My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I reread Frankenstein for the first time as an adult. I was struck by several things. For one, after all the stink lately about women shouldn't be writing SF/Fantasy/Horror, it becomes even more ridiculous when you realize that Frankenstein is one of the earliest novels in the SF/horror genre and it was written by a woman two hundred years ago this year. I was also struck by the education Mary Shelley had. I was aware, of course, that she was wealthy and educated it shows clearly in this. She had a good working knowledge of chemistry and alchemy. I know one story about the origin of the story (beyond the dare) was that she had seen exhibitions of the galvanic response and it disturbed her. I was also surprised at how modern the language felt. Yes there were more flowery passages than we'd use now and phrases/words we don't use any more but still, it didn't feel as old as it was.
Now if all you know about Frankenstein is the movies, well, what can I say about that? Consider it transfigurative, pure fan fic. There is no stormy night and lightning giving birth to the monster, no villagers charging the castle with pitchforks, no abnormal brain, no grunting, dumb monster, no Igor.
The novel has an epistolary frame, with the letters of an aortic explorer to his sister as he describes what's happening to his ice locked ship (knowing the letters may never be sent). They find, to their surprise, an exhausted sick man stumbles upon them and they save his life. The man is Frankenstein and he relates his tale.
Frankenstein comes from a wealthy family and is well educated. He's significantly older than his brothers and has an adopted sister, Elizabeth whom he loves. His close friend is Henry Clerval. He had a good childhood and he was sent away from Elizabeth and Henry to be educated. He falls in love with chemistry and alchemy, studying the works of Von Hohenheim and others. He becomes fascinated with chimeras, philosopher's stones and the elixir of life.
Very early on in the novel he uses chemistry/alchemy to create his monster who is gigantic, fast, strong and hideous. His actual deformities aren't described and neither really is how he is made but the monster is basically a chimera. He's instantly remorseful about what he's done and abandons the monster. He falls into a 'nervous fever' (mental break down?) and it breaks when Henry visits. Joy isn't long for Frankenstein as his kid brother is murdered.
He returns to Geneva with Henry, convinced that the killer is the monster but someone close to Elizabeth pays the price for the killing. Soon the monster introduces himself to Frankenstein and at least a third of the book is the monster talking about everything that happened to him since he ran off. The monster taught himself language by observing peasants. He had one family he helped in secret only to be turned on once they saw what he looked like.
The monster swings between malevolent and sympathetic as he wants to fit in, he never asked to be made, and angry that he's been made to suffer. He makes Frankenstein an offer, make him a female companion and they'll go to the wilds of South America and never contact humanity again. If Frankenstein doesn't do it, he'll suffer, including a threat of the monster 'visiting Elizabeth on her wedding night.'
Frankenstein naturally doesn't want to do this. He delays and leaves for England and finally the Orkneys where he does build the female monster. He then wonders what if she doesn't love the monster, what if she wants humanity and won't go into the wilds. Frankenstein's choice kicks off a whirlwind of horror and death finally leading him into the cold lands after the monster.
It's a classic well worth the reading. It's not as action packed as you might think, more a talky morality play. I'm glad I reread it.
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