For several years, I avoided reading FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelly because the name had been caught up in endless clichés and had been inextricably linked with the horror genre, which I consider a bad form of fiction. However, being obsessed on reading more Gothic Fiction and the author herself I decided to give it a read and I confess that I am sorry I have waited for this long.
The story behind the writing this great piece of Gothic Fiction is as animate as the book itself. In 1816, at Lord Byron’s villa on shores of Lake Geneva, Lord Byron himself and his guests Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and John Polidori. Byron, inspired by some fireside readings of supernatural tales, suggested that each member of the party should write a ghost story to pass the time. The incident is well described by the author herself in the Author’s Introduction to the book:
“We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron, and his proposition was acceded to. There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole—what to see I forget:
They wanted to reanimate a corpse through their words. And the outcome was the creation of some outstanding works: Mazeppa by Byron, Vampyre by Polidori and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. She was only nineteen when she wrote Frankenstein that some claim as the beginnings of science fiction and others as a masterpiece of horror and ghoulish. But after reading it, I felt, that it is both more and less an important ancestor of the aforementioned labels.
Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
As the story goes on I felt both for the creator of the monster and the monster itself. The creator stands right in his place in urge to create something the mankind has never seen, exhibiting his power through science but ends up corrupting his own destiny. On the other the hand, the so-called monster which by the end of the story, appeared to me more of a miserable murderer than of a monster, created without his own will and having none guidance, and abandoned being sent on the path of complete solitude. Imagine yourself in this creature’s shoes, how will you feel? Devastated for sure.
From Victor’s point of view, the monster is nothing but a hideous and evil creature; from the monster’s account, on the other hand, it becomes clear that he is a thinking, feeling, emotional being. The recounting of the murder of William Frankenstein is a prime example of the impact of perspective: while Victor’s description, colored by the emotional letter from his father, focuses on the absolute evil of the act, the monster’s version of events centers on the emotional circumstances surrounding it. Even if one cannot sympathize with the monster, one can at least understand his actions. This kind of dual narration is one of the more interesting consequences of the complicated narrative structure that Shelley implements.
Frankenstein is an exceptionally complex novel, not because it is hard to read, even though it is written in early nineteenth century, I felt it is quite plain in words. But the complexity arises if you sit and think about the questions this novel emphasize on, such as, about the very nature of life and the responsibility of mankind towards each and everything a man is surrounded by and his actions whether it is for another man or a little tampering with the Nature itself. One important point I found on reading is that this book is a great example of how the society has not changed much in the past two centuries.
5 out of 5!