I first read Frankenstein back in October 1994, which meant that I was 15 and to say that it was a mind opener was an understatement. What impressed me at the time was the structure. I never knew an author could fit three perspectives in one slim book. Obviously I liked the plot but I just saw it as a story. Nothing else.
Now 26 years later I have reread it, and if anything I’m more in awe of it.
Although everyone knows the plot, I have to admit that over time it has been distorted by the film adaptations and parodies.:
The begins with a person undertaking a voyage to the north pole via a whaling boat. On his journey he briefly comes across Frankenstein’s monster only to meet Victor Frankenstein trailing after him. Frankenstein then tells the explorer his life story. It is worth noting that the explorer’s tale is in the form of a letter.
Hailing from a middle class family, Frankenstein’s interest in natural science has him creating a living human out of dead bodies. He succeeds only for his creation to run away.
After noticing that his younger brother has been murdered and an innocent friend of the family is executed for it, he confronts the monster who tells HIS tale.
When he ran away he hid in the forest and the monster watched a family, acquiring language, fire, knowledge of wrong and right and the notion of love in the process. He tries to introduce himself to the family and it goes wrong due to the fact that he is frightening. He then believes that his own creation shouldn’t have happened and upon discovering how Frankenstein put him together, He decides to kill everyone connected to Frankenstein until he creates a female equivalent.
We then jump back to Frankenstein’s side of the story. He tries to create a bride but it goes against his moral code ( having broke it previously) and refuses. The monster then kills Frankenstein’s father and wife. Frankenstein thus decides to chase the monster down and kill him thus going as far as the North Pole.
We return to the explorer who finishes the story by taking on Frankenstein , who gets sick and meets the monster again in the ship as both watch him die.
The creation of Shelley’s novel is well known but worth documenting. Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe, Lord Byron and his partner Claire made a bet to write a ghost story. Influenced by a nightmare where she imagined he deceased baby coming to life and her travels to Germany (the book’s setting) Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
Like the myth it is based on. Frankenstein is about how a person should not tamper with things that are beyond morality. What is dead should stay dead. Even the monster himself knew he was an aberration to humanity, hence wanting another monster like himself so that they could live away from society.
From a philosophical point of view there’s also the question of language acquisition. The monster, in the beginning is no more like a feral child but as he starts to acquire language, he becomes a more capable creature. This is further accentuated by a discovery of books which increase his linguistic prowess – in fact his narrative is just as eloquent as Victor Frankenstein’s.
There other themes. How can a monster love? what are the ethical boundaries of science? can one be dead and alive at the same time? are notions such as aesthetics innate or do they have to be acquired?
Another unique feature of the book is that it is a science-fiction book, yet it doubles as Gothic horror at the same time. Whether this was the intention, I don’t know but in it’s own way it is a pioneering book. do not forget that the novel was written in 1818, with a revision in 1830 so it definitely is quite a feat.
As mentioned before one cannot ignore the structure. Frankenstein is an epistolary novel, but in the loosest since there’s the mirror-like plan.
To mind the only other book which manages to pull of a literary trick like this is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Do name others though, for I feel there must be something in-between.
In Jeanette Winterson’s 2019 novel Frankissstein , she places computer programmers (ironically the pioneer of computer programming is Lord Byron’s daughter) as the heirs to Victor Frankenstein. The theory is plausible. Robots are dead beings, made alive through electricity. Programmers want to take creations are far as they can and as a result AI could potentially take over the human race as their algorithms can adapt and evolve. It’s food for thought.
What else can I say about this landmark novel? tons more but already this blog post is lengthy (by my standards) so if you want to add more in the comments go ahead.