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0093 | Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Context: finished this off on the ferry from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos.

The final book of four gothic novels that I’ve been reading over the last few months. For the others, see my reviews of The Castle of Otranto, Vathek and The Monk.

This novel was quite disappointing I found. I don’t really think that Mary Shelley is much of a writer despite her having come up with a great idea for a story. In fact, I’m pretty sure that, had she not had such a famous husband and therefore been so well-connected, this story might never have become more famous than he himself is.

Myth number one: the monster’s name is Frankenstein. No. That’s the name of the scientist who creates the monster. His creation never has a name.

Myth number two: Frankenstein gives his creation life using lightning. In the narrative, Frankenstein refuses to reveal how he creates life because he doesn’t want anyone to make the mistake he has made in doing so.

Myth number three: this is a not a great book. I honestly don’t think I’ve read anything with more potential for a great novel than this book starts out with. Shelley fails miserably to explore all the themes that leap out with the subject matter.

She doesn’t deal with the ethical issues of creating life. She makes no comment on the creator-created relationship and moral responsibilities here. She fails to explore the issue of society not accepting those who are different and there is no substantial effort to deal with huge issue of the ethical boundaries of science at all. Most incredibly, there is no mention at all about issues of identity of reason for existence of the creature Frankenstein has made despite the narrator giving him a soul and conscience and other faculties that raise the question of whether simply gluing body parts together somehow would actually guarantee the existence of these.

That said there is copious comment on the natural beauty of Switzerland so perhaps it’s not all bad. No. Wrong. When Shelley the poet first heard this story, he encouraged his wife to flesh it out into a full-blown novel. But adding in lengthy Raskolnikovian descriptions of the angst-ridden Frankenstein stumbling about the countryside seeking solace in nature is, I’m sure, not really what he meant. But that’s what she has done.

So, great idea, bad execution much to the detriment of literature.

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.


When falsehood can look so like the truth who can assume themselves certain of happiness?

He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

4 comments… add one
  • Imani 8 May, 2008, 1:33 am

    Huh? I haven’t read this novel in a few years but it’s as if we read different books. Isn’t the novel on its most basic level asking the reader who is true the monster here when we see how Frankenstein runs away from his responsibilities over and over and the consequences of such selfishness and ego? And this comes through even though most of the story is filtered through biased sources — Frankenstein himself and the young sailor writing to his sister. Doesn’t she query the risks of such a narrow, fervent pursuit of scientific knowledge when we see how the monster turns out with little proper guidance (and in any case, despite his killings, still comes out more sympathetic than the civilised Frankenstein, IMO)? Isn’t the *entire* interlude of the monster with that blind man and his family in the mountains (was it mountains? can’t quite remember) a commentary on a society who puts so much emphasis on the outer rather than the inner?

    I could go on. And I disagree about her famous husband having anything to do with the novel’s success in the way you asserted as historical critical reaction to this day points to the contrary — that people considered the novel so well done and above the abilities of an 18 year old girl that some still speculate that her husband was the real author. 😛

  • Imani 8 May, 2008, 1:36 am

    Oh, and I really don’t think the wife is more famous than the husband either. At least when he is remembered it is for his poetry — most people today think of the campy Frankenstein films rather than the book hence the misconceptions.

  • 3m 8 May, 2008, 3:02 am

    I really liked Frankenstein.

    I LOVE your picture. Awesome.

  • lovsmena 6 September, 2009, 5:24 pm

    Maybe you don’t think she is much of a writer because it’s a little over its time. Not really sure if she would became so famous with or without her husband its hard to say but it must of helped? All I know is Frankenstein is the last name of the doctor that invented him so he called his creature Frankenstein to represent it was indeed his creation.

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