...

Lisabet, I'm so glad to learn that I wasn't the only person who had trouble getting through this book. I had to read it in HS and, like you, I had seen most of the movie versions of the story. Needless to say, I found the book tough going. I'm sure it has earned its rightful place in literary history, but not on my Top Ten list. For what it's worth, I had the same problem when I read "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. Just couldn't get that image of Bela Lugosi out of my head...

Lisabet Sarai said...

Actually, I really liked the original Dracula. But I also recently read and reviewed the first Tarzan book, and found it quite different from the movies (though enjoyable).

Larry Archer said...

I just remember Gene Wilder's “It’s pronounced ‘Fronkensteen.’”

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