Monday, January 26, 2009

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Amanda from (now defunct) had a list of 100 books that every well-educated woman should read. While I LOVE her list, I was puzzled by her inclusion of the horror novel, Frankenstein. Her description of it as “a reminder to examine the moral issues surrounding science” grabbed my interest. This week I read the book and decided she was right to include it on her list.

With the threat of cloning hanging over us, I am extremely interested in questions that scientists don’t seem to be asking. Are we more than a conglomeration of body parts? What does it mean to be human? What makes life worth living? The way this book grapples with these questions is one of the reasons it is considered a classic.

To tell the truth, I thought the first nine chapters were average writing (Mary Shelley wrote this when she was eighteen!) I was disgusted with Dr. Frankenstein’s drive to create “life” without weighing the consequences of his actions. When the created being took its first breath, Frankenstein (the scientist’s name, not the name of the monster) was so overcome with horror that he took to bed and was sick for months. He never faced the responsibility of what he had done; he acted as if ignoring the monster would somehow make it disappear. TWO YEARS later Frankenstein meets his creation and the story takes a turn that chilled my blood.

The monster tells the doctor the incidents of his life during the preceding years, including the many times he had been rejected for his hideous appearance. He makes a heart-wrenching plea for the doctor to create another being like himself so that he can finally love and be loved in return. Astonishingly, this “subhuman” creature echoes the cry of every human heart.

I don’t want to spoil the story by telling any more. My enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced by listening to the audio version. Because of the narrator’s superb interpretation of the monster’s thoughts and feelings, I was drawn into the emotionally-charged dialogues between “master” and created being in a way that just reading them might not have affected me. This book was written in 1818 (before science had usurped God as “all-knowing”) and shows the horrific consequences of a scientist drunk with his own power who suffers the loss of everything dear to him because of it. It is a fascinating look at science done irresponsibly.


Anonymous said...

I read Frankenstein (and even did a HUGE project on it and the literary time period to which it belongs) when I was a senior in high school. I like it a lot, and I remember the project (done with my best friends, no less) as being tons of fun.

Thanks for commenting on my post about Charlotte's Web. The audiobook is SO good!

B said...

I didn't read this until a few years ago, and I enjoyed it immensely. I thought that Shelley really redefined "monster" for readers in this one.