Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (summary by Amazon.com):
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the masterpieces of nineteenth-century Gothicism. While staying in the Swiss Alps in 1816 with her lover Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and others; Mary, then eighteen, began to concoct the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the monster he brings to life by electricity. Written in a time of great personal tragedy, it is a subversive and morbid story warning against the dehumanization of art and the corrupting influence of science. Packed with allusions and literary references, it is also one of the best thrillers ever written. Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus was an instant bestseller on publication in 1818. The prototype of the science fiction novel, it has spawned countless imitations and adaptations but retains its original power.
My Thoughts on FRANKENSTEIN:
The first time I read this book I was thirteen. It was the hardback with wood-carvings by Lynd Ward. I remember being inspired by Shelley’s use of “big words” that I had to look up in a dictionary. She was eighteen when she wrote it, which meant, I had time to expand my own vocabulary. I remember the swelling feelings of compassion for Victor’s creature as I read. Somehow, I’ve been rooting for the monsters for a very long time.
I picked up the book again when I was a senior in high school. I received the illustrated version for Christmas. Bernie Wrightson’s artwork was as moving as the text. I spent hours pouring over every minute detail. Having been a comic book fan for as long as I could read, I treasured this version. (And when a classmate knocked a glass of water across the table and ruined my book, I felt the loss in a profound and deep way.)
“It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.”
So much of the text that I didn’t grasp as a thirteen-year-old suddenly became as clear as the black and white illustrations. Bernie’s style is made-up of artists that came before, patched-up into this gorgeous movement of shadow and light — just like Frankenstein’s creature. It’s interesting how many of Lynd Ward’s wood-carvings depict the same moments as Bernie Wrightson’s drawings, as if they both felt the same thing in reading the same words. As Mary admits in her forward, she was inspired by The Iliad, Shakespeare’s Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. I finally believed that words had the power to create/inspire. When we write/paint/sculpt, we’re all Victor Frankenstein.
Finished reading Frankenstein again this week. I’m older. I’m not sure if I’m wiser, but I have more experience now than at thirteen or seventeen. I still feel for the creature though. He murders a number of characters throughout the novel, but I forgive him. I understand why he did it. I don’t know if that makes me monstrous. Both creator and created are social outcasts: the creature for his exterior, the creator for his arrogance at playing God. They’re well matched. But after reading, I’m not entirely sure who is the man and who the creature.
What do you think?