Frankenstein is a really difficult book to try to review for a number of reasons. The main problem, though, is that most people who haven’t read it think they already know everything it’s about. So, let me dispel some misconceptions:
- Frankenstein is the name of the Doctor, not the beastly monster people dress up as for Halloween.
- The monster is quite well-spoken & intelligent. Therefore, the story reads as more of a tragedy than as a horror (in my opinion at least). Also, it’s unclear whether or not the monster is the villain or the victim.
- I can’t think of any more, but it seems stupid to have a list with only two items in it.
I’ve now told you what Frankenstein is not. So it’s probably a good idea at some point for me to tell you what it is. It’s a story about a young, brilliant, optimistic man who uses intellect & ingenuity to create life. However, disgusted by his own creation, he abandons the monster to the world, which abuses & torments the creature. Every attempt the monster makes to love or help or befriend humans leads only to pain & suffering, and each time the world unjustly punishes him, he retaliates by killing.
Wounded both emotionally and physically, the monster seeks out his creator & they discuss what is to become of him. He requests a companion with whom he can escape society and live in peace. However, Dr. Frankenstein can see little else but the destruction the monster has caused through his retaliations. This decision would have unpredictable repercussions. It might save humanity from the beast or subject it to twice the calamity already produced by the fiend.
I won’t tell you what else happens, but here are some passages that caught my attention in the book:
“It was the secrets of heaven & earth that I desired to learn,” (ch. 2).
Dr. Frankenstein says this when he is planning out his course for creating the creature.
“I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind, and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections on self,” (ch. 2).
This quote got to me a bit more than the others did because I’ve been studying myself a lot lately, to discover if I am, indeed, the person I’ve intended to be. I struggle to communicate all of the thoughts flowing through me recently, but they run parallel to this quote. They regard happiness & authenticity & responsibility of self.
“Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin,” (ch. 2).
“Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred,” (ch. 15).
I rarely think of myself as beautiful & alluring in comparison to other women. However, it’s always humbling & yet confidence-boosting to think of myself in terms of the image-bearer of God.
“… to whom could I apply with more fitness than to him who had given me life?” (ch. 16).
Makes sense… So why don’t I apply to Him more often, more fully, & more sincerely?
“…forgetting my solitude & deformity, dared to be happy,” (ch. 16).
It seems strange to have to dare to be happy, but I’m right there with our monster. It’s easier (& oddly comfortable) to remain unhappy & to hope towards death.
“… all joy was but a mockery, which insulted my desolate state, and made me feel more painfully that I was not made for the enjoyment of pleasure,” (ch. 16).
“You are my creator, but I am your master; – obey!” (ch. 20).
“How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!” (ch. 20).
“When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and majesty of goodness,” (September 12th of Walton, in continuation).
My own catalogue of sins grows each moment. Still – there is something about the flesh/spirit struggle of humanity that defines us. We are simultaneously good & evil, strong & weak, selfish & sacrificial. In recent years, it’s become more difficult for man to see & acknowledge his sins & easier for him to believe the goodness is his own accomplishment. This book is an amazing reminder that all of us harbor evil inclinations and are helpless & impotent against ourselves.
RECOMMENDATION: Frankenstein was a really difficult book for me to read. The writing moves at a glacial pace a lot of the time, describing settings in way too much detail for my taste & rushing through bits of action that I wished to linger on. However, it’s WORTH reading. It’s satisfying to finish the book & to ponder its meaning, and equally so to have another piece of classic literature under my belt. The movie incarnations of the story deviate from the original way too much to rely on them (especially with characterization of the monster). So you really should read it. Get the paperback version ($12 is about the most I’d be willing to pay), and keep it on your shelf after you finish it just in case you feel like reading it again. I don’t foresee that desire overtaking me anytime in the next couple of decades, but maybe when I’m old, I’ll want to read it again.