I first read Frankenstein in AP Literature in my senior year of high school. It was not at all like the popular conception of Frankenstein, so all throughout I was slightly confused, but I ended up truly enjoying it. One of my favorite assignments in that class, actually, was an impromptu, in-class composition that we had to write in the style of Mary Shelley. (It was probably also the only thing I got an A on in that class.) I recently read it again because I hadn’t in a while.
For those of you unfamiliar with Mary Shelley’s original intention, the story goes like this: the bright young Victor Frankenstein goes off to college to study the sciences, which have always interested him. He gets caught up in the literature of this one scientist who was fascinated with the reanimation of human bodies, and decides to do it himself. To his own shock, he accomplishes the task—but the result is a gargantuan horror, and Victor faints at the sight of his own creature, who runs off. Victor is insensible for weeks (because apparently shock made people seriously ill for weeks or months at a time back then) and by the time he comes to his senses, he vows to never tell anyone of the creature he created. But unfortunately, after some mysterious happenings in his hometown, he might have to.
That’s about as much as I can say without giving crucial plot points away, although it’s not very hard to guess where Shelley is going with most of what happens. I’m also truly a sucker for what I think of as classical prose, like Jane Austen, the Brontës, etc., so Frankenstein was right up my alley in that sense. Gorgeous, gorgeous writing.
It’s also just a beautifully told story about the dangers of taking science too far; a great reminder that we need to keep morals in mind when performing scientific inquiry, especially when the implications stretch far enough to perhaps create a new, intelligent species. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy as well, which is something I was unprepared for when I first read it. I was expecting the monster to basically just go around and kill people for no reason, but Shelley really makes us feel for Frankenstein’s creation and pity his lonely, unique condition.
Mary Shelley’s ability to make us feel pity for Frankenstein’s monster is probably the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness at the same time. Making us pity a murderous monster is a great achievement, yes. But the way she does it—by having him learn language and civilization from a few cottagers—is unrealistic enough that my suspension of disbelief didn’t quite allow for it. Masterful writing and imagination, yes, but I think it’s just a little too far-fetched for the monster to have become completely “civilized” by living in what amounted to a 19th-century cardboard box next to a house in the mountains. But then again, how would she have done it? Conundrum.
At any rate, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. And I think you will too!