Review: “Frankenstein” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley book cover
Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil foreboding.

Frankenstein, Letter 1 opening

Author: Mary Wollstonecraft ShelleyCharlotte Gordon (Introduction)
Publication Date: March 8th 2018  (first published 1818)
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Genre: Classics
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

Mary Shelley’s seminal novel of the scientist whose creation becomes a monster…

From Goodreads

Review

Mary Shelleyโ€™s classic Frankenstein is a gloomy, romantic ‘monster’ tale with somewhat mixed reader reviews. If you crack this book open in hopes of a high-octane creature feature you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, Shelley presents a more thoughtful, slow-paced story. Approach this book expecting low-key entertainment on a chilly night and (if you so desire) some philosophical ponderings on the role of scientific advancement and the duty of a creator. I first read this as a physical copy years back in school but since forgot all about it. Last year on a whim while undertaking a massive cross stitch as a gift (hi mom ;)) I picked Frankenstein up again as an audiobook and was surprised to really enjoy it! Now once again with the story fresh in my mind I revisit it as a physical reading experience to see how it compares.

*** Before we proceed, a brief interjection to remind readers that Frankenstein is the CREATOR, not the monster. Hopefully this will circumvent some confusion as you read ๐Ÿ™‚ ***
I actually happened upon a very relevant meme the other day on this ๐Ÿ˜›
If you’re not into meme culture feel free to skip over this and continue happily on.

From https://www.reddit.com/r/memes/comments/mv6b7d/the_true_monster/

Frankenstein begins in epistolary format as a courageous young adventurer, Robert Walton, writes home to his sister, Margaret Saville, sharing progress on his daring journey to the North Pole. The ship becomes trapped by ice and as the crew wait for it to thaw they see a distant figure racing along the frozen water past them. The man disappears into the distance, confounding the crew. Shortly thereafter they happen upon Victor Frankenstein in hot pursuit of the previous figure but gravely exhausted by the effort. Frankenstein comes aboard to recover and in that time becomes friendly with Walton. He slowly regains some health but becomes unsettled upon hearing of Walton’s brave ambitions. In effort to warn Walton and prevent whatever further tragedies may lay ahead, Frankenstein is compelled to share his story. Thus we set into the heart of the tale.

At this point the book switches to standard chapter format, but readers will remember this is the story as told by Frankenstein to Walton, who is still relaying everything in a letter to his sister. Another layer is added further into the book. Later on post-creation when Frankenstein is pursuing his monster, the creature tells his story to Frankenstein who’s telling it to Walton who writes it in a letter which is what we’re reading. ๐Ÿ˜ต In the book this isn’t as confusing as it sounds, but when you take a step back and think about it the writing becomes a little unrealistic. There’s so much detail captured in the nested stories that seems highly improbable to have made it in tact all the way up the chain into the letter we’re supposedly reading. This is just a small thing about the story that irked me.

In general the writing is romantic and flowing. It requires some concentration to read since sentences can be long-winded. This is where the audiobook has a leg up on the physical reading experience in my opinion. The narrator is able to break up longer sentences naturally using tone and inflection, which makes it easier to understand with less effort.

I won’t go into much detail on the plot itself since I think most people are familiar with the basics. As readers we hear from three perspectives – Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster. Of these my favorite was Frankenstein’s portion, mainly because his relationship with his good friend Henry Clerval was so sweet. I found myself drawn more to Henry than Frankenstein’s adopted sister Elizabeth actually, which was disappointing given how close we’re meant to believe her and Frankenstein are. Then of course there’s Frankenstein’s creature and his story. On whole I found it interesting how quickly he learned language and other basic survival skills (similar to a young child), but I didn’t feel completely sympathetic to his plight for spoiler-y reasons I’ll withhold.

In general Frankenstein was a pretty well-constructed classic read. There’s philosophical food for though on the pitfalls of ambition, pushing the boundary of natural law, and the duty of a creator towards their creatures (which can be extended to religion or parenting). The story itself is paced so there’s always something going on – a feverish academic undertaking, a pursuit, or a murder. If I were to re-read it I’d probably opt for the audiobook version and pick it up on a chilly autumn night to match the book’s mood. Frankentstein is a good standard Halloween go-to on the non-scary side.

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