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Mirkat Always Reading

I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.

Currently reading

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (Audio)
Robert I. Sutton
The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy
Jennifer McCartney


Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for just about ever.  What inspired me to finally get to it was that it was chosen as the "October" read in the "Classics Corner" discussion area of the Albany Public Library Goodreads group.


When I was teaching first-year English during my time as a graduate teaching fellow, I recall that some of my compatriots assigned Frankenstein to their comp students.  I'm reminded of the joke, "Have I read it?  No, I haven't even taught it!"  But I never assigned it, and if I had, I definitely would have read it.  I'm only mentioning this because I remember reading some parts of student papers on the book (in our teaching practicums) and noting how very different the novel must be from the famous movie featuring Boris Karloff as Dr. Frankenstein's monster.  I understand that the version starring Robert DeNiro was much closer to its source material, but I never saw it, and will note that whoever cast DeNiro ignored the bit about the creature being over eight feet tall.


Another interesting contrast between the novel and the "Karloff" film is that Shelley's narrative glosses over how exactly Victor Frankenstein obtains the "materials" for his creature and how he animates the body.  There are no scenes of grave-robbing or harnessing electricity during a thunderstorm.  Toward the end, Frankenstein refuses to divulge his methods, under the auspices of preventing anyone from replicating his unhappy results.



Poor Creature.  All he did was get made and, through no fault of his own, have an appearance that everyone finds hideous and terrifying.  His own maker, Victor Frankenstein, recoils in horror at the first sight of him, and runs away, wishing he could just hit a big "undo" button. And why did Frankenstein create this new being?  He pretty much did it because he could.  He'd studied alchemy, philosophy, and science, and conducted experiments where he'd reanimated dead tissue.  Ooh, the power!  Making a man was just his next logical step in "Look what I can do!"


When Frankie returns from flouncing off, he finds that his hated creation is gone.  Phew, good riddance, as far as he's concerned.  He goes about his business until his little brother turns up dead.  The creature did it, but he framed a beloved family domestic, Justine, ultimately leading to her execution.


When Victor and his creature meet again, the creature relates everything that has befallen him since his maker rejected him.  He figured out how to feed and shelter himself, hiding out in a shack on the property of the DeLaceys, a French family (blind father and adult son and daughter) exiled in Germany after attempting to help a Turkish prisoner in Paris and being unfairly implicated in his escape.  The creature learns the language by listening to their conversations and to lessons that they give to the daughter of the Turkish prisoner they'd tried to help (she is in love with the son).  He becomes very attached to the family and secretly helps them by doing tasks such as gathering wood and harvesting food while they sleep at night.


He hopes against hope that he can gain the friendship of the blind father while the others are out (without the usual visual reaction, he hopes to tell his story and gain an ally).  Unfortunately, the others return while he is still explaining himself, and they have the usual reactions to his shocking appearance.  He hopes to have another chance, but the entire family clears out, breaking their lease to cut loose as fast as possible.  In a rage, the creature burns the place down before taking leave himself.


His plea to his creator is that he make a female companion for him, of his own species.  He promises that he and his mate would live separate from humanity, in a remote, unpopulated region of South America.  Initially, Victor agrees (though he then spends many pages procrastinating).  Eventually, he gets busy and assembles a girl creature, but before he completes her and animates her, he catches a glmpse of the creature watching through the window.  Victor decides that the smile on the creature's face is malevolent, and he destroys the not-quite-completed girl-monster.  Thing One lets out a howl of anguish and runs away.  Frankenstein justifies the destruction to himself by considering that for all he knows, the female monster could reject the male monster and make his rage even worse.  Or maybe she'll reject the agreement that they avoid humans.  Maybe she'd be even stronger and scarier than the first creation.  Maybe they'd get along swimmingly and reproduce!


The monster's next act of revenge is to kill Frankenstein's good friend Henry Clerval.  Initially, Frankenstein stands accused of the murder, but eventually he is cleared.  In his next confrontation with his creation, the monster vows to be there on his wedding night.  Frankenstein interprets this to mean that his creation plans to kill him, and seeing that as the only way to end things, he hastens to marry Elizabeth (who, while not related by blood, has been raised with him as a near-sibling, and as an aside, I really hate novels that do this--whether it's marriage between erstwhile sibs or Watch and Ward situations, where children grow up to marry a guardian).  So of course, what he really means is that he will kill poor Elizabeth, and of course he does.


Feeling he has nothing left to lose, Victor's last wish is to extinguish his creation, no matter what it takes.  He pursues him to ice floes off the cost of Russia, and that is where the book's ostensible narrator, Robert Walton, finds him and learns the story that he relates to his sister through his letters.  Frankenstein hopes to enlist the help of Walton and his crew in his quest for revenge but soon dies  Shortly before doing so, he acknowledges that he'd had a responsibility to the creature he'd created and abandoned.  The creature appears at his maker's deathbed and vows to end himself in a funeral pyre.


Curiously, my husband and I were talking recently about how arbitrary one's physical appearance is.  Outside of plastic surgery, we don't choose our faces, and yet one's looks do affect the way one is treated.  People do recoil from a very deformed appearance.  Beautiful people do get treated well (at least initially--if they are nasty, they lose their good-treatment pass).  It's not the creature's fault that he looks that way he does.  And once Victor created him, Victor had a responsibility toward him--one that he immediately bailed on.  It occurs to me that regardless of the creature's looks, Victor really never had a plan as to what he'd do with his creature once he succeeded in animating him.  How exactly was he going to explain his unconventionally conceived offspring?


The phrase that stayed in the back of my mind during all of the monster's scenes was "I never asked to be born."  Just about every child at some point says this to a parent, and it seems to apply to this unfortunate creature a thousand-fold.  In the course of his self-study, the unnamed monster reads Milton's Paradise Lost and draws parallels between Victor and God; between himself and Adam.  Ultimately, he identifies more with the loathed and maligned Satan.  However, I kept coming back to the idea of a child abandoned by a parent who suddenly decides to back out of parenthood.  Victor Frankenstein is a sci-fi prom mom.


The characters I pity the most are those that the monster kills in order to punish Victor--they didn't do anything to deserve that, and the monster himself expresses remorse for the murders in his final speech.  When he killed them, it felt as though he was treating them like objects he could take away from his avowed enemy Victor, instead of full-fledged beings with their own rights.  But I couldn't help coming back to the idea that he never would have done those things if his creator hadn't thrown up his arms, screamed, and run away the moment the creation breathed his first breaths.

(show spoiler)


Frankenstein is a thought-provoking read, and I highly recommend it.  Surely Mary Wollstonecraft won the ghost-story contest between her, Percy Byssche Shelley, and Lord Byron when she came up with this.