Frankenstein (contains spoilers)

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I’m halfway through the book, and so far it is a lot less romantic than I expected.

Egotistical college sophomore creates monster in his apartment, then disappears for two years?  Huh??  Is this the right book?  Where’s the lightning?  The castle?  The climactic moment when the mad scientist screams, “It’s alive!”

So far, not impressed.

People are usually shocked to hear Mary Shelley was only 18 when she wrote this story.  To me, it seems pretty obvious.  The main character is rather emotional, experiencing bouts of melancholy at every turn, which to me is indicative of her teenage mindset.  As a child, Mary Shelley was neglected emotionally, but was reared with an emphasis on education, therefore the writing is kind of detached.  How do you describe emotions?  She seems to relate them from an outside perspective, instead of making her audience truly feel what her characters are feeling.

“My abhorrence of this fiend cannot be conceived. When I thought of him, I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed. When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes, could I, when there, have precipitated him to their base. I wished to see him again, that I might wreak the utmost extent of abhorrence on his head.”

See how empty that is?  Do you feel the character’s pain here?  I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something, but I feel like I’m reading an instruction manual on human behavior.  And now I will cry.  And now I will have anger.

And now I will wait patiently for this book to live up to its name.

Finished:  Warning **Spoilers*

This is just the strangest book.  I admit, I’ve never seen the movie, but my impression of Frankenstein was always a giant, moaning, unintelligible creature who walked with his arms straight out like a zombie.  Instead, the very first encounter that Mr. Frankenstein (this is actually the name of the “scientist,” not the monster) had with the creature was quite different.  He  coincidentally (there are a lot of unbelievable coincidences in this book) runs into the monster in the ice caves just above the town he lives in.  Coming toward him is a giant, terrifying, deformed “Frankenstein,” and instead of the moaning retardation you’d expect, these are the first words out of his mouth:

“I expected this reception,” said the daemon. “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.”

Strange how Hollywood twists things.  Anyway, the monster takes over the narrative at this point, which becomes the most compelling, although sad, part of the book.  In a brief nutshell, the monster started out full of love, but after being repeatedly shunned and even attacked by humans, based on his looks alone, his heart became hard and bitter.  He finds the scientist, and (reasonably) demands that he make a female version of himself, so he can be loved.  Poor guy just wanted love.  He threatens to kill the scientist’s whole family if he doesn’t comply (feel the love?)

The scientist, although abhorring the idea, decides he better do it lest he lose his whole family.  But then he begins to realize he can’t control the emotions of his creations.  What if the female detests the creature, and takes out her vengeance on the world?  Worse yet, what if they have a whole pack of little monster babies (though they would be human, which Luke pointed out. Or why couldn’t he make her infertile?), and bring destruction to generations of humans?  He realized it would be selfish of him to make the female – not like this would be new to the scientist; the whole reason the monster needed companionship is because he was a selfish creator to begin with – and he couldn’t risk the whole of humanity to save his measly family.  He refuses to do it.  This means that the Bride of Frankenstein was another Hollywood creation (which I secretly admit to being happy with – Mrs. Frankenstein was hot!)

As promised, the monster kills his whole family, and the scientist dies on his voyage to seek revenge.  The monster finds his body, and runs off into the sunset vowing to kill himself, too.  The end.

I know there are some themes here that make this book a classic, worthy of top 100 lists the world over, but to me it was sloppy.  I can handle depressing, which this book definitely was, but the hypocrisy of all the characters was too much for me.  The scientist was disgusted by the creature he had hand-picked to be beautiful.  He willingly chose not to create a female companion, then sought revenge on the monster for doing exactly what he said he would do.  The monster went back and forth between heartbreaking despair and gleeful vengeance so many times it was hard to tell his mood at any given moment.  Finicky monster.

I guess this is a story of the monster within us all.  Or something like that.

6 thoughts on “Frankenstein (contains spoilers)

    Olga Wolstenholme said:
    June 23, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    “Finicky monster”, cute.

    Jonathan Erdman said:
    June 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Good commentary. I’ll be tuned in to some things a bit more when I read through this again (for my Top 100 reviews). I’ve read it before (a few times), and I’ve always loved it, so I put it on the list for official review.

    I think there are some these that come together in this book that more than compensate for any flaws in writing. (And by the way, this is a helluva book for an 18 year old to write!) For one, this novel is a living commentary on science exceeding its grasp, which, just when you thought science could push no further, we are on the verge of unraveling genetic codes, cloning animals and people, and many other scientific tamperings with life. (Not to mention rumors that we will someday merge our minds/bodies with machines—this is being discussed as a real possibility.) Frankenstein remains a classic, as the first popular novel to deal in depth with what this might look like, to dramatize this situation.

    It is also clearly a commentary on God and religion: why create something that is flawed, frustrated, and subject to pain? It is the heart of the problem of belief in God.

    Lastly, the novel illustrates so well some of the causes of violence. The monster is frustrated because he is powerless to gain love and to live the life he wants to live. Victor must grapple with his mistakes: should he try to suppress the monster or compromise his values and take the risk of satisfying the monster? It seems to be the case of so much of our political life. For example, should the U.S. (which has contributed greatly to Mexican poverty) do something more radical to help its undocumented immigrants and so many others who want to enter the U.S. from Mexico? Should it take risks to help the Mexican economy? Or should it refuse its help, try to purge the nation of undocumented immigrants, and hope the problems go away?

    letseatcake! said:
    June 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Helluva book, yes, but I can see the 18-year-old coming through, that’s all.

    I’m sure there were tons of “mad scientist gone awry” books before this, but I’m not sure of many that deal with the human element. So you’re right, that is good reason for it to be considered a classic. It’s always hard for me to try to read a classic with NO prior images or thoughts about the story clouding my perspective.

    Thanks for the comment~

    Jonathan Erdman said:
    June 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Have you seen the Frankenstein movie with DeNiro playing the monster? That adds a good deal of depth to the novel. I now hear that voice when I read the novel.

    letseatcake! said:
    June 24, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    No, I haven’t seen that, and I actually went to the movie store last night to find it, but the place my my house is kind of random, and they didn’t have it.

    I’ll go to Blockbuster or something, I would like to check it out.

    Wicked said:
    December 13, 2010 at 1:28 am

    I’m going to have to reread this book now, 20 years later. I wonder if I will see the 18 year old. I just remember it being so very, very sad.

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