“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, collected the instruments of life around me that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)
What a masterpiece! I have been meaning to read Frankenstein for so long and finally I did it. I should have done it ages ago. Now my gothic literature trilogy is done; Dracula, Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (review to come).
Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, the son of a prominent Swiss family who seems to have everything: wealth, youth, family and friends. The novel begins in the bleak North Pole, on a boat trapped in ice with Captain Robert Walton’s crew. Captain Walton finds Victor Frankenstein who is near death and chasing after a monster. While recovering Frankenstein narrates his story to Captain Walton.
Victor Frankenstein starts by telling the reader about his family and origins. He always had a burning desire for knowledge which takes him to Ingolstadt University in Germany and studies science. There his passion leads him to perform a deed as terrible as it is marvellous. He finds the secret of life itself and builds a man, a monster of a man and gives him life. Soon Frankenstein realises what he has done and he is disgusted by his creation. He thinks of it as an abomination, rejects him, runs and hides from it.
The monster is never given a name. He is referred to as the monster throughout the novel and Frankenstein calls him everything from demon to ogre to wretch. Shelley’s depiction of the creature is marvellous. She could have made him look like a zombie-like monster or a terrifying creature, ’alien-looking’, but she presented him with a brilliant mind and a heart, a complicated heart but still a heart. All the monster wants is love, acceptance and to be understood. He exclaims to his creator ”I am not a monster. I have feelings just like you”. The agony he feels comes across so real that you cannot help but feel sorry for the monster and hate Frankenstein for what he has done. I am going to admit that I for one feel sorry and pity for the monster and I can see where he is coming from. I do not like Victor Frankenstein one bit. He is arrogant, self-righteous and selfish. The monster is more sympathetic than his creator. All he wants is acceptance and love.
The fact that the monster is more likeable or more sympathetic than Frankenstein is one of the reasons that make this novel so great. It is not a horror story; it is a tragedy, a sad story. It explores the emotions that one who is rejected goes through and the actions that result from that rejection. The novel appears simple; scientist creates monster, monster goes on rapid murderous spree, scientist tries to stop it. However, by the end of the book the reader realises it is not that simple and is left wondering who was really evil. It is a serious story that shows the implications of science, of the consequences of someone playing god.
The book is written as a series of narratives in the first person. One of the narratives is the monster’s perspective. In the middle of the book, the monster takes over detailing his first steps into the world and the terror he stirs in people. It is daring of Mary Shelley to do this, but by doing this she is giving the monster a human side. The monster having been rejected by his creator and by the world flees. He is ‘born’ into a frightening and hostile world that immediately banishes him from everyone. Even his creator, who he sees as a father, rejects him and is scared of him. The monster, alone, flees and lives in a forest nearby a cottage. There he observes the family (that live there) and through them learns the way of man; reading, writing, speaking amongst other skills. One day he feels brave enough to present himself to the family hoping for acceptance. He does not get it and from that the real monster emerges. First, he is sad, then, he is enraged. The real monster is created by the hatred and frivolity of other humans. Banished and angry with humanity, the monster seeks revenge. He who has not done anything is called a monster and is feared because he is different. The monster falls victim to humanity’s prejudice and cruelty. His innocence has been corrupted by man and becomes the monster everyone thinks him to be.
It can be said that the story would have been different if people were less judgmental, a little less scared and more understanding. But then we would not have Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. How was Frankenstein created? Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 18 years old. One evening, she along with Lord Byron, her husband and poet Percy Shelley and John Polidori, while staying in a cottage near Geneva, decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Mary Shelley wanting to prove her worth to Lord Byron spent nights thinking of a story. Eventually she came up with Frankenstein, creating a masterpiece and introducing to the literary world the most important monster that will haunt us until today. Definitely give it a read. It will be worth it. Trust me.
”I am not a monster. I have feelings just like you” (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)