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Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering "the cause of generation and life" and "bestowing animation upon lifeless matter," Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature?s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises rofound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.
Karen Karbiener received a Ph.D. from Columbia University and currently teaches literature at New York University.
Werewolves, vampires, witches, and warlocks have been the stuff of folklore, legend, and nightmare for centuries, yet none have so haunted the public imagination as the monster created by eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley in 1816. From the start, we have been eager to help the monster live off of the page, to interpret the tale for ourselves. Within five years of the novel's initial publication, the first of what would eventually be more than ninety dramatizations of Frankenstein appeared onstage. Shelley herself went to see one of the thirty-seven performances of Presumption that played in London in 1823. Lumbering violently and uttering inarticulate groans, the monster attracted record numbers of theatergoers, as well as a series of protests by the London Society for the Prevention of Vice. Mary was pleased and "much amused" by Thomas Cooke's attempts to portray the monster, and even made a favorable note about the playbill to her friend Leigh Hunt. "In the list of dramatis personae came, --- by Mr. T Cooke: this nameless mode of naming the unameable [sic] is rather good," she wrote on September 11 (Letters, vol. 1, p. 378).
A familiar yet ever-evolving presence on the Victorian stage, the monster also haunted the pages of newspapers and journals. Political cartoonists used Shelley's monster as the representation of the "pure evil" of Irish nationalists, labor reformers, and other favored subjects of controversy; it was often depicted as an oversized, rough-and-ready, weapon-wielding hooligan. In Annals of the New York Stage, George Odell notes that audiences were entertained with photographic"illusions" of the monster as early as the 1870s. And the cinema was barely ten years old before the Edison Film Company presented their version of the story, with Charles Ogle portraying a long-haired, confused-looking giant. Virtually every year since that film's appearance in 1910, another version of Frankenstein has been released somewhere in the world-though the most enduring image of the monster was the one created by Boris Karloff in James Whale's 1931 classic. The creature's huge, square head, oversized frame, and undersized suit jacket still inform most people's idea of what Shelley's monster "really" looks like.
As strange and various as the interpretations of the creature have been, the monster has retained a surprisingly human quality. Even in its most melodramatic portrayals, its innate mortality is made apparent; whether through a certain softness in the eyes, a wistfulness or longing in its expression, or a desperate helplessness in its movements, the creature has always come across as much more than a stock horror device. In fact, several film adaptations have avoided the use of heavy makeup and props that audiences have come to expect. Life Without a Soul (1915) stars a human-looking, flesh-toned monster; and in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), actor Robert DeNiro, who is certainly neither ugly nor of great stature, did not wear the conventional green face paint and restored the monster's eloquent powers of speech.
Like Satan in Paradise Lost, Mary Shelley's monster was given a shadowy and elusive physical presence by its creator. It moves through the story faster than the eye can follow it, descending glaciers "with greater speed than the flight of an eagle" or rowing "with an arrowy swiftness." The blurriness of the scenes in which the monster appears allows us to create his image for ourselves and helps explain why it has inspired so many adaptations and reinterpretations. Certainly, too, both Milton's Satan and Shelley's creature have been made more interesting, resonant, and frightening because they have human qualities. The monster possesses familiar impulses to seek knowledge and companionship, and these pique our curiosity and awaken our sympathies. Its complex emotions, intelligence, and ability to plan vengeful tactics awaken greater fears than the stumbling and grunting of a mindless beast. A closer look at Shelley's singular description of the monster's features reveals its likeness to a newborn infant rather than a "fiend" or "demon": Consider its "shrivelled complexion," "watery eyes," and "yellow skin [that] scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath." The emotional range of De Niro's monster, the gentle childish expression in Karloff's eyes, even the actor Cooke's "seeking as it were for support-his trying to grasp at the sounds he heard" (Letters, vol. 1, p. 378), suggest that we have sensed the monster's humanity all along.
