Sunday, 7 February 2010

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus - Mary Shelly

That's one book down that I should have read ages ago. Hm.. My thoughts.... I liked it, and I didn't like it... mostly I liked it.  First, a short summary, in case you haven't read it.

It's sometime in the 1700s, and our narrator is R. Walton.  Walton's ambition is to find passage through the arctic by boat.  During this journey, he finds Victor Frankenstein adrift and half dead on a chunk of broken ice.  Victor tells him the story of how he got there with the hope of curbing Walton's ambition.  He was a happy child, obsessed with natural philosophy (science), and when he left home to study, he learned of a way to create life in an inanimate, organic, something.  So he did.  He created his monster, as it is referred to throughout the book.  While he was creating it, he was in love with the idea.  He didn't think it was horrible or disgusting to assemble a body from, basically, parts, and only once he'd put life into the monster did he find it ugly.  This is the first time Victor goes stark raving mad, and the monster is set loose.  His friend Clerval comes to the same university to study and helps Victor recover his sanity.  Victor heads home in time to find his youngest brother has been murdered and one of the servants whom the family loved was blamed and executed for it.

Not too long after, Victor finds the monster, and the monster tells his side of the story.  He was alone and lived in the forest for a long time until cold and hunger drove him to seek shelter among people.  There he was feared and beaten, so he hid.  During his time in hiding, he observed a family and helped them anonymously by bringing them wood so the brother could find work at another farm.  He learned to speak and read from watching them, and eventually, lonely for companionship, made contact with the blind father.  When the son returned and saw him, he beat him away, and the family left in fear.  At this point, the monster went crazy with rage and burned the hovel down.  He set out to find Victor and instead found his brother, killed him, and planted evidence on the first person he saw.  He tells this to Victor hoping to gain some sympathy as well as a companion.  He convinces him, by way of this story as well as threats to Victor's remaining family, to make him a mate.

Victor sets out for England to get a hold of some research he needs to complete a female version of the monster.  He travels with his best friend, Clerval, and in Scotland they separate so he can work alone.  When he's half way finished, he has second thoughts, not wanting to construct it in the first place.  He believes that, despite what the monster has promised (that he will depart the company of men forever), things are more likely to happen that will lead to two of the monsters, stronger and sturdier than men, bringing evil on mankind.  He refuses to complete the project and tears it apart while the monster watches.  The monster promises that he will be with Victor on his wedding night, and that night murders Clerval.  Victor is blamed for this murder, and after his ensuing insanity and illness, is found innocent and returned to Geneva.

He marries Elizabeth, and on their wedding night he believes the monster meant to kill him.  Instead the monster kills Elizabeth, and as a result, his already old and tired father dies as well.  Victor is locked away for a while, completely nuts, and when he comes out of it, he swears vengeance.  No one will believe his story, so he hunts down the monster on his own.  He's almost caught up with him when he is stranded on the ice block where Walton finds him.  After telling his story, he dies of a fever, and the monster, always near by, visits his remains aboard the ship before it leaves.  There he confesses his torment and the rest of his story that Victor didn't know.

The whole story is related by Walton in his journal.  Victor tells him the story, and helps correct his notes.  He has some letters as evidence, and tells what he recalls the monster telling of his side of the story.  This is very definitely the style of the period in which the book was written.  A lot of stories used to be written by means of a journal or letters or verbal retellings.  Intellectually, I know this, but I've always had trouble believing those stories--mostly because you don't remember things word for word, and when you're going into twice removed quotations, well, it just looses credibility.  It also irked me that the monster was so eloquent when, by all rights, he shouldn't have been.  I understand why she did this, one of two reasons anyway.  For one, there's rarely any difference in voice in this type of novel.  It's a first person narrative the whole way through, but the different narrators rarely sound any different, unlike modern novels in which the author deliberately works on giving different characters different voices.  She has a very soft way of writing, and so all of her characters speak that way.  It's either a result of this writing style, or it was deliberate to give the monster sympathy.

I really felt that she did a good job making the monster sympathetic.  He is gentle, but hideous and unloved.  I've never read theories about this book, but I really get the feeling that that's the purpose behind it; nature vs. nurture.  He loves the townspeople, he's drawn to help them and protect them, but he's so hideous and inhuman looking that they fear him and beat him.  In isolation and anger, he turns to vengeance and takes it out on his creator who's abandoned him.  Even in the end he speaks of how it pained him, a being who is inherently good driven to evil deeds, to perform those deeds on men who, to him, are beautiful.  At the same time, you never know.  Is he honest?  The human characters doubt him.  Is he just saying that so they won't kill him?  Will he hunt men again, or will he, like he promised, go as far north as he can and burn himself?  You never find out, neither do they.   I'm going to go with the assertion that it was deliberately written that way.

It was definitely weird going into this book with all the preconceived images of Frankenstein's monster that I grew up with.  The way he was described in the book really clashed with those images, and his gentleness and eloquence really threw me at first.  He just wanted to be loved and to love back.  He loved the world around him.  He found everything to be beautiful but himself.

I'm glad she didn't go into the science of it.  It's outdated to begin with, but I think it makes it more believable this way.  The language wasn't too difficult, though some of the usage is incredibly archaic and sounds funny and downright wrong.  It's still followable.  There was none of the reading of an entire page and having to go back because I didn't have a clue what was being said, ala Dickens.  If you like older literature, I'd say it's a good book to put on your list.  If you're prone to falling asleep with long, overly detailed narratives, don't bother.  Caffeine kept me awake through about half of it, standing on the train the other half.  It's one of those drawn out books that you have to sift through to get the story.  It's definitely not one that I would say to read for the language, go for Tolkien or Jane Austin for those.  Speaking of Jane Austin, I have to get my hands on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I love Pride and Prejudice, and zombies are just the thing to spice that sucker up. Hehe.  I don't think I did a review of it, but Northenger Abbey was another good one by her, especially if you've read a lot of the Gothic romances.  I had a lot of good giggles in that one.

Next on my reading list are the two Elric books I bought, and possibly Faust.  I forgot I had that one.  I want to try to read A Tale of Two Cities again, but I'm not sure I want to take on Dickens just yet.  I'm having trouble writing normally now, since the only modern author I've read lately is Stephen King.  I tend to start writing with strange sentence order and weird word selections when I read too much old stuff. :P Nobody wants to read a book that sounds like a bad version of Dickens.  I think I'll wait till I'm done writing my current story before I tackle that.

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