Title: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Through the letters the seaman Robert Walton writes to his sister, we get to know the scientist Victor Frankenstein. In an attempt to create a perfect creature, he creates a killing monster. But as we also learn the point of view of that monster, we start to doubt Frankenstein’s motives and methods.
Frankenstein fits into two of the most important literary traditions of the beginning of the nineteenth century, as both Romantic and Gothic elements are at the base of this story. Firstly, the novel is very nature oriented, which is according to Romantic conventions. Scenery is described many times, but nature also influences the character’s moods – when a horrible winter has passed, for example, the monster feels happy when spring finally arrives. When Frankenstein chases the monster through the Arctic desert, this scenery symbolises his useless efforts. Gothic ties in with this in the sense that the locations are generally gloomy. Moreover, gothic literature focusses on the supernatural as well as the mysterious, and these aspects are certainly present in this novel.
Steven Lehman argues that “[in] Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley created a male character who yearned for the existential security of elemental procreative power in the same way that she herself did” (50). This reading would thus mean that Frankenstein is somehow a mirror of the author herself.
More likely to me, though, is that his desire to create life, and his failure at doing so, is in fact fed by Shelley’s feminist thoughts: men cannot procreate without the help of women. Frankenstein tries to, but fails. This way, even though there are few women of importance in the novel, this highlights their significance.
An important theme in this novel is the impact of science. By creating a character like Frankenstein’s monster, Shelley expresses concern towards the developments in this area, and in the end of the novel Robert Walton – who was the man whose letters we’re reading – is convinced that scientific ambitions should never be the main focus of one’s life. Rather, family, friendship and solidarity should always come first.
By most readers, the monster is seen as a helpless, misunderstood creature. He is ugly and hence people are appalled by him, even his own creator rejects him. While in exile, he tries to learn the ways of the world, teaching himself how to speak and read – so in terms of that he becomes equal or even superior, to the general human being – but still, people are scared of him, merely because of his appearance. This aggravates him and he turns violent. Consequently people become even more afraid of him. While I understand that the monster’s narrative grants us insight into his motives, I could not fully sympathise with him, and did not feel that being misunderstood justifies his actions. That does not mean I’m on Frankenstein’s side, because even though he did not deserve to be treated that horribly, I feel he could have been more active in protecting his family and helping his creation.
Now, don’t misunderstand my dislike towards the main characters as dislike for the book. If you’d happen to read more of my reviews, you’ll learn I quite often like unlikable characters in novels – mostly in classics. In Frankenstein, the characters were all interesting, and especially the monster and the professor did not lack depth. Though I have to admit towards the ending, they did start to bother me a little bit, but this also had to do with the slowness of the novel. Although for the first say 85 per cent of the novel this did truly not bother me at all, probably because I was warned beforehand not to expect an action packed horror story, towards the ending I was waiting for a conclusion, for the whining to be over. That is why I couldn’t rate the novel five stars, but it’s surely worth four stars. The story is original, interesting, layered, and the writing is beautiful, especially keeping in mind Shelley was only eighteen at the time of writing this!