Hollywood really did Mary Shelley dirty on this one.
Whenever people talk about Frankenstein they usually say something along the lines of, “It’s not what you think it’s about!! I swear!!”, but like…it’s really not what you think it’s about, I swear.
What I’d envisioned was a giant green man with bolts in his neck and a professor going ‘mwhahaha’ for fifty pages. What you actually get is a chaotic, romantic novel that is dark, compelling and actually really, really sad.
Discovering a love for natural science, Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life itself. He sources his materials from graves and morgues, assembling and dismembering until, at last, his grotesque experiment succeeds. Horrified by his creation, Frankenstein escapes back to his native Switzerland. But close behind him, the monster follows…
“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
Frankenstein has all the juicy bits you could ever wish for in gothic fiction; alchemy; dead bodies all over the place; emotional distress; rain. Shelley wrote this aged 18 while on a holiday with her boyfriend Percy Shelley and Lord Byron (imagine) when they dared each other to write the scariest ghost stories they could think up. And for all you romantics out there, there’s a few Coleridge-shaped Easter eggs scattered throughout the novel which should keep you entertained. I have to say, though, this is by no means a scary story. Not even close. It’s just kind of creepy.
You have to feel bad for Mary Shelly – Hollywood has hijacked her gothic masterpiece and made into a tragic, campy Halloween motif. This novel is much more than a ghost story; there’s lots of letters going back and forth; a subtly homoerotic subplot on a boat where the captain describes Dr Frankenstein’s eyes as ‘lustrous’ (oi oi); and the monster plot itself is told by the weary professor as an anecdote on his death bed. One of the things that stands out most to me, though, is the moody, misty setting. At one point, the imposing Swiss mountains seem to surround and even engulf Frankenstein entirely as he comes face to face with the monster, mirroring the scientist’s own sense of entrapment. Oooooh, symbolism.
“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
The character of the monster is probably the highlight of the novel for me. A far cry from the green giant, this creature is clever, sympathetic and like any other human being, he desperately wants to belong. Although Frankenstein gives him ‘life’, it’s a half-life; he denies him humanity, leaving him nameless (Curley’s wife, anyone?) and unable to form connections with those around him.
But I mean, did I actually, truly enjoy this book? No.
Not gonna lie, it’s weirdly boring? Aside from the animated corpse, I was bored out my mind. Like every novel from the 18th and 19th century, each tree, gust of wind, hill, pebble is described in minute detail. I, for one, can’t deal with this. I won’t go on about not liking classics for the millionth time but as a rule, I’m a lazy reader and I want writers to get to the point ASAP. Don’t let this influence your own take on Frankenstein, however, this is definitely just me being a brat.
Frankenstein gets three stars and all three are for Mary Shelley for writing this at 18. What was I doing at 18? Projectile vomiting on the bar of the Uplands Tavern.