Book Report: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (2004)

Book coverThis book is a neat little Barnes and Noble printing of the classic. It’s a hardback but it’s the size of a paperback, and the text size is not too small to be readable, so this fits in with my hardback snobbery but also suits my recent drive for portability and carry books. And, apparently, it’s from a series of classic titles in this format. So I might have another set to start collecting, but I don’t remember seeing many of them in the wild.

At any rate, this is the original story of Frankenstein and his monster. By original, I mean the original text; the introduction mentions that an edition in Shelley’s lifetime reduced some of the more radical elements of it; however, to a reader in the era of Obama, there’s nothing particularly radical in the text. Maybe an edition in my lifetime would remove some elements of Victor Frankenstein’s drive for knowledge and education. But I digress.

The story began as a tale Shelley told her companions while they were vacationing in Switzerland. She finished it as a book, and it was pretty popular. It’s set in the early years of the nineteenth century; that is, the early 1800s, within memory of the American Revolution and the French Revolution and the Romantic movement in literature. A frame story deals with a man writing letters to his sister in England. The man wanted to find a northern passage and to explore the Arctic, so he travelled to Scandinavia and found the heartiest travellers he could to man a ship. As they plow ahead into the northern ice fields and run into trouble, they see a guy go by on a dogsled. Then, later, another man comes along on a dogsled. This second is Frankenstein, and he’s pursuing the life he created to the ends of the earth. Frankenstein is weak, so they take him aboard the ship and he relates his story to the captain, who has longed for a companion who shares his drive for knowledge.

The tale of Frankenstein is related in the letters told in the first person as Victor Frankenstein discusses his education, his study of natural sciences, and he pursuit of lost knowledge of animating life through chemical and electrical processes. He grows haggard as he pursues his goal of creating life, and then one day in his rented rooms in a boarding house, he does so. He then becomes upset about what he’s done and swoons; when he awakens, the thing he created is gone. Frankenstein returns home to the murder of his young brother and the execution of a family ward for the deed–although Frankenstein suspects it was the monster.

The story switches to the first person account of the monster, which is bigger and stronger than a man, but ugly. When it encounters regular people, it is attacked and feared. It hides out at the farm of a down-on-their-luck family with a romantic political back story of its own. He learns language and quite a bit from watching this family and begins to help them out while hiding from their sight until he decides to approach the blind patriarch to befriend him and thus, hopefully, the family. As the monster befriends the old man, the other family members return home and immediately fall upon him. The monster flees and vows revenge upon all mankind.

The monster finds Frankenstein on one of the gentleman’s restorative hikes in the Alps and relates this story and offers to stay his hand if Frankenstein will create a mate for the creature. Frankenstein assents, and then starts his study and work to redo the processes, but at the last minute, at a remote outpost, he destroys all the work because he cannot be sure the monster will keep his word and out of fears that the monster and its mate might procreate.

So the monster takes his revenge by killing those close to Frankenstein, which leads to Frankenstein’s vow to kill the monster. And the pursuit in the Arctic.

The story is pretty interesting, although it moves at a pace slower than many modern readers would enjoy patiently. I know I looked a couple of times to see how far I was into the book and to see how much was left. The characters are pretty interesting and sympathetic–even the monster is until he starts killing people and seeking revenge for his life, but even then I could see why he was driven to it. So it offers a lot of depth to the story you don’t get on screen and in the comic books.


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2 thoughts on “Book Report: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (2004)

  1. I think I might have Dracula around here somewhere.

    You know, these things are the gateway books to other seminal myth books like Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

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