Monday, October 7, 2013

Frankenstein

I first read the novel of Frankenstein when I was in high school, specifically my senior year which was a Women's Literature course.  I remember liking it, and that feeling that the monster was a poor, pitiable creature and Victor Frankenstein the cruel creator.  Of course, my memory also told me that Kenneth Brannagh's adaptation was an accurate one, and I found out a few years back that it was lying to me.  I finally took the time to re-read the book again, and all I can say is that my memory needs a good talking to.

Perhaps, having reached my senior year in high school, I had read enough Gothic literature that the prose within the novel didn't seem any different than what I was used to at that point.  Beyond a read of Dracula a few years back, I haven't really spent much time in this era since I left college.  As such, the first couple of chapters felt torturous as I adjusted my brain to reading the overly flowery and dramatic prose.  It was almost like reading another language.  While I did eventually settle into the patterns of speech, I never enjoyed it.

Both Captain Walton (who serves to narrate the introduction and conclusion of the story) and Victor Frankenstein himself are incredibly annoying individuals I would not want to meet in real life.  They are "emo" centuries before the term was invented, constantly whining about one thing or another.  Frankenstein frequently falls into months of illness just because he's upset.  He's also incredibly stupid, thoroughly excited about creating life and apparently completely ignorant of just how horrifying his creature looks until the moment its life finally begins, even though it takes him months to put it together.  And then he constantly excuses away why he can't tell anyone what's going on, while also flat out telling them that the murders which occur around him are all his fault.  And when the creature says to him "We'll meet again on your wedding night" his deduction is that the monster is coming to kill him.  Come on, idiot, think about that for more than five seconds, will you?

The monster, meanwhile, is not as pitiable as I remembered.  Yes, he's had a horrible lot in life, being rejected at birth by his creator and having all of humanity frightened of his appearance.  But he turns to murder and vengeance so quickly and willingly that you can't truly feel sorry for him.  His desire for a companion is understandable, but this time around I couldn't help but agree with Victor that creating another could only result in a pair of monsters to terrorize humanity, and even worse allow them to possibly reproduce and create an entire race that would take over the earth.  Making them sterile would at least solve the latter, but the science in this fiction is intentionally left fuzzy and doesn't really touch on whether Victor could fix that.

The novel is very brief, but it still spends a considerable amount of its time wandering, perhaps as Shelley tries to decide where she wants it to go next.  This is what leads to Victor's constant bouts of sickness and misery and self pity, and leaves me unable to sympathize with him in any way and just wishing for him to get on with it.  While a part of me wants to tell you to desperately stay away from this book, its brevity means you can get through it in a day if you've got the free time, and that's pretty much the only reason I say you can do so if you're curious.

Because really, the most interesting part of the story of Frankenstein and his monster at this point is how so many of us know about them and yet don't know the original story.  While some of the monster's materials are taken from morgues, he's largely created in Victor's chemistry lab, and is not the undead creature most of us think of.  The monster has no name at all, unless you want to suggest that as Victor's "child" he inherits the name Frankenstein.  There's no bolts on the side of his neck, no green skin, no rigid manner of walking, and he speaks eloquently rather than in grunts or one word phrases.  The blind man he meets has a family that lives with him, and the monster actually spends most of the time in a pig sty outside their house spying on them, and the very brief time he goes inside to try to speak with the blind man ends in disaster.

There have been so many adaptations of Frankenstein, and I would imagine there's at least one out there that tried to do so accurately, though it's not one of the ones I've seen.  Both The Bride of Frankenstein and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are close, but each makes key changes in the narrative.  Honestly, I think that is for the best.  It's simply not that strong a story to hold up on its own.

4 comments:

  1. I pretty much agree with everything you say here. :)

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  2. I thought of you as I was reading it, because I remembered you said you didn't like it. I was so sure it couldn't have been that bad, but now I know what you meant. :)

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  3. Oh, man ... I read this for the first time a few months ago and every time I finished a few chapters I'd go off on a rant describing what I was putting myself through. Victor's stupidity is astounding for someone who can literally figure out how to create not only life but a human consciousness. I couldn't believe his reaction to "Woah, the giant, super-strong monster I created is missing after I left it alone and took to the streets in the rain" was "Oh, shit! Problem solved, I guess."

    The chapters where the Monster takes over telling his story were a welcome change because, as I put it, something is actually happening. Gone are the descriptions of Victor being nursed by his best-buddy and the descriptive walking tours of Switzerland! The remarkably articulate Monster is telling the best part of the tale and it's all over way too fast.

    The constant months-long illnesses took me by surprise too but I just summed it up to the fact it was the early 1800's and assumed falling ill just meant prolonged bed rest but goddamn, the frequency of it was astounding. Maybe it was some sort of 1800's misunderstandings of deep depression but all I could gleam from it was Victor being a big suck who craved the attention.

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    1. I can see what you mean about when it switches to the monster's perspective. While he does fall victim to a bit of "no one will ever love me because I look this way!" whining, he's still better than Victor. :)

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