1st PUBLISHED: 1818
GENRE: Gothic Horror Fiction
In the summer of 1816, a young, well-educated woman from England traveled with her lover to the Swiss Alps. Unseasonable rain kept them trapped inside their lodgings, where they entertained themselves by reading ghost stories. At the urging of renowned poet Lord Byron, a friend and neighbor, they set their own pens to paper, competing to see who could write the best ghost story. The young woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (yes, she shared her name with her mother- the celebrated feminist), took the prize, having composed a story creepy enough not only to take its place alongside the old German tales that she and her Alpine companions had been reading, but also to become a bestseller in her time and a Gothic classic that still resonates with readers almost two centuries later.
Mary Shelley made an anonymous but powerful debut into the world of literature when Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was published in March, 1818. She was only nineteen when she began writing her story. She and her future husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, were visiting poet Lord Byron at Lake Geneva in Switzerland when Byron challenged each of his guests to write a ghost story. Settled around Byron's fireplace in June 1816, the intimate group of intellectuals had their imaginations and the stormy weather as the stimulus and inspiration for ghoulish visions.
A few nights later Mary Shelley imagined the "hideous phantasm of man" who became the confused yet deeply sensitive creature in Frankenstein. She once said, "My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings." While many stage, television, and film adaptations of Frankenstein have simplified the complexity of the intellectual and emotional responses of Victor Frankenstein and his creature to their world, the novel still endures. Its lasting power can be seen in the range of reactions explored by various literary critics and over ninety dramatizations.
“Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. 'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemlance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.” - The Monster
Imagine loving the 'villain' more than the hero. Here's one book that's bound to make you do that. Reading Frankenstein was an interesting experience; an epistolary novel which has a story within a story within the larger picture, it keeps your attention hooked on it.
Victor Frankenstein is an ambitious man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Here we see a Faust- like desire to transgress human limitations by discovering the secret of Creation- he decides to 'create' another being. Interestingly, the scientist refuses to reveal the secret of his 'success'. The reader is never told exactly what goes into giving life to the Creature, except that it is made up of dead body parts.
[Why someone would think something beautiful would emerge from dead body parts, I fail to understand. I apologize if I sound resentful, but I never really forgave Frankenstein for being horrified by the Creature's looks- I mean, didn't it scare him before it opened it's eyes?]
So the Creator gets terrified by his Creation [which explains why you should never think you're God unless you can show people the same level of compassion]. There is a widely accepted notion that Victor was apparently punished for trying to create a new being without a woman's involvement. Whether or not it's true, one cannot deny that Frankenstein was definitely lacking in the 'nurturing' department.
In spite of my complaints against Victor- who should at least have been the one person who accepts the monster since he was the moron who created him- I cannot possibly ignore the pity I felt for him when he was tormented by his own guilt and fears.
It is true that we, as readers, get a peek into the minds of the characters so we understand them better than they understand each other. Therefore, on one hand we realize that all the Monster wants is love and acceptance- that he would keep to himself if he is given a companion who would not reject him because of his hideous features (yes, that's what it all comes down to- accepting people for who they are and not what they look like)- and on another level, we also relate to Victor's fear that the female monster might not turn out to be as kind as the Creature used to be before society spurned him for no fault of his.
Surprisingly, while it's a tale of revenge and pain, betrayal and guilt, the picturesque beauty of the surroundings that are described, the depth of romantic and filial love that has been explored and the sheer innocence and pure compassion within the 'monster', all have a staggering impact on the reader.
It is a dark tale, no doubt. And the sad ending is definitely heart wrenching. However, the little moments of optimism and happiness make this a wholesome story, that has everything from drama to suspense to adventure.
RATING: 4 on 5