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So sorry I’ve been out of it lately. I’ve been job hunting, and we all know how fun that is. Also, I’ve been creating a new domain all my own, www.BibliographyBlog.com, and that’s taken some work. But I’m back! And hopefully back to normal.
Obviously, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein needs no introduction. It is read every year by perhaps millions of kids all over the globe (or it’s supposed to be…we all know teenagers don’t love to read the things they’re told to read). This, then, is less of a review and more of my reactions to the text.
In school, I loved studying the Romantics. As bombastic, long-winded, and miserable as they are, I felt at that time that I identified with them. In some ways I still feel that way, but it is mostly their regard for nature and their hope for escape from the complicated society of man that I feel. The melodramatic sorrow is something I’ve mostly left behind. Still, I love the Romantics. In the center of this movement exists Gothic literature, and at the center of this–perhaps the most famous work of Gothic literature–is Frankenstein.
The incredible thing is that this enduring work of literature and the infinitely infamous monster therein were created by a teenaged girl as the answer to a challenge by her older husband and friends. For those that do not know the history of the novel, Mary Shelley and her husband Percy visited Lord Byron in Switzerland. One night, Byron proposed a challenge to the poets residing in his home: create a ghost story. For days Mary strained her brain in an attempt to come up with something good enough to compete with the Romantic titans around her. According to Mary herself, she was visited by the specter of the very monster she would proceed to create, and out of that visitation arose one of the greatest stories of all time. It has been adapted for the screen more than any other work of fiction in history. It certainly makes one reflect on our present society. It was written by a teenager, and most teenagers now can’t even read it.
The text itself is beautiful, and utterly different from what most people think they know of it. There is not much of a description of the monster himself, and what does exist is nothing like the public’s common conception of him. He is large, yes, and ugly. But he is extremely smart, well-spoken, and very fast. He possesses super-human strength, but his massive size seems to reflect the massive heart within him, capable of great love, or of great sorrow and hatred. Sadly, it is this last emotion that he settles upon in the end, after his creator has rejected and betrayed him. Events do not move swiftly and the novel is not packed with action. As with any good work of Romantic literature, it is mostly self-reflection, thoughts on the great beauty of the surrounding landscape or the nature of man and beast, or long passages of “woe is me” written in about 14,000 different ways.
So, what’s to like about the novel? After all, it’s full of sorrow and tragedy and wrath and destruction. To start, language. Call me a nerd (I’m totally ok with that), but nothing really gets to me like beautiful, elevated language. In Mary Shelley’s time, people spoke and wrote in a way that is elegant and thoughtful. There is a lot of vocabulary in the book that was unknown to me, and I like to think I have a somewhat expanded vocabulary. Both Frankenstein and his monster are bombastic and loquacious. The monster tells a story that lasts for several chapters. Though it could have been shortened drastically, the language is so mesmerizing in its eloquence that one hardly notices the passing of the pages.
Frankenstein’s story, similar to those of the infamous Doctor Faustus or Lord Byron’s Manfred, tells of a man who seeks knowledge far above what man is entitled to know of the universe. He seeks to create human life, but the unnamed forces of nature do not seem to appreciate this, nor does Frankenstein truly understand how to do so, and his experiment goes horribly wrong. As with other Gothic heroes, Frankenstein is extremely melodramatic. It is possible for him to solve his own problem in one of several ways, but he must choose to focus on something other than how horrible is the abomination he has created. Sadly, he cannot move past the hideousness of the creature and the things it does when it is hurt and lonely. He loses everything and everyone he loves due to his single-mindedness, and the creature pulls Frankenstein down to the creature’s own level: completely alone and devoid of happiness. Frankenstein is punished for his arrogance and ambition by powers much greater than himself. It is this epic human struggle, so common throughout this literary movement, that I find so emotional and compelling. Having never seen any of the numerous Frankenstein adaptations, I had virtually no concept of what the story contained (excepting the obvious). It was extremely intense and stressful for me to read this book, as I knew that nothing good could happen, but I couldn’t help but hope anyway!
I loved this book. The fact that a girl so young could write such an enduring and tempestuous work–one that caused numerous powerful emotions to arise within me–is incredible, and I admire young Mary Shelley greatly for her brilliant work. It is so unbelievably beautiful.