Have you read this book? If not, I guarantee you do not know what it is about. It
has become such a warhorse of Halloween horror, bastardized by Hollywood filmmakers ad nauseum, but in truth, you could fit all the blood and gore
contained in this novel in one paragraph.
Let me debunk a few other possible misconceptions. Was Dr. Frankenstein an old deranged mad scientist with a sinister past. No. He wasn't a doctor at all, he was a teenager, a young man from a wealthy and loving family, who had a lust for science. How was the monster created? From body parts dug up from a grave? No. The means of creation is never revealed, but all we know is that Victor Frankenstein has a bag of chemistry instruments and supplies. Graveyards, body parts, and the classic look of "limbs sewn together with big stitches" is never mentioned in the brief description. We don't really know much about what the being looks like, other than he is huge and hideous. Is he a demented zombie that thrashes aimlessly about the countryside killing everything in sight. No, again. In his isolation, he has taught himself language and reading, culture, passion, and tenderness. He has learned to feel love, and yearns for it to be reciprocated. Surprised? Read on.
What this book is, is a psychological thriller between Victor Frankenstein and what he has created, and that is what makes this masterpiece so horrifying. It is Victor's too-late realization that he has, in selfishness, and perhaps overzealous enthusiasm for a particular branch of science, created a life, then refuses to take responsibility for his horrendous error in judgment. The actual "monster" rarely makes his appearance through the entire book, with the exception of the scene where he entreats Victor to help him, and narrates the history of his existence since he was created. Other than that he flits in and out of the picture, doing his damage behind the scenes, then gone in a flash. The real horror story here is the drama being played out in Frankenstein's own mind: his solitary fear and guilt which brings him to his own end. Shelley has created a perfect tale of terror through one man. Perhaps it is Victor Frankenstein who is the monster after all.
The story begins as an adventurer, Robert Walton, sailing to the far north, writes to his sister. He and his crew become stuck in ice, and he sees in the distance a huge being on a dog sled speeding past, followed by a man, ill and freezing, whom they rescue. The man is Victor Frankenstein, and when he recovers enough, he tells his agonizing tale.
Most of the story takes place in Geneva, Switzerland, and was written while Shelley and her husband were staying in that country, neighbors of Lord Byron. Looking for entertainment during a wet and nasty summer, Byron challenged the four people there at the time to write a ghost story. It was out of this game that Frankenstein was born.
Victor first tells of his early childhood, his beautiful young and loving mother and wonderful father; his adopted "cousin" Elizabeth who was his best friend and deepest love throughout his short life. As he grows up, he becomes obsessed with "science"— in particular, the writings of Cornelius Agrippa. I did not know who he was until after I finished the book, and then I looked him up. I suggest you do the same, because suddenly everything made more sense.
At age 17, after the death of his beloved mother from scarlet fever, Victor goes away to school at the University of Ingolstadt to study legitimate science, but his fascination with the occult isn't squelched. It is soon after that his monster is created. To his horror, it comes alive, and he runs away. Unfortunately, so does it. He falls extremely ill, but his best friend, Henry Clerval has joined him. Victor slowly recovers, and after a six year absence, he and Henry return home. Of course, he has not uttered a word about the heinous act he has committed, nor does he know what has become of his creation. But he soon finds out. Just before his trip home, he learns his little brother has been murdered. And even worse, when he does arrive home, he also finds that a precious friend, Justine, is accused of the murder. She is tried in court and found guilty, executed shortly after. But Frankenstein knows who his brother's murderer really is, and now he harbors guilt for both that death and Justine's.
The remainder of the book becomes a horrendous game of cat-and-mouse between Victor Frankenstein and his elusive creature.
This was the first time I had read this book, and if you have not, then make it a priority to do so. It is no wonder that it has become one of the most celebrated stories in English literature.
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