As my fellowmen immerse themselves into the folds of the new power that might change our lives in the next six years, one word was particularly used to describe the ascension of our just-elected president: destiny. I mention it here because it’s the same word that Victor Frankenstein used when he met one professor whose words inspired him to create the monster.
One by one the various keys were touched…chord after chord was sounded and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a story about a misguided student of science whose desire for discovering the secrets and mysteries of nature led him into a mad passion that gave birth to a creature so wretched in appearance. It’s also a story of revenge, where the cause of not honoring a promise was met with Shakespearian tragedy.
As a main character of a gothic novel, Victor has the right qualities: self-absorbed, heartless, even passive. Did he deserve his fate? Yes, because he didn’t do what he said he would do on the principle that it was wrong to begin with. He lacked moral courage and was not motivated enough to end his misery by the thought of protecting his loved ones from the monster. Definitely, he’s not the hero you want to root for and is doomed to live the end of his days in contempt for the very creature that caused his grief.
The monster with no name, I find too rational a being, which is probably why Victor can only respond to him as he would respond to a pesky beggar loitering in front of his house or the church.
How can he possibly know that his life would be meaningless without a partner when he had only been existing for two years? His fears are human, but they don’t make him any more sympathetic, considering the threat of violence he wields as weapon and leverage. But he IS the kind of monster that only a self-absorbed and self-important Victor can create: brutal and unforgiving.
Published in 1818 and preceding my favorite gothic novel, Dracula (1897), Frankenstein was written in the format of a cautionary tale, where the teller, Victor, warns the listener, Robert Walton, who in turn writes about Victor’s warning in his letters to his sister, Mrs. Saville. I’ve read that this style is supposed to make the story more realistic, though I find that a straightforward narrative makes use of my time as a reader more effectively.
I remember when I reviewed Dracula, I said that Bram Stoker was sincere in writing that novel. I don’t get that same feeling from Shelley’s first novel, written when she was only 18. But I sense her lack of inhibition in putting word after word after word until Frankenstein is complete. The tenacity to write a 200-page novel was there, even if I find the chase portion of the story in the last few chapters particularly weak. More confrontation between Victor and his monster would have made the ending more compelling.
Shelley’s verbosity aside, this book is still a classic in terms of getting you into a place and time that you can only imagine. Here, servants are still used as scapegoats; first-born sons are still privileged to study abroad while women in the family are content to remain at home doing that gracious task of keeping her loved ones happy.
This is not as scary or suspenseful as Dracula, but it’s still a good read.