2016 Classics Challenge · Adult Fiction

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus – Mary Shelley


‘I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.’

Frankenstein is my January book and first for the Pretty Books 2016 Classics Challenge

For many the image and story of Frankenstein’s monster comes from his appearance in numerous gothic horror movies and Scooby Doo cartoons. He is usually portrayed as an exceptionally tall, ugly figure, with a bolt through his neck, a powerful, killing machine. However, on revisiting the original novel from where the creature first appeared, I discovered him to be a far more complicated being.

The story is told through a series of letters by the seafaring Robert Walton to his sister Mrs Margaret Saville. On his journey to the north pole the Captain of the Archangel and his crew rescue a stranger from a piece of floating ice – Victor Frankenstein, a man harbouring a dark secret.

We discover he is a man of privilege, filled with the best of intentions.

‘I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. …what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!’

Yet somewhat arrogant about his own capabilities.

‘A new species would bless me as its creator and source, many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.’

Frankenstein becomes so obsessed by his project that he seems to lose his own moral compass. When he finally succeeds in his endeavours Victor Frankenstein is repulsed by what he has done. He rejects his creation, abandoning it to fend for itself. This reaction sets off a chain of events both tragic and horrific.

‘Remember, that I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded.’

What makes this story unique is that the reader is given the opportunity to hear the monster’s point of view. He tells of his own wretchedness and desire for companionship so movingly. For me these scenes are heartbreaking. Through his words, Mary Shelley makes the reader understand the true awfulness of Victor’s treatment of his creation.

As the reader I found the epistolary format a great vehicle for the inner thoughts and experiences of the characters to be clearly expressed. The descriptions of the landscape are very vivid, from the Swiss lakes and mountain ranges, to the vast planes of ice. Shelley uses the various locations not only as backdrops to the action but as part of building the tension within the story.

At the tender age of nineteen, Mary Shelley does not shy away from tackling the controversial subject of man usurpation of the place of God as the ultimate creator. These are issues which still confront us in the 21st Century. The fear of death remains as potent in our society as ever. There are many who would welcome the chance to hold death at bay, or even prevent it happening. As scientific advances in prolonging life continue, progress in such a field cannot be held back. The question is who will hold humanity accountable for our future actions?

All text © BH 2016

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