on 22 January 2011
In the past I have read several science fiction "classics" such as "War of the worlds", "The Lost World" and several Jules Verne and it is probably been fair to say that these books have been undone by "science fact" with their enduring appeal proabably assisted by Hollywood films or BBC productions. These books have proved to be hugely disappointing and frequently very poorly written. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is saturated in the melodrama of her age but the quality of the writing and the true horror in many instances genuinely mark this book up as a classsic.
The most striking thing is just how different this book is from your perception. I was surprised just how little I actually knew of the story as it bears no resemblance to any film about "Frankenstein" I have seen. In fact, Shelley offers very little physical description of her "daemon" and the horror of the narrative stems from the fact that the monster has almost super-human powers with which to torment his creator Victor Frankenstein. I was fascinated by the first third of the book and by the time I had read with disbelief that the story could take such a turn concerning the machinations that brought about the fate of the character Justine, I was totally hooked. Oddly for a book of the early 19th Century, the story does not conclude with a totally satisfactory ending and the monster's intended fate would definately have shocked the audience of the time. Part of the book's success stems from the fact that the monster is extremely intelligent and has a strong conscience yet remains hell bent on bringing about the most terrible destruction of the things his creator holds dear.
Ultimately, my impression was why had film directors in the past taken so many liberties with the original story when this would so obviously make a powerful film with some wonderful locations and plenty of menace to produce a piece of cinema that would have such memorable scenes as to be compelling. Definately worth checking out.
on 12 February 2012
Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus, bublished in 1818 by Mary Shelley (1797-1851), is told through the letters of an English explorer in the Arctic, named Walton. It relates the exploits of Victor Frankenstein, a Genevan student of philosophy at the University of Ingolstadt. He discovers the secret of giving life to inanimate matter and assembles a terrifying human figure from fresh cadavers and gives it life! The creature has the supernatural strength of a super being and because of his differences and mistreatment he becomes a lonely and miserable 'monster', who turns on frankenstein, after failing to convince his creator that he needs a female companion. He murders Victor's brother and his friend Clerval and also his bride Elizabeth. Frankenstein pursues the creature to the Arctic and attempts to destroy it, but dies after telling his tale to Walton. The monster declared that his creator would be his last victim and disappears into the snowy waste.
The story is beautifully written and this 'blue-print' for all monster creations is also a cautionary tale on how nature, which is essentially good, can be corrupted by ill treatment. Those familiar with the many film versions will be surprised with the original tale and how it differs in interpretation from current perceptions of the creature. fantastic!
on 2 May 2015
Enough has been said already about the story that I can add little. It is a classic of English literature but perhaps also very much of it's time with some of the less probable events ( the monster learns to read by observing from afar then reads some weighty treatise of philosophy, or wandering the wilderness of Central Europe just so happens upon Victor's younger brother). It is also rather bleak and melodramatic, with the main protagonist proclaiming himself the most miserable being even before the worst of his mishaps. That said, it is a very poetic and beautifully written work raising all sorts of questions about the duty of a creator to his creation. It seems odd to a modern sensibility that someone able to instill life in inanimate flesh cannot render a female creation sterile and thus unable to bear children.
These minor gripes aside this is another beautifully presented volume from Barnes & Noble and will sit handsomely on any book lovers shelf - in my case beside the sumptuously blood red Barnes and Noble edition of Dracula - the natural companion.
This is one of those classic novels, “The Great Gatsby” is another”, that I have never been able to love. Despite many readings and having taught both at various levels, the qualities that so many admire elude me. It is not a matter of style, at least not in the sense that some find the book hard to cope with. For me the great Victorian novels of Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell, through to Henry James et al remain a source of almost unqualified delight. “Frankenstein” was published earlier, of course, but so too were the works of Jane Austen, whose novels are almost worth reading for the aesthetic rewards of style alone.
The book is grounded in a rich tradition of cultural and scientific thought and Mary Shelley could scarcely have enjoyed a more intellectually stimulating upbringing. Few books are so widely allusive. It is in fact first and foremost a novel of ideas and I suspect that most probably explains my personal difficulties in establishing a close affinity with it. It is rooted not in the rich detail of palpable actuality, but in social, political, scientific issues. That is admittedly a crude distinction, but a review here is not the place for a detailed thesis. “Brave New World” might offer some sort of more recent equivalent if the parallel is not pushed too far. Against these books I would place the likes of “Mansfield Park”, “Bleak House”, “Wuthering Heights” and much more recently the admirable work of Sarah Waters and Donna Tartt.
