Recently I’ve been trying to read some classic books. Partly to increase my general knowledge, partly out of interest and partly so I can understand all the references to them in popular culture. These books are all available in the Classic Literature section of your local bookshop, usually for $10-15. The first of these books I’ve read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
My exposure to the Frankenstein story is mainly through popular culture – the Simpsons, It’s a Knockout, Van Helsing. I did know that the title character is the doctor, not the monster, which is apparently a common error, but other than that my imagination is filled with “It’s alive! Alive!!!” moments.
Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English romantic/gothic novelist and was married to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is an 1818 novel written by Mary Shelley at the age of 19, first published anonymously in London, but more often known by the revised third edition of 1831 under her own name.
A good summary of the plot can be found at My Hideous Progeny so I won’t spoil the plot here, you can follow the link if you want to know. I guess I wanted to express how different the novel was from my expectations.
The author seems to spend very little time or text on the mechanics or science of how the monster was created. Indeed it seemed to me to be almost glossed over the details of obtaining body parts, how the monster looks or how he gave it life.
The monster is quite articulate and agile, in comparison to the lurching, moaning mess we commonly picture. His desires are to be accepted and social, not bloodthirsty and cruel. Perhaps I’ve confused Frankenstein with zombies and my expectations were off.
He is capable of inhuman (or perhaps all too human) cruelty, but only does this when he is rejected by his creator and society.
The novel is very verbose and I found it takes a long time to say anything. In comparison to the brief horror or sci-fi sections, how Victor (our protagonist) is feeling or thinking at any moment is described in excruciating detail. The plot moves very slowly at times, I guess this is why it is a romantic style novel, or perhaps it was just the style of early 19th Century.
So, in conclusion, a longish novel that when finished allows you to fully appreciate and pick holes in common perceptions of Frankenstein, or at least Frankenstein’s monster. The mad scientist, the lurching butler, the Victor in Rocky and Bullwinkle, all have their inspiration from this 1918 novel by an English girl one a long time ago. A story that has such magnificent impact almost 200 years later deserves a read of the original, I believe.