Friday, April 18, 2014

Frankenstein

I finally got around to finishing Frankenstein and can't recommend it. The main interest for me was in comparing the novel to the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff, which is how everyone thinks of the Frankenstein monster. The plot is changed dramatically in the film, making the original monster unrecognizable. In the film, the monster is accidentally given a criminal's brain, but not so in the novel. Rather, the monster is curious and intelligent and learns to speak articulately, imploring Frankenstein to help him:
I am thy creature, and I will even be mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather a fallen angel, whom thy drivest from joy for no misdeed. Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous.

In the novel, Frankenstein makes the monster for no particular reason and immediately abandons it, taking no responsibility for its existence. The first victim of the monster is killed accidentally, Frankenstein continues to rebuff it, and it then becomes vengeful because of Frankenstein's intransigence. I suppose one might argue that this is a parable about man's abandonment by God, but that seems like a stretch. Alternatively, there may be a conscious or unconscious allusion to Mary's half-sister, Fanny, who was abandoned by her American father, Gilbert Imlay. Fanny committed suicide just as Frankenstein was being written. At the end of the novel, the monster plans his suicide. Fanny's suicide note says:
I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed as.... 

Mary Shelley was under a lot of pressure to write. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an important figure of the Enlightenment, her father, William Godwin, was a well-known journalist and thinker, and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was one of the best poets ever in the English language. From Mary Shelley's account, this novel was never intended to be great literature, and it should not be treated as such.

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