Last but not least in the Back to the Classics challenge, today I finished reading Mary Shelley’s classic thriller, Frankenstein. Those of you who have been following along for a while will have read my review of The Man in the Iron Mask where I said that Hollywood had a lot to answer for. Turns out, their treatment of Frankenstein was just as flawed.
Here’s what they got right:
A young scientist named Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with attempting to create artificial life. He succeeds, and to Victor’s horror, the creature he creates goes on a killing spree, endangering his family and his fiancee Elizabeth.
Here’s what they didn’t tell you:
Apart from his oversized stature and yellow skin, the ‘monster’ is much the same as the rest of us. He is intelligent, and after some instruction he is capable of eloquent speech and of making moral decisions. His reputation for evil is at first based solely on the fact that he looks different, and it is only after he finds himself shunned by society that he chooses to take his revenge by killing – not random strangers but the friends and family of his creator.
I actually found this book fascinating. I was expecting something along the lines of Dracula: a real looming threat throughout that would be comprehensively defeated at the end, leaving any survivors to live on, mentally scarred but ultimately in one piece. Instead it was more like 20 chapters of internal monologue, as the raving Frankenstein (who, now I come to think of it was NEVER addressed as DOCTOR) tries to justify why he finds his creation so horrendous. He never once takes responsibility for the fact that he abandoned his creation as soon as it was brought to life, after immediately assuming that just because the creature looked evil, there must be only evil in its heart. If he had taken a deep breath and sat down to talk to the creature (as happened in the Mel Brooks spoof Young Frankenstein) things would probably have turned out very differently.
I don’t know if Shelley intended this to be a moral piece (it was originally written in competition with her husband Percy, and their friends John Polidori and Lord Byron to see who could write the best horror story) but I could not help but see the parallels between Frankenstein’s treatment of his creation and racism. That was the over-riding theme for me at least. I found it annoying that while Victor obsessed over his mistaken attempt at playing God, he couldn’t admit that his biggest error was not making an effort to care for the creature once it was alive. Over and over again the creature (having read the book, I feel ‘monster’ is a very unfair epithet) insists that all he craves is human acceptance and companionship, and his crimes are committed out of frustration. Frankenstein is completely blind to this, and insists that the creature is a silver-tongued liar, who demonstrates his true nature by the murders he commits. Which is right? Perhaps you should read the novel and decide for yourself.
There’s one last requirement to completing the Back to the Classics 2014 challenge. A wrap-up post detailing what I read, and how each book qualifies for the category I labelled it under. Watch out for it some time tomorrow!