Author: Mary Shelley
Published By: Barnes & Noble Classics
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was younger, I missed out on reading a lot of the classics. I was an honors student and, as such, I read quite a few classics, but for the most part, my reading list was specialized. Thus, I missed out on reading a great many books that most people would have read by now. Thus, I have set out to make up for lost time, reading books like Great Expectations, Moby Dick, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and more on my own. Most recently, I decided to check out a classic horror tale - Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
The story of Frankenstein has been done and redone in various mediums over the years. The story has been modified for the theater and redesigned for movies. Each time the story is revisited, it gets changed just a little more. The original tale of Frankenstein began as a dare between Mary Shelley, her husband and some friends who ran across a book of ghost tales while on vacation. Although each of the participants were accomplished writers, all agreed that the tale created by Mary Shelley, then only nineteen and unpublished, was the best.
The book begins with a would-be explorer coming across a well-worn traveler in need of rescue in the Arctic Ocean. After a time, the rescued man reveals himself to be Victor Frankenstein, a citizen of Geneva. As he tells his life story to his rescuer, Frankenstein reveals that he is on a mission - a mission to destroy the life he has created. You see, Frankenstein was once an ambitious scientist whose research led him to believe that the creation of life by man was possible. In his endeavors to create life, Frankenstein became a man obsessed, thinking only of accomplishing the task set before him and never or the consequences of such an accomplishment.
When the task is completed successfully and Victor Frankenstein has truly created life, the creature itself is an abomination, so frightful as to cause Frankenstein to flee from it. Unfortunately, he abandons not only his chosen profession, but the creature he created, leaving it to fend for himself. In the end, this proves to be the undoing of Frankenstein as the journey of his creation has been one of pain and anguish. Frankenstein’s creation exacts revenge on his creator, a revenge that will haunt Frankenstein until his final days.
All these years, I had thought that the book would be like the movies, relating a tale in which a lunatic genius named Victor Frankenstein created a hideous monster from the body parts of the dead and brought him to life. However, the book written by Mary Shelley is completely different. Yes, we do see the obsession in Victor Frankenstein, but we are never actually told the details behind the creation of his creature, the very thing that all of the movies out there seem to dwell on.
In the films, Frankenstein is incredibly pleased with himself and his creation, but in the novel, Victor is only pleased that he accomplished such a deed, a pleasure immediately taken away when he realizes what he has done. His creation repulses him and he runs from it, in a sense, running from the ambitiousness and obsessions that led to this creation. Frankenstein runs from his former self, figuratively attempting to leave his ugly characteristics behind while abandoning the very creature those characteristics assisted in creating.
Mary Shelley’s story focuses less on the creation of the creature and more the effect on Frankenstein of the creature’s creation and its subsequent journey of revenge. The book delves into the fortitude of man, his blindness to consequences and to those things he refuses to believe in and his lack of understanding for things different from himself. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not a tale of blood and gore, but a tale of emotional and psychological terror inflicted on someone whose obsessions have led them to do the unthinkable.
The fact that Mary Shelley could create such an emotional and psychologically horrific tale at the early age of nineteen speaks to the experiences she endured in her own life. The introduction and notes in the Barnes & Noble Classics edition provided by Karen Karbiener offer up, in incredible detail, the parallels between some of the events in Frankenstein and those in Mary Shelley’s own life. Mary Shelley’s life was filled with tragedy, beginning with the death of her mother after Mary was born. These events had a profound effect on Shelley’s life and on her writing. The pain and anguish she must have felt at losing people she loved dearly is impressively expressed through the character of Victor Frankenstein as, one by one, he loses everything and everyone he ever loved.
I absolutely loved reading this novel and wish that I had read it sooner. Mary Shelley’s descriptiveness is incredible and I could actually picture the events of the book in my mind’s eyes as they took place. Those who have had little introduction to the classics may have a bit of trouble with the flowery writing and the 1800s English, but there is no denying the brilliant storytelling of Mary Shelley and the captivating tale she has created.
My only regret is that I read the introduction and notes by Karen Karbiener before I read the novel. While I thought the introduction and notes were incredibly informative, I believed that they were at times too informative, supposing that the reader had already read this novel before. Thanks to Karbiener, so detailed was her introduction that little in the actual story surprised me. Karbiener’s writings would have been better suited at the end of the book as a sort of afterward or addendum.
Of course, this takes nothing away from the incredible story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a novel I must recommend to anyone who loves tales of psychological terror and incredible suspense.