sometimes witty book reviews
Frankenstein is not a monster.
(Victor Frankenstein was the creator of the monster, not the monster itself.)
Exceedingly bright and terrifically morbid, 18 year old Mary Shelly famously wrote the first draft of Frankenstein as the winning entry of a ‘best horrow story’ competition held by the (even then) famous poet Lord Byron amongst his friends. She later worked the short sotry into her second, and still most famous, published book. Arguably, it was the first science fiction novel and one of the first real ‘thrillers.’
Yet reading it today, Shelley appears to have the structure backwards. There are tediously long pages devoted to how ill, and feverish and jittery Frankenstein gets at various stages. Whole chapters are devoted to how his monster learns to speak. A whole year of the novel is spent in a hovel peeking through a hole in a cottage wall whilst death scenes are handled in a few lines. For instance: Page 181, Frankenstein’s wife Elizabeth screams, and then…
She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair.
Really, that’s as gruesome as it gets. Everything back to front from a modern thriller where the lead up to death is pages of nail biting suspense and character backgrounds are a paragraph at most. As a modern reader (ironically, another name for Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus) this book is…a little boring. But read historically, Frankenstein is a fascinating example of what was ground breaking at the start of the 19th century – female writers, science fiction and popular reads that would become ‘classics.’ This work was new and scary and kicked a monster-sized footprint onto the Romantic era and on the Gothic novel genre.
Surprisingly easy to read, my $4.70 AUD edition was totally worth it.
*(Fun fact Mary Shelly (nom de plume of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) was the daughter of the founder of modern feminism Mary Wollstonecraft; one of first theorist to claim (amongst other things) that women only appeared inferior to men because they simply weren’t educated.)