Some Reflections on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Last week I had to go out of town and found myself with an eighteen-hour road trip (round-trip).  So, to kill the time, I routed my Kindle through my car stereo speakers and downloaded a free copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to listen to on the way.  Why?  I have no idea, really, other than that I wanted to listen to something fictional, something that I had never read before, and something that would not require much thought.  For some reason, I thought of Frankenstein, downloaded it, hit text-to-speech on the Kindle (which worked well with this book, with the speech setting on “Slower”), and headed on down the road.

In summary, it was amazing and, frankly, very thought-provoking.

I am used, of course, to the pop culture Frankenstein, he of the bolts-in-the-neck.  I suppose I’ve seen two or three versions of the story on film.  None of them match the book.

The book has stayed with me a bit, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts about this amazing story in no particular order.

  • I KNOW that the monster is not named “Frankenstein.”  Frankenstein is the doctor: Dr. Victor Frankenstein.  But man, oh man, it’s hard to break that habit, isn’t it?  The monster has no name, other than “monster” or “demon” or somesuch.  But I suspect that battle is lost, as far as popular culture is concerned:  witness the name on the bobble-head picture fronting this post.
  • I was surprised at how little the book actually says about the actual means of creating the monster.  The actual act of creation is passed over very quickly.  There are hints earlier, of course, of harnessing electricity for reanimation, but the act is never shown.  In fact, when the captain of the Arctic-bound ship asks Frankenstein how he did it, Frankenstein grows utterly incensed at the question and refuses to say (since he never wants it done again).
  • That story really is a brilliant example of how to elicit conflicting emotions: you simultaneously sympathize with the monster, even as you loathe his cold blooded-ness.
  • Ditto for Dr. Frankenstein.
  • I was surprised at the eloquence of the monster, even to the point where Dr. Frankenstein has to warn the captain not to be swayed by his eloquence.
  • Mary Shelley’s writing really is beautiful.
  • The interplay between the story and the Genesis account of creation really is fascinating, if you think about it.
  • I was really hooked when the monster describes to Dr. Frankenstein his sensations on reading Milton’s Paradise Lost (what a fascinating picture), and his perceptions of how he is like and unlike Adam and Lucifer.
  • In doing some follow-up reading on Shelley, I was amazed to find how much the book really is an interaction with Paradise Lost.  (i.e., God is referred to as “the Victor” in Paradise Lost, etc.)
  • The book is a powerful and damning indictment on the cruelty of man.
  • The book is a probing exploration of the limits of man’s knowledge and the limitations of the natural sciences.
  • I kept wandering if Shelley was making some commentary on the Christian story in this book:  i.e., man is created, abandoned and cursed by his creator, who he is simultaneously drawn to and hates (I’m not saying that is the Christian story, of course.  I’m just wondering if Shelley was trying to summarize her own take on Christianity through the character of Frankenstein.)  Maybe not, but I think it likely.
  • I hate to say it, but I’ll probably be hunting down a biography of Shelley now to figure this out.
  • Shelley’s description of the physical features of the monster are more terrifying than anything I’ve seen in the movie renditions (i.e., yellow skin, watery eyes, etc.)
  • Oddly enough, it was wonderful hearing the story read.  There’s just something about hearing scary stories, no?
  • The book is amazing.  Read it (or, as I did, listen to it).