Another trend in the way the monster has been reinterpreted is equally suggestive. Movie titles such as Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971) testify to the fact that the monster has taken on the name of his creator in popular culture. In Frankenstein, the monster is called plenty of names by his creator, from at best "the accomplishment of my toils" to "wretch," "miserable monster," and "filthy daemon"; significantly, Victor never blesses his progeny with his own last name. Our identity of the creature as the title character does, of course, shift the focus from man to monster, reversing Shelley's intention. Reading the book, we realize that Frankenstein's lack of recognizing the creature as his own-in essence, not giving the monster his name-is the monster's root problem. Is it our instinctive human sympathy for the anonymous being that has influenced us to name him? Is it our recognition of similarities and ties between "father" and "son," our defensiveness regarding family values? Or is it simply our interest in convenience, our compelling need to label and sort?
Our confusion of creator and created, as well as our interest in depicting the creature's human side, indicate an unconscious acknowledgment of a common and powerful reading of Frankenstein: that the monster and his creator are two halves of the same being who together as one represents the self divided, a mind in dramatic conflict with itself. Just as Walton notes to his sister the possibility of living a "double existence," even the civilized person is forever in conflict with his or her own monstrous, destructive, even self-destructive side. Indeed, if the monster/creator conflation were to represent the human race in general, Shelley seems to be saying that our struggles with the conflicting impulses to create and destroy, to love and hate, permeate all of human existence. Shelley could not have chosen an idea with more relevance to twentieth- and twenty-first-century readers than humankind's own potential inhumanity to itself. Our ambitions have led us to the point where we, too, can accomplish what Victor did in his laboratory that dreary night in November: artificially create life. But will our plan to clone living organisms or produce life in test tubes have dire repercussions? We build glorious temples to progress and technology, monumental structures that soar toward the heavens; and yet in a single September morning, the World Trade Center was leveled-proving once again that man is his own worst enemy.
In Frankenstein, Shelley exhibits a remarkable ability to anticipate and develop questions and themes peculiarly relevant to her future readers, thereby ensuring its endurance for almost 200 years. To understand why and how this ability developed, we must take a closer look at her life, times, and psychological state. Certainly, Frankenstein details a fascinating experiment, introduces us to vivid characters, and takes us to gorgeous, exotic places. But this text, written by a teenager, also addresses fundamental contemporary questions regarding "otherness" and society's superficial evaluations of character based on appearance, as well as modern concerns about parental responsibility and the harmful effects of absenteeism. Anticipating the alienation of everyday life, Robert Walton and the monster speak to those of us who now live our lives in front of screens of various kinds-computer, television, movie. Other readers may feel stabs of recognition when confronting Victor, a perfectionist workaholic who sacrifices love and friendship in the name of ambition. Frankenstein is a nineteenth-century literary classic, but it is also fully engaged in many of the most profound philosophical, psychological, social, and spiritual questions of modern existence.
Often considered the first science fiction novel, Mary Shelley had the creative spark for Frankenstein at the age of 18 and first published it as a 22-year-old. A story inspired by other gothic writings, contemporary scientific theories, and by tragedies in her own life (the death of her young child, a father who had disowned her), not to mention her poet husband Percy Shelley (who would drown the following year) and the philosophies of other poets in her young and influential circle of friends, this novel is a thought-provoking and ground-breaking work that has inspired countless stories about our desire to overcome death and our search for what it means to be human. It's not your modern horror thriller or what is generally depicted in film (instead of grunts, Frankenstein's real monster is eloquently tragic), the plot is often plodding, and some current readers might not find this a good read. But for those who enjoy a more philosophically centered gothic tale, Frankenstein is immortal.
23 out of 33 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 31, 2007
This is a very misunderstood story that sparked a concept that took on a life of it's own. There is no scary castle, no hunchback, or villigars with pitch forks! It is a story not about a monster but about what could happen when man kind tries to play creator. You end up feeling sorry for the creature.
