This week I decided to read something that is considered one of our original horror stories. Published in 1818, and was initially met with with an unfavorable critical reception before becoming and successful classic that it is known as today. This week, I decided to try and scare myself with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
So, everyone knows that the premise of Frankenstein is that a scientist manages to reanimate a “monster” put together from human body parts. That, and the fact that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist rather than the monster were pretty much the only things I knew about this story when I started it.
On the whole, I sort of enjoyed this book. I was a bit worried that because it’s such a well known story, that it would feel as if I was rereading something or that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much because there wouldn’t be anything new to it for me. I was wrong however and am very pleased that I was. There are many images that come to mind when I consider the concept of Frankenstein and actually, very few of them seem to have originated from the book itself. There was no Igor, no mobs with touches and pitchforks marching up to set fire to a windmill and no flashes of lighting with shouts of “IT’S ALIVE!” Finding out that these ideas have been added later and aren’t part of the original book added an extra layer to the discovery of the story itself.
The reason that I only sort of enjoyed though was because, well, it’s a bit of a slog to get through really. Shelley came up with the concept for Frankenstein while trying to come up with a ghost story while she was staying in Geneva with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. After reading some German ghost stories one night the party decided to come up with their own and after a few days of thinking the idea of Frankenstein came to Shelley in a ‘waking dream’. There are certainly points throughout the book where you can imagine being told the story while sitting around a campfire with suspense building and for me those parts were definitely the highlights of the book. Unfortunately, I personally didn’t find that the rest of the book quite met the expectations. The plot is well put together and in general flows well but there were sections of it that were so long winded and descriptive passages that went on for so long that any suspense that had been built up previously just died off never to be seen again. There were times were I just wanted to sit and read this story for hours, be swept up in the gothic-ness of it all and I just wasn’t. In fact, I couldn’t really read it for more than an hour at a time without my brain getting very tired. This constant break of immersion did leave me feeling a little disappointed.
Then, of course, there is Victor Frankenstein himself. You do have to feel a bit sorry for him, over the course of the story a lot of truly horrible things happen to him but I couldn’t help but wonder “Well, what did you expect to happen?!” You create a sentient being that doesn’t resemble any other type of human in the world, and 1. are surprised that when you brought it to life, you didn’t like it and thought it was a monster, and 2. were unhappy when, the creature didn’t take too kindly to being abandoned. Then there is the whining! I feel sorry for Victor, I truly do, over the course of the book, he looses everything that he cares about and no one should every have to suffer the amount of pain that he does but my god does he go on about it sometimes. At times, I found myself muttering things such as “I get it, you’re sad and want to die, now please just get on with the story.” which isn’t a very pleasant thing to find yourself saying. It was just so frustrating though, page after page of “woe is me” when I want to find out how the story is going to progress.
The monster himself is surprising eloquent. I don’t know whether he was written that way on purpose of whether it was just Shelley’s writing style but I think it’s an important point to note. He doesn’t come across as some barbaric brute who doesn’t really know what he is doing and just kills because he can. This is someone who has turned all his want for love and acceptance into an appetite for revenge and a need to cause as much hurt and destruction as possible. This awareness of self and of his actions probably in some ways should have made the monster much more frightening than any of his movie counterparts. Yet again, for me at least, it just failed to come through that way.
Frankenstein is a strange book. I would suggest that anyone who enjoys reading the classics give it a go, but wouldn’t be surprised if some people didn’t really take to it. For something that was written by an 18 year old at a time when things were very different to how they are today, it is remarkable but, as much as I want it to, I just don’t know how well it stands up today as anything other than a piece of literary history. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not something I would recommend to someone looking for a good ghost or horror story.