Thursday, August 19, 2010

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Prepare to hear of occurrences that are usually deemed marvellous! -- V. Frankenstein

was the result of a challenge between Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary's husband Percy Bysshe Shelley in which they all agreed to write a supernatural story, and for some reason, this is the one that survives in the modern imagination. As a story, it has some intriguing aspects--it was probably the first crack at the modern trope in which scientists suffer for trying to play God. As you probably know, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist and not the monster that he creates, but as you may not know unless you have read this thing, the first thing he does when it comes to life is wig out and abandon it. Lonely, confused, spurned by its creator, the monster--here called a "daemon"--wanders away, learns to talk like a true Edwardian gentleman, and seeks revenge by killing everyone Frankenstein has ever loved. The daemon, who happens upon a copy of Paradise Lost so that this will make sense, tells Frankenstein that he wanted to be his Adam, but instead became his Lucifer, the fallen creation determined to wreak havoc.

And mother of pearl, is it tedious. I don't need the writing in Frankenstein to be "Ozymandias" or anything, but it is a special kind of awful that I would have thought would have been sort of embarrassing to Percy Shelley. When you are not being exhorted to "prepare to hear of occurrences that are usually deemed marvellous," you are being subjected to very repetitive descriptions of the Swiss countryside and the sort of feelings it engenders. Every emotion is either the highest joy or the deepest misery, and they are all described at length.

The plot can be equally inane--the worst bit of it when the daemon holes up in an abandoned house where he can peer through a hole in the wall at a simple rustic family. Conveniently for him, the family takes in a young Arab girl (a convert to Christianity fleeing the possessive Islam of her father, naturally) whom they teach to speak English so that the daemon can follow along. After it kills Frankenstein's brother and best friend, then tells him I will be with you on your wedding-night, he spends his entire wedding night looking for it, not once thinking that, I don't know, maybe he shouldn't leave his new bride alone? At points it reminded me of Dan Brown, if Dan Brown had a bigger vocabulary.

As an idea, it's easy to see why Frankenstein's monster is so alluring. Our expanding scientific abilities, results of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, were accompanied by a deep anxiety that our power might outstrip our wisdom; the story itself remains because we still live in that world. We probably always will. But this is not a very good book.

Brooke liked it, though.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Interesting. I read this my freshman year in college and both loved it & found it easy to read...