20 out of 20 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2008
My first thought on completing Frankenstein was this: I love this book! I really didn't know what to expect when I began reading this. We've all seen Frankenstein and his "monster" portrayed through numerous media outlets and I wasn't sure how any of these compared to the original story created by Mary Shelley. From page one I was drawn in and riveted by the narrative. I was hooked on Victor Frankenstein with his ambition and his creation who showed such strong emotions. Frankenstein's creation is an infantile being born into the body of a monster. We watch as this "monster" teaches himself writing, language, geography, history. He reads from Milton's Paradise Lost and from Plutarch's Lives. Learning brought such joy to him. It was so sad to see the "monster's" attitude toward man (and especially Frankenstein in particular) go from such love and delight to dark feelings and hate. Frankenstein and his race pushed the "monster" away and shunned him because he didn't look like them. They never gave him a chance to prove his worth among them. I believe it was society that created the "monster", and not soley Victor, but it was Victor who reaped the punishment. Frankenstein, the novel, brings up some thought provoking questions dealing with science and life and what it means to be human. You'll have to read the book yourself and draw your own conclusions.<BR/><BR/>"So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein-more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation."
10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
My Honors English class had to read this for school. While VERY easy to understand, admittedly, at least to me, this book was a pure travesty. I expected it to be MUCH better than it was, and just expected a whole different kind of reading experience in general. While a great concept for a story, I felt that Mary Shelley did not handle it all that well....in fact, instead of a horror story, it was more of a drama or a tragedy. Anyhow, the reasons that I hated this book are as follows: Mary Shelley repeated herself a lot, and kept using the same words, instead of using variety. The book itself was just plain boring, and no real excitement caught on until maybe, at BEST, the last few chapters. At times, the book lost direction, and once again, it was a chore to read. All in all, I found myself wanting to SLAP Frankenstein and The Creature as well, and just all in all, it made for a waste of a unit in school. I could go on in-DEPTH about why I hated this book, but then I would run out of room, and possibly be typing for years. Anyway, this may sound harsh, but to all those like me who were forced to read it: I sympathize with you. To those who bought it, excited: I pity you. And anyway, I am glad that I did not buy this book, and did not have to; I was excited to return the school's copy once we were finally done with it! Anyway, all in all, I STRONGLY disliked this book, and I am a big reader, so make of that what you will. My advice? DO NOT BUY this book BEFORE READING; either borrow it from the library or a friend and such, and THEN ONCE YOU ARE SURE of your opinion of it, THEN buy it if you love it........this book is definitely worthy of a test-read; THAT'S for sure! (Also, I do think that Mary Shelley IS worthy of fame and praise and all, but I just did not like her book/or her work....)I mean NO disrespect to her, though; that's also for sure!
Here though, are TWO books that we read for school for the SAME class that I absolutely LOVED (Night and Les Miserables, the abridged version), along with a few extra favorites of mine. ;P
9 out of 75 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This, in my opinion has to be the most thought provoking in all of literature. I can't think of a novel more worthy of dicussing in a book club or just in general. It's authenticity still rings true in the twenty first century. It is a scientific study of whether or not we should tamper with God's creation or life, itself. This is the story of man's creation resulting in monstrous consequenses. The topic of conversation is regarding whether or not the monster really is a monster. Meaning he is not born monstrous but becomes so because he is shunned and turned away because of his frightening physical appearance. Would the monster be able to live in society with man if man had just given him a fair opportunity? Perhaps, but should he be given that opportunity under unnatural circumstances? After all, he is not human and created by God but by man. The question of who is a worse monster, him or Victor? Victor by far, for allowing the catastrophes to worsen repeatedly without properly handling the situation. The monster was his ruination from the first which goes back to should it have been attempted in the first place? Was it successful?
9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 13, 2009
I had to read this novel in my Science Fiction class in college. The novel was excellent with great written language, so beautiful. If you a big fan of Frankenstein movies, I would recommend that if you read this novel, don't expect the movies and the novel to be alike. The creature is so different than most of the Hollywood Frankensteins on film. The creature is somewhat a natural philosopher, but I won't give away too much! In other words, this novel is a must read!
