Monday, 17 October 2011

Revisiting Books: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I read Frankenstein for the Classics Circuit's Gothic Literature Tour, as well as part of the R.I.P VI Challenge- if that's not killing two birds with one stone, I don't know what is! Here are my thoughts about it:


One thing I want to make extremely clear from the beginning is the fact that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster. I'm hoping that this is something that we all know, but the number of times I've had to explain this in my life doesn't even bear thinking about. I mean, google don't even know the difference- an image search for Frankenstein comes up with a whole load of pictures of Boris Karloff's face (as the monster, not in general). So yeah, Frankenstein= the scientist, the monster is just the monster. All clear?

Mind you, it is a detriment to Frankenstein's character that he didn't even bother to give his creation (the 'monster') a name, and just left him to be doomed to be labelled as such. In fact, rather than being scared of the 'monster' I found myself more feeling sorry for him than anything, and kind of thinking that Frankenstein sort of deserved to have these bad things happen to him, because let's face it- he created a creepy looking dude, with perceptions and feelings, and yet no language, and then just abandoned him because... he was unattractive? I mean really, who is the real monster here?

Poor old Frankenstein then has to make his way around the world by himself, figuring out how on earth things work, and trying to find some kind of human decency so that he can be a functioning member of society. Instead, all he finds is horror, and threats, and terror, just because of the way he looks. This book confirms everything you ever believed about the shallowness of human beings, and in the end you really have to sympathise with the 'monster' because it's hardly his fault that he's turned out that way- cast out by his maker, shunned by society even though he tries to be good, there's not much for him to do other than become a murderer, which he of course does (although I definitely wished he had actually been innocent, he really does become a murderer- but who can blame him!)

On the flip side of my sympathy for the 'monster' is my disgust for Frankenstein, who is perhaps the most irresponsible character in all of fiction. Seriously- that whole creating a sentient being and then being disgusted by his face (which YOU created! God, Frankenstein!) and then spending the next hundred or so pages whinging because said 'monster' is, quite justifiably angry at you?! He's a poor excuse for a human being, and his continual deliriums are kind of embarrassing after a while. Towards the end of the book, someone says to the 'monster':
"'it is well you come here to whine over the desolation that you have made. You throw a torch into a pile of buildings; and when they are consumed you sit among the ruins and lament the fall. Hypocritical fiend!'"
The exact same thing can be said about Frankenstein himself, and no matter how much he blames himself for what happens during the course of the story, it is never enough because it is all his fault- not for creating the 'monster' in the first place, but for failing to nurture him so he didn't turn out the way he did. I repeat, who here is the real monster?

My interpretation of Frankenstein (the book) is focused in such a way because I have read it before- because I knew of the injustices faced by the poor monster, I was pretty much against Frankenstein (the man) from the beginning. I'm sure that the first time round, I was more taken by how sinister it was, and how freaked out the 'monster's' stalking made me feel, and just the general sense of doom around proceedings. This time around I was more pissed off than anything, and found myself replying to Frankenstein's whining in my head with no-nonsense responses. I guess the moral of this tale is, if you were scared by Frankenstein the first time, the next time you'll just want to kill Frankenstein before anyone else has the opportunity to, and to take the monster into your home and make him feel welcome. At least, you will if you're anything like me...

Fun fact re: the 'monster'- Shelley referred to him as 'Adam', which makes me think that the big bad in the fourth season of Buffy was definitely named after him, especially since he's like a Frankenstein-ian creation of all these different demons... good to know, I think!

15 comments:

  1. I read Frankenstein last month, as a part of the R.I.P. Challenge too, and I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. Just like you I ended up pitying Frankenstein's monster more than being scared of him. But, the monster's story was actually the only thing I really liked in the book (that and the captain's letters to his sister telling her the whole story) I despised the character of Victor Frankenstein so much that I just couldn't get involved in all of his endlessly self-centered monologues!

    I like the fun fact; it never occurred to me when I watched Buffy because I hadn't read Frankenstein back then. It makes perfect sense now!!

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  2. I loved Frankenstein when I read it and am continually amused by the disconnect between the ideas expressed in the book and the treatment of the monster on film. I agree that Victor is the true villain of the piece.

    I wonder whether Shelley's reference to "Adam" was some kind of ironic reference to Adam, the first man.

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  3. I read this so long ago but I remember liking it. I must re-read it to see if I feel the same way now.

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  4. @Priya- I know, the monster is much more interesting in just a story telling way than stupid Victor- ugh!

    @Falaise- I think you're definitely right about the whole Adam thing- I really hope that's why she referred to him as Adam now!

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  5. It's been a few years since I've read this but like you, I remember being constantly annoyed with Victor Frankenstein. I mean, he reanimates a being made of various corpse pieces, and then gets freaked out when the creature looks like he's made of decaying body parts? The creature is just so pitiable and lonely, how can you not feel bad for him?

    Also I agree with Falaise that Adam = reference to first man.

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  6. Great review! I've studied Frankenstein in Uni more than a normal person should (I had an obsessed prof.) It's such a great book and the history of when and how it was written is really interesting too.

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  7. I love this book so much. It is one of my favorites. I completely agree with you that everything that happens in the story is Victor Frankenstein's fault and a result of his being an irresponsible, self centered ass. But that didn't stop me from enjoying the book :)

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  8. I do agree that a lot of the fault lies with Frankenstein. I did like the book though.

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  9. It's a long time since I read Frankenstein, but I recall that my sympathies fell exactly as yours did.

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  10. Oh I am with you! I think it is absolutely ridiculous that Frankenstein is so abhorrent of his monster when he designed the creature himself! He was looking at the face while he was enraptured over the process of creating it, so why the sudden horror when it opened its eyes? I was disgusted by the way the sailor person in the frame story considered Frankenstein one of the best men that he had ever known and longed to be close friends with him when everything he had done was so despicable. Bah. I am covering this book for classics circuit tomorrow, so I guess I should cut short my rantings and save it for my post.

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  11. I posted about this for the Classics Circuit as well. I loved Shelley's writing - so simple and beautiful. I was captivated by every page. I think this may end up being one of my favorite books of 2011 and I definitely plan on rereading it at some point.

    I didn't focus on Victor so much in my commentary but I definitely agree with you on his abhorrence.

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  12. I read someone else's review of Frankestein a few months ago, and they said the same thing. However, I doubt I ever really want to read this one. I couldn't stand whining through the novel...I'd just get frustrated!

    Nice review, btw. Very emotional...:D

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  13. It's been a while since I read this, but I remember being frustrated because Frankenstein made so many unbelievably stupid decisions. That aspect of it was more unbelievable to me than a "monster" walking around. I felt like the story depended too much on his stupidity? I don't know-I wish I could remember the details.

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  14. I had to laugh when you referred to the countless times one must explain that Frankenstein means the doctor. Oh yes. I also liked the single word you chose to sum up his character: irresponsible. Many times the focus stays with his pride or his usurping the prerogative of the creator, when the practical effect--the monster's hapless suffering--results from the doctor's very irresponsible choice and his total lack of follow-up! One critic I read said that Dr. Frankenstein must be the most neglectful parent in literature.

    Thanks, and good luck with your multiple reading challenges!

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  15. I've only read this once, but you pretty much sum up my feelings towards the characters. I spent pretty much the entire novel being annoyed at Victor for his naivete/irresponsibility. I've seen so many posts on this novel that have only talked about how much the blogger loves it, that I'm kind of relieved I'm not the only one who saw the characters the way I did! (Stopping by thanks to Classics Circuit!)

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