Sunday, November 21, 2010

Redux #38 - "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley

I am not a fan of horror by any means. The two horror movies that I've seen in the past ten years have been Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, both of which are not exactly typical, but that's where my tastes lie. However, I am on a kick to read more women authors, and there is no denying that Mary Shelley has had some massive influence, with tons of movies and books being spawned from her creation. And what is even more impressive is that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (1818) when she was only eighteen.

Having never seen any of the Frankenstein movies, knowing only vaguely that the story involved bringing a monster to life, and knowing nothing about Mary Shelley's life, I learned a great deal just reading the introduction. First of all, I had always thought that Frankenstein was the name of the monster. In fact, Frankenstein is the name of the man who brings the monster to life. Once I finally figured that out, the introduction started making a lot more sense. Also, Mary Shelley led a rather fascinating and scandalous life. (I don't have the book anymore, and this recap is from memory, so please forgive any factual errors). Born to two radicals, her mother died shortly after her birth. Mary "eloped" with Percy Shelley, a married man when she was seventeen, and both Mary and Percy Shelley's wife continued to have his children until Percy Shelley's wife eventually killed herself. I think I wouldn't mind reading some kind of biography of Mary Shelley.

As far as the actual story of Frankenstein goes, I think it vacillates between being completely absurd and absolutely heartbreaking. The plot and the dialogue leave a lot to be desired. There are so many plot points that I felt were kind of ridiculous, it is difficult to even recount them all here. I have no problem with the idea that Frankenstein could make life, because you need that for the book, and Shelley was nice and vague about how it all worked. But when the monster is created, I found it difficult to believe that he would run immediately out into the woods instead of staying in the safe environment of his creation. The fact that he was entirely educated in less than a year by spying on a family I also find rather unrealistic. And then the monster figures out the story of his creation because he happened to have grabbed Frankenstein's diary as he ran out into the woods on the day he was created. So after wandering down towards Switzerland to find his maker, the monster happens to run into Frankenstein's brother, who he accidentally kills. The coincidences are just a little too much.

The dialogue was also overly romantic; all of the characters, even the monster, spoke with the exact same tone and language, which was always flowery and dramatic. Elizabeth, Frankenstein's love interest, was always utterly selfless and kind. She lived only to help those around her and besides being worried about them and being utterly loyal and loving, she didn't have much of a personality. It was also jarring that it was impossible to tell any difference between the speech of Frankenstein and his monster. These are two rather different characters with drastically different backgrounds.

However, the strength of the novel is in the tragedy of the story. I did think that Mary Shelley succeeded in conveying the loneliness, isolation, and despair that Frankenstein's monster felt, and by the end of the book I hated Frankenstein and his hypocritical, self-serving ways. Shelley's prescient warning about blind ambition for the power to make and create without thinking about the costs and effects was also very interesting and relevant. Although Frankenstein certainly is not the perfect novel, I learned a lot and I'm glad I read it.

No comments: