Monday, January 12, 2015

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

I've been powering through Classics Club books recently, and am now sitting pretty three books ahead of schedule. High five, self.

This is the fifteenth book that I've read for Classics Club, and is probably the book I've been the most surprised by. I thought I was fairly familiar with the story of Frankenstein thanks to Hollywood - the mad scientist, the limping assistant, the lightning, the "IT'S ALIIIIIIIIVE!", the monster made up of dead dudes with bolts through its neck.

What I got featured precisely none of that. I wouldn't even remotely classify it as a horror story, though it's certainly gothic.

It's the story of a young man who goes off to university and finds himself with an interest in alchemy and anatomy. He sets out to build a living being to prove to himself that he can do it. He does it alone - no assistant, limping or otherwise - and is terrified of the result. Yes, Frankenstein's monster - referred to only as the daemon - runs around killing people, but at the end of the day, he just wants to be accepted, to have someone care about him.

The daemon's not the lurching, groaning monster that Hollywood has offered us time and time again. He's an intelligent being, capable of philosophical thought. In many ways, he's like the puppy or small child who just wants the attention of its master/parent and doesn't get it. And so he acts up in a way that's guaranteed to get Frankenstein's attention, killing those that his creator cares about most. It's never really out of evil or malice, it's the daemon's skewed interpretation of justice, the product of a life of neglect and loathing.

In many ways, it's Frankenstein who's the antagonist of the story - he flees from his creation, leaving him to discover the world for himself. He promises to build the daemon a mate, someone to love and see the world with, then spends months avoiding the task. And when he eventually DOES try to follow through, he becomes horrified with himself and destroys the project before completion, sending the daemon into a spiral of despair, seeking revenge on his creator.

It's a surprisingly short and readable book, one that makes Frankenstein out time and time again to be kind of a big bag of dicks for not facing his actions head on. It's a story within a story within a story - we get the letters of the Arctic explorer, Robert Walton, who's writing to his sister back in England with details of the expedition. Along the way, they come across Victor Frankenstein, and Walton writes down the story, as conveyed to him by Frankenstein. And then Frankenstein tells Walton the daemon's story as told to him by the daemon, adding an additional layer. So the story is effectively in five parts: Walton - Frankenstein - Daemon - Frankenstein - Walton. And it worked surprisingly well.

Honestly, my only gripe with it is that there were a few times when it felt nonsensically infodump-y. Frankenstein narrates that he received a letter from his adoptive sister/future fiancee (which, eeeeeeuw) informing him of how things are at home. As part of this letter, Elizabeth is all "Oh, hey, remember this girl who's been a servant in your father's house for literally your entire life? Well because the reader has no idea who she is, I'mma give you her full back story in this letter, even though you've known her for 15 years. Okay? Cool." It would have made far more sense to have an aside from Frankenstein detailing Justine's history than have Elizabeth telling him what he already knew.

On the whole, it was a surprising and enjoyable read, and I'm a little surprised I waited this long to pick it up!

Have you read it? If not, are you surprised to learn that it's not what Hollywood's spent 100 years mangling it into?

K xx


  1. I read this in college for a class and I loved it! Definitely not the story people think it is.

  2. I haven't read it, I am woefully under-read as far as classic go, so maybe I should set myself some reading goals this year. Thanks for the recap!

  3. I don't understand why Hollywood would go and make such an incredibly mangled version of the story over and over again. It makes no sense!

  4. This one was a pretty easy classic to read, because it's only 85,000 words, so about 150 pages!


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