Frankenstein (1818) – Mary Shelley
Not really sure where to start or what to say with this one. Published 200 years ago today, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is one of the most important horror novels ever written. It’s also one of my favourite books. I first read it years ago, but that edition was the more widely published 1831 version of the text. After finishing the book, I read that the original 1818 text was in some ways better or more authentic or something. I ordered a copy, but it remained on my bookshelf for so long that when I finally picked it up and read it, I couldn’t tell how it was any different. You can find the differences discussed elsewhere online, but I can only say that I enjoyed both versions immensely.
I recently reviewed and complimented Percy Byssche Shelley’s Zastrozzi for it’s eponymous villain. Mary’s monster is, in ways, just as diabolical a fiend as her husband’s, but he is a hundred times more tragic. He’s simultaneously more and less human than Zastrozzi; he may not have been created in God’s image like the rest of us, but his plight is nonetheless relatable. Who amoungst us has not, at some stage in their hateful lives, looked towards the heavens with dismay in their hearts and cursed God for creating man only to abandon him immediately thereafter? Is this tale not a parable for all human existence? Victor Frankenstein, the creator, is very much the villain in the 1818 text. He’s the idiot that brought the monster to life and then failed to take responsibility for his actions.
This is a great story and an exciting read, but it’s also one that makes you think. What do Frankenstein and his monster represent? Is the book an existential metaphor? As it is perhaps the first science fiction novel, what can Frankenstein tell us about its era’s feelings about scientific advancements? What messages should modern scientists developing A.I. take from this tale? Let’s also remember that Mary Shelley’s mother was one of the most important feminist thinkers in history. Can we reasonably avoid analyzing this text through a feminist lens? Could Frankenstein’s monster represent the corrupted femininity created and enforced by Georgian males? It’s rare that a horror story will raise as many interesting questions,but fortunately for you, I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here; I’ll leave that to the high school students fortunate enough to read this book in English class.
I have finally reviewed all of the books from Paul Murray’s list of the greatest Gothic novels. I don’t think it was a very accurate list at all. Anyways, have a good new year.
(I didn’t have my copy of the book handy when this post was first published, so I drew this little picture of Frankenstein’s monster for the post image.)