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2014
Posted October 24, 2009
I Also Recommend:
Let's be honest. This is a novella, not a novel. And if we removed some of the pages and pages of self-involved, over-dramatic, REPETITIVE personal introspection and emotional suffering (not to mention the pages and pages and pages of uninteresting scenery description), it would be a short story. Find an abridged version and read it. Or an audio version to be enjoyed in your car when you are trapped in traffic; this full-length novella would be better than listening to the other cars honking at each other...Maybe.
3 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 10, 2008
This is one of the few books I have read where the movie is 10 times better than the book. This book is so predictable and tame, as far as 'Classics' go, that you are left shaking your head saying, 'Now this is what they mean by hyperbole'.
3 out of 20 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2014
Please. Just listen to me. I don't want you guys to continue this conversation on a reviewing post. I want people to comment on the book. I want you guys to continue your conversation somewhere else. Please. I am trying to be nice.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2012
A great book!!! I'm not a big fan of Science Fiction novels, but this one was great!!! When reading it, you don't feel like you are reading a Science fiction novel, you feel like you are reading a very sad, disturbing book about when humans should leave nature alone! You will never see Science and progress in it the same after you read this book!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 9, 2009
This is not your typical Frankenstein that you see from Hollywood. It is a great book that you can sit down and read. You read something new in it everytime you read it. Great for conversation in the classroom and book clubs. This book has you think about alot of things that relate to life. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2008
I was excited to read this book, I literally was jumping up and down when I bought it, but the excitement ends there. I understood that it being a classic that it would take me a few chapters to get into the older style of writing like with Earnest Hemmingway and Oscar Wilde, at least for me anyways. But it was like I could never get into Shelly¿s head nor did I want to. The book though short seemed to last forever, like a bad taste in your mouth that never goes away no matter how many times you brush your teeth. You don¿t get attached to any character for they all appear dry a one sided, and though the story is defiantly original you can¿t enjoy it for it¿s presented to you in such a lifeless manner. I had to force myself to finish this book just so I could say I¿ve read it. If you plan to read this book I recommend checking it out at the library and save your money. This is the one case where the movies are much better then the book.
2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 22, 2008
Started out dull.... ended worse. I do not recommend this book, to anyone. I had heard alot of good about this book to. In the end it was a complete dissapointment. Emotionless and lacking much needed drama, this book fell short of my not so high expectations.
2 out of 19 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 14, 2001
If you could imagine bad Poe and bad Dostoevsky glued together, with a little bad Hesse thrown in for good measure, you'd get Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein.' The storyline is as plodding and slow as the Swiss glaciers mentioned 9000 times in the overwritten prose. Character emotions are ridiculously strained and stretched. If you'd like some self-torture, 'Frankenstein' is just what the Doctor ordered.
2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2014
Posted July 12, 2014
I Love this Edition!
Note: This IS the 1831 edition.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was already one of my favourite novels of all time, however, I did not posses a quality edition of this classic. Walking in a Barnes & Noble one day, I stumbled across this lovely edition. It was cheap and looked durable so I purchased it. Taking it home I hoped it was the 1831 edition (my favourite of the two) and was pleased to see that it was. Overall the book has been wonderfully durable, holding up to numerous drops with only one hardly noticeable dent. I also regularly place the book in a backpack, and it holds up marvelously well. However, if you are going to bring it with you in a backpack, I suggest to first place it in a large Ziploc bag and then place it in your backpack. Before I learned this, I put it into a backpack and some of the paint from the title chipped off but after I started to use a plastic bag this no longer happens.
If you want to get a very high quality/durable edition of one of the greatest novels ever written, get this one. It's cheap, yet EXTREMELY beautiful and surprisingly durable.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 6, 2013
Posted May 23, 2013