The 19th novel that I have completed from my list is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This is also the second book that I have competed for the Gothic Reading Challenge that I started at the beginning of this summer. When this novel first appeared in print in 1818, the author was anonymous. It wasn’t until the second edition (1823) that Shelley’s name appeared. One night Shelley and three of her friends, who were also writers, decided to have a competition to find out which of them could write the most entertaining horror story. This competition gave birth to Frankenstein. At the age of 18, Shelley started to write this novel and by the time she was 21 the novel was published. Initially the critics did not take to this book. However, the reading public liked it immediately and since then it has become a classic. Today Frankenstein is acknowledged to be a turning point for Gothic and Romantic literature and some even consider it an early example of science fiction.
Shelley created a frightening tale about a scientist named Victor Frankenstein, who suffered a great loss when his mother died one week before he left to study at the university at Ingolstadt, Germany. While in Germany, Victor experimented with bringing the dead back to life. He was successful and created a man who by Shelley’s description was a hideous monster. After his success, Victor was appalled by the creature he brought into existence and abandoned it.
This creature was thrown out into the world without a friend or family member. Discarded by Victor, the monster had to learn to live on its own. Eventually he found out that Victor created him and he tracked down Victor and his family. Once Victor is confronted by his experiment, he must decide what should happen to this new “human” that he created. Should there be more? Or should he hunt down his creation and kill it?
I am doing my best not to give away too many details about the story even though this story is well known. But if you are relying on movies to get to know Shelley’s characters please beware since many Hollywood versions have not been true to the book. When I was a grad student I led reading discussions for Western Civ students each week and one of the books we read was Frankenstein. Normally I didn’t give too many pop quizzes on the readings except when we read a book or novel. Not too many of my students figured out this pattern which surprised me. Or maybe they just didn’t care. On the Frankenstein quiz I would ask who Frankenstein was and each semester half of my students would say that he was the monster. Those students didn’t do that well on the quiz.
This novel has so many themes and concepts behind the story that I wish I read this with a group. It would be fantastic to discuss Shelley’s work and how other people interpret her ideas. It is a fascinating study of nature versus nurture. Was the monster evil at the moment of his creation or was he made evil when he was thrown out into a world that didn’t show him love or compassion? Also, this story touches on how far should science go. Was Victor wrong to try to cheat death? Or was his mistake to abandon his creation and to let it loose on society and not take responsibility for his actions?
If you have not read this novel I highly recommend it. It has always been one of my favorites and rereading it for my challenge was a delight. And if you have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts about the work.