the Little Red Reviewer

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)

Posted on: January 20, 2020

This book is 200 years old. This post will have spoilers.  I also might be spoiling a very early scene in an even older book, so there’s that.

 

It’s a famous story,  how Frankenstein came to be created:  simplified greatly, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley,  Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, and Lord Byron spend the summer together.  A “ghost story” contest is hatched. Mary has a terrible dream, starts writing what she dreamed,  and the rest is history.

 

(hey, have you read The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers? I think I really need to!)

 

I’ve had this particular paperback of Frankenstein since high school. Younger me wrote notes in the margins, and underlined words I didn’t know. Lol, I haven’t changed a bit, I still do that.

 

You know how I can tell these notes in the margin were written when I was in high school?  So, there’s a scene where Victor is off to college, and he, well, takes a break for a few months.  The note I wrote in the margin was “didn’t his profs miss him?” . Only a high school junior would write that!

 

My high school was Frankenstein-crazed.  The film starring Kenneth Branagh and Robert De Niro came out in 1994, and a year or two later our drama club put on a play that was a post-apocalyptic re-telling of Frankenstein (best high school memory? The scene where the kid who played Igor had to get the abnormal brain and bring it back to the lab. Our “brain” was a cauliflower covered in green jello.  As Igor carried it around, he licked it. A lot. It was hilarious!)

This paperback that I have, it makes a big deal that the book’s subtitle is “The Modern Prometheus”,  so I hadn’t realized until I did some research that when you buy a copy of Frankenstein at the bookstore, it will rarely have this subtitle.  As a kid, I didn’t get the whole Prometheus connection, he’s the guy who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man, right? Who cares about a little bit fire?

 

Prometheus did more than steal fire from the gods.  Prometheus gave humanity some of the powers that until then, only the gods had had – the power to create fire, and more importantly, the power to create life.   In contemporary western culture, Prometheus has equally become a symbol of quests for scientific knowledge as it is a cautionary tale of over-reach and hubris.

 

Hubris causes all sorts of entertaining science fictional stories to happen, doesn’t it?  But where’s the line between entertaining and cautionary?

 

Anyway.

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 200 years, you know the plot of Frankenstein.

 

And thanks to the fact that Shelley revised the text in 1931 to drastically change the themes, Hollywood, and pop culture, the original story has gotten all mashed up.

 

Victor Frankenstein was not a mad scientist who had a lab in a castle.  He never had an assistant named Igor. The creature isn’t stupid. The creature is never specifically referred to as “Frankenstein’s monster”, he’s referred to as a monster, a creation, a wretch, an abortion.

 

And those movies, where the monster gets a bride?  That’s actually the happiest possible ending.

Mary Shelley didn’t do happy endings.

 

So,  Victor Frankenstein.    The original, super privileged rich kid.

 

 

Like any college freshman, Victor learns just enough science (and a bucket of psuedoscience) to be really, literally, dangerous. He creates a being, “in his image”, even going so far as to make him taller and stronger than the average human.  When the creation breathes and wakes up, Victor is disgusted by the creature and flees the room.

 

Victor’s creation chases and haunts him, and eventually exacts his revenge on his creator.

 

Does the creation want money? No.  does he want to be loved? Sort of. The creation wants one thing:  he wants to not be lonely. He sees Victor and his family, he sees other families, he sees that people are not lonely, they have parents and siblings, and spouses, and children, they are loved.  The creation wants what we all want: to be loved. He demands that Frankenstein create a partner for him, a woman, so that they can live together, away from all humanity, and not be lonely.

 

If the creation doesn’t get this one, tiny, thing,  he threatens to destroy everything Frankenstein holds dear. If the creation has to be lonely, miserable, and unloved,  then so must his creator.

 

(i feel like if there was a super-modern version of this story,  Victor would purchase his safety by asking the creature “ok, how much money do you need to leave me alone? I am literally buying you off. They say money can’t buy happiness, but enough of it can buy a lot of plastic surgery, a private island, and as many friends and lovers as you want.  So, how much? Oh and to actually get this money we’ve agreed on, you have to sign this contract stating you won’t try to kill me. And that you won’t sue me.”)

 

(also, what would the conversation between Victor and Geralt of Rivia be like?

Victor: I need you to kill this monster, I’ll pay you.

Geralt: ok. Can you describe the monster and how it came to be?

Victor: *tells the story*

Geralt: hmm.

Victor: so, will you kill the monster?

Geralt: Yes.  *kills Victor*)

 

Frankenstein is so disgusted by his creation (hello denial of responsibilities!),  that he refuses the creature’s demand. The two of them end up in this seemingly eternal struggle.  The Creation can’t be killed and doesn’t die, and no matter how frail Frankenstein’s health is, he also refuses to die.

 

The monster, he started with nothing, he has nothing to lose. Victor has a lot to lose.

 

It becomes a battle of wills.   Who is more stubborn, to outlive the other?  Does Victor’s Creation deserve a life of happiness, does he deserve anything at all?  Should Victor just take the nuclear option of avoiding responsibility and destroy his creation, and pretend this never happened?

 

Victor plays god, and then has to face the consequences.

 

“Plays god”, now that is a fun phrase to play around with, especially taking into account the phrase “The Modern Prometheus”.

 

Screw it, I don’t know how to dance around this one, so just gonna ask it:

 

How long did Adam wait?

 

On the 6th day, God created man.  And then a few sentences later, creates woman.  When it comes to the specifics of the story, your specific translation, and how much faith you put into the words, your mileage will vary.   But it happens in an order, right? God creates Adam. And then, some amount of time (minutes? Hours? weeks?) later, God creates Eve.

 

My question still stands: how long did Adam wait?   How much did Adam insist that he shouldn’t have to be lonely.    Was God like “eww, you’re gross. You disgust me”. And maybe Adam responded with “Don’t care.  You made me, take responsibility. Don’t make me be lonely. Give me a partner. Do me this one thing, and we will both leave you and your kind alone, forever”.    I’m not trying to be offensive to religious types, just over here writing my own little fanfic. Actually, I think there is more like 3 fanfics happening in this post.

6 Responses to "Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)"

The Beamers universally liked the book, https://beamerbooks.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/its-alive-its-alive/

Liked by 2 people

Oohh, i like the Beamer’s comments on who exactly is the “Prometheus” of the subtitle!
I like that you talked about the monster is the ultimate character for teenagers to relate to – seeing yourself as apart from everyone else, maybe seeing yourself as undeserving of what seems to come so easily to others. Shelley was like 18 years old when she wrote this, maybe she put some of her own frustration and angst into the monster’s personality?

Liked by 1 person

Interesting. I knew Shelley was young, but not that young

Like

Ha! I particularly like your imagined conversation between Victor and Geralt. 😀
You have provoked thoughts in me … 🙂

Liked by 1 person

I loved this. The multiple fan fics were great. Laughed at Geralt! The Adam and Eve question was thought provoking whether you believe the story to be true OR myth. Really enjoyed this post.

Liked by 1 person

I had a lot of fun writing this post. You can go in so many fun thought experiment directions from Frankenstein! LOL, I’m surprised the Adam and Eve thing didn’t piss more people off.

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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