Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus
© 1818 Mary Shelley
288 pages

“Shall I respect man when he contemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness; and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.”
An attempt to reach the North Pole is interrupted by the sight of eerie figures chasing one another upon the ice, and they have a tale of misery to recount.  The man rescued by the ship, Victor Frankenstein,  was an enthusiast of natural philosophy, and specifically the the power to create life.    Captain Walton of the polar exploration vessel had been yearning for the friendship of someone who wanted to probe nature’s darkest mysteries, but Frankenstein’s story proved to be one of warning rather than encouragement.  After relating his early fascination with occult figures and scientists alike, Frankenstein describes the horror he experienced when he succeeded in actually bringing a cobbled-together man to life, and how it pursued him across Europe, driven by despair and wrath at having been created.  The monster himself also appears in the story, both through Frankenstein’s recollection — the two have a confrontation in which the monster recounts his pitiful life thus far and charges Frankenstein with giving him a companion that he can flee into exile with — and aboard the ship as the last, before he disappears in a wintry haze. 
I read Frankenstein in one sitting, which I hadn’t expected to do.  The monsters of Halloween have never had a great appeal for me, so most of this — besides the scientist making a man —  was completely new.  This Norton critical edition proved highly readable,  supported with annotations to explain period-specific references or vocabulary which now borders on archaic. There’s no getting around this book being a warning about the reckless pursuit of knowledge at any cost;  beyond Frankenstein’s attempt at creating life, which only resulted in a string of bloody murders and the destruction of both creature and creation,   there’s also the frequently-mentioned destruction of native American societies, specifically Mexico and Peru, as a result of enthusiastic exploration.  Captain Walton himself proves to be someone who can learn from other’s mistakes, as — faced with hostile polar conditions that threaten his ship and crew — he retreats to England.  There were certainly surprises here, like the description of the creature as “beautiful” — save for his eyes. (I wonder if, given that eyes were regarded as windows to the soul, if repulsive eyes hinted at the beast’s depravity or brutishness.)    
This Norton critical edition is particularly helpful in understanding the book. While I only read the story proper,  it also contains a short essay on different versions of the story — one edit implies the monster dies, another leaves his future shrouded in a storm — as well as period responses and related poetry. 

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
This entry was posted in Reviews, science fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Frankenstein

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    Great review. Despite its popularity I thought thaf this was an incredibly powerful book with the creature’s depravity being very effective. Fascinating observations about the creature’s eyes.,

  2. mudpuddle says:

    Mrs. M has a theory that people are grouped into animal heritages… some are fox-like, others like elephants, some like wolves… she characterizes most politicians in the latter grouping… it's impressive that you read this in one go… if it's that absorbing i must read it: tx for a terrific post!

  3. CyberKitten says:

    You obviously enjoyed it then! I thought it was an excellent read. Not what I was expecting at all – despite knowing something about it beyond the Hollywood version.How's Hurricane Michael? Hitting/expecting to hit anyway near you?

  4. Stephen says:

    We were concerned about it a few days ago when its tracking was less certain, but it veered to the east and has virtually no impact in my neck of the woods. It's overcast with light rain now and again, but nothing to take note of. I'm sure it's MUCH different along the gulf coast given that it almost hit as a category 5. Some of the footage I've seen from Panama City has been wild — massive dumpsters (I think you call them 'skips' across the pond) thrown across streets by wind, that sort of thing. The storm looks to be moving into Georgia now, so all I'll see is a little more rain at most.

  5. Stephen says:

    I began reading it while cooking lunch for the next day, and then just had to finish it.I don't know if politicians are wolves…maybe coyotes.

  6. Marian H says:

    Hmmm, so is the Norton edition based on the 1831 or the 1818 version? I read the 1818 one; I wonder if the later revision would've been better.Glad to hear Michael isn't too close… stay safe!

  7. Stephen says:

    Based on the ending, I think it's the 1818 original — there's a note in the back on the differences between sections. According to the note, Shelley's original used more unornamented language, while the later edition tried to made it more…florid. The endings also vary one the monster is lost to the storm, and in the other the narrator only loses SIGHT of him.

  8. Pingback: Classics Club Run I: Final List | Reading Freely

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s