Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

13 February 2013

Gothic novels aren't my normal cup of tea. In fact, this was only the second Gothic novel I've read in my life (the first was Rebecca), and my small experience didn't offer much to commend the genre. Then I scanned my required reading list and found the title engraved upon it, much to my chagrin. Perhaps that is one of the more beneficial sides to literature courses — they force you to read books that are out of your usual literary sphere. I can't say this book was terribly enjoyable (I'll always have a weakness for Austen and Alcott, I'm afraid), but neither will I say I regret reading it. Like most classics, it served a purpose not easily recognized at first touch.

FrankensteinFrankenstein
By Mary Shelley
*Summary via Goodreads.com

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only nineteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creatures hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

My Thoughts: To put it in one sentence, Shelley’s Frankenstein was not at all what I expected. The author’s prose is magnificent, her imagery and description breathtaking, and she has quite a knack for twisting your emotions so they match those of the characters. (I even felt sorry for the monster at times!) The tale, quite predictably, sent cold shivers up my spine; in that way, Shelley certainly fulfilled her goal of penning a story that “would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.” I wouldn’t call it a pleasant read, by any means (on the contrary, it was quite difficult to stomach at times), but it was a valuable one all the same.

Pros: The moral lessons are very clear. Previously quite ambitious by nature and willing to sacrifice propriety for the sake of fame, Victor Frankenstein soon learns the error of his ways as he is haunted by the monster of his own creation. The underlying theme of the dangers of gaining knowledge that is not open to you and of striving after goals that are not yours to claim was threaded quite obviously throughout. As I mentioned above, Shelley (much like Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca) weaves her description so effortlessly that it immediately transports the reader. I had expected this book to be sparse and dry, but the cold beauty of her prose made the plot's progression even more horrific.

Cons: It can be particularly gruesome and garish at times, and I wouldn't recommend reading it at night as I did. The monster's victims all die cruel deaths by suffocation, and though this is not described graphically, it's enough to put a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. There is some minor language sprinkled throughout, but nothing particularly worrisome. My biggest complaint lies in the characters, primarily the women, who are quite flat in dimension and bear little personality to commend them. Elizabeth Lavenza in particular is so unbearably perfect in the eyes of all the other characters that it wore on me after a time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 14+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” — Frankenstein

2 epistles:

  1. Read this with images of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein going through my head... Honestly, Young Frankenstein is the only encounter I've had with the lovable green monster and even if I read the book I would probably be laughing the whole way through and mentally altering the story to Young Frankenstein *grin* #lifeofanerd

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  2. Sounds so chilling and scary! It has an uncanny semblance, in the thing of scientific creations (mechanical heads, etc) like C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. Thanks for the review, Elizabeth :).

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