Mary Shelley – FrankensteinApril 19th, 2010 by James Staynings
(WARNING: I’ve just finished writing two essays, so if my writing style is seems long-winded, pretentious, pompous, and rather wordy, then I’ve finally become what I feared most!)
What makes a good book for me, (but not necessarily according to the official cannon) centres on the general pretence of the book’s idea – which should aim to capture the imagination. Also, writing which should not only keep you hooked, but make you think and feel. These are things which Frankenstein does, but there are some issues within the text which partially spoiled my enjoyment of it.
Frankenstein’s greatest attribute is, for me, its idea. Man creates life and then resents life but must deal with the consequences. It’s a topic that we still discuss with the consequences of stem cell research bringing us closer to stalling and even stopping death, and perhaps taps into something that deep down most men want to do – play God. Perhaps what’s tainted my reading of it (and maybe other generations of readers‘ views) is the pop culture image the monster being chased into a windmill by pitchfork wielding peasants. However, once you get over the fact its not plainly a ‘horror’ novel in the conventional sense, the beauty of the story shone through.
The philosophical story - which I think was intended to be about the limits of human knowledge – today seems more relevant to humanity’s unwillingness to accept and consider what it does not understand. It serves as a universal theme, and although although it is written in such an awkward manner (details to follow), it was still something that made me feel angry (enough to make me clench a fist) as the creature known to Shelley as ‘Adam’ is repeatedly rejected. This first occurs by the kind natured people who he observes, then by a child (whose nature we often think of as being innocent and not judgemental), then finally by his creator Frankenstein. This aspect of the text works well, the monster’s longing for a bride, a partner who he commands Frankenstein to make and who he will leave human society with, is a solid reminder of the human need for companionship and acceptance. You don’t need to be a made of dead bodies and held together by stitches to want that. It’s something identifiable with the creature and shows Frankenstein and the rest of the human race as monsters for a short while, but it’s the characterisation of Frankenstein, and Shelley’s very wooden and bland dialogue which spoil the story’s brilliance.
Frankenstein, in his pursuit of stopping death, learns that to so do we must create life instead, but he lacks conviction, and this deficit of passion with which he describes his work seems like something everyone tries on a boring rainy day. Although it seems that like the author herself, Frankenstein does it because of the death of his mother, the link is only there because Frankenstein tells us about it. Perhaps it’s my macabre lust for violence and death but although the process of creating the monster is ambiguous, it feels as though it was meant to be part of the reason for reading this book in the first place. The lack of information we as readers receive on this aspect of the experiment left me personally feeling rather cheated. The voices throughout the story – whether Franky’s, his creature’s, or Walton’s – always seem the same in mannerism, and this makes it hard to connect with the characters at points.
This has been a difficult book to discuss and my experiences will no doubt will/have differed from yours, but although I finished this book with a bitter taste in my mouth, it’s only now years later I can appreciate what it was for its time. I guess I just felt that Kenneth Braughan 1994 film version had elements of which the book lacked and even now that I can see the book as a classic idea in the sea of literature, I’d still rather watch Robert DeNiro or Boris Karloff on DVD than re-read Shelley’s lackluster writing.