There is virtually no dialogue in “Frankenstein”. What we have are extended monologues, often portentous in tone and style. The shifts from what seem to me to be rather stilted narrative to extravagantly hyperbolic emotional statements are both alien to expressive modern English. The novel is fertile ground for agenda–led critics, many of whom have had a field day in using the book to advance their own partialities. Whether a novel should be judged on the quality of what is written about it is another question, and one on which it seems wise to make my exit.
This is a review of the Oxford World's Classics edition, edited and introduced by Marilyn Butler of Exeter College, Oxford. She explains in her note on the text why the 1818 version is preferred - "it delivers an original, specific and profound fable about the modern world in conditions of social change" - rather than the usual published text of the amended 1831 edition. I agree that the original edition has a raw edge, a directness, and a refusal to concede to societal norms that is not so prominent in the later massaged text.
I came to the novel with an open mind, but with an appreciation that Hollywood had cemented the story as a classic of gothic horror. And yet the monsters tale of his `adventures' with the de Lacey family, for example, seemed worlds away from the `traditional' tale as told by American cinema. (Hence, presumably, Kenneth Branagh's 1994 adaptation bearing the conscious title "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein".)
The novel is very well-written and conceived. It is interesting for its literary-historical and scientific context, but of far more interest to me are the philosophical issues that it (unconsciously?) raises. It is geographically incoherent in places, as is the plot, but plot is not really the reason for this novel, is it?
The actual physical creation of the monster is, surprisingly, sparsely described, covering barely two paragraphs, and even then only a vague illustration is given. Throughout the novel, there are only indistinct allusions to his form. Captain Walton, for example, merely says that he was "gigantic in stature, yet uncouth and distorted in his proportions. ... his face was concealed by long locks of ragged hair; but one vast hand was extended, in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy".
Frankenstein's rejection of his creation so soon after having given life to it - indeed, at the very point of giving life to it - after so determined and intense a devotion to the cause, seems to me to mirror the immense shame and repugnance that civilisation can inculcate at the moment of sexual orgasm in `inappropriate circumstances'. Or, given the gender of the book's author, perhaps a more relevant analogy would be giving birth to a child conceived in shameful circumstances. His rejection of his act is absolute and unyielding. He does not return to his studies to rectify his mistakes in the creation of another, or seek to modify the result that he has created. Instead, he turns his back and falls into a great depression.
Meanwhile the monster plays the part of an extraterrestrial. Initially completely alien to his surroundings, Mary Shelley uses this position to allow him to comment as an outsider on the nature of humanity. The monster says how the de Lacey cottage was "the school in which I studied human nature." Thus, he who was the experiment has now become the experimenter. "Perhaps [he remarks], if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations", than those provided by the de Laceys and their humanistic literature.
On one level the story is akin to `Beauty and the Beast', `Cyrano de Bergerac', the `Elephant Man', or `E.T.'. But why did not Frankenstein simply learn to accept his creation? He is the creator, he is the monster's god. Is this a metaphor on man's place in God's creation? (At one point, he compares his situation explicitly with Adam.) Is this a comment on the Christian religion, when the monster describes Frankenstein as "the author at once of my existence and of its unspeakable torments" in a time of upheaval and speculation in post-Enlightenment but pre-Darwinian educated circles, when deism was becoming a reputable opinion? The monster again: "The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil."
Marilyn Butler's 42-page introduction, is of the usual high standard that one comes to expect from this publisher. She details Mary Shelley's beginnings, her family and her relationship with her husband. She goes on to describe their relationship with the radical science of the period in which they lived. She explains the ghost-story competition context from which the novel arose. There then follows a critique of the novel itself.
There are three appendices to this Oxford World's Classics edition. The first is Mary Shelley's preface to the amended 1831 edition, where she gives details about the inspiration for the tale and the story behind its creation. The second details the changes made to the text, or rather denotes the additions thereto but not (for some reason) the omissions. ... lists these changes and the reasons for them. The third and final appendix is an extract from an 1820 edition of the Quarterly Review, a nineteenth-century Tory version of the London Review of Books. The extract is not a review of Mary Shelley's `Frankenstein', but is principally concerned with the lectures of William Lawrence FRS and whether the life-force and greater mental capacities of humans (compared to other animals) is inherited or `super-added'. It is these extras - and the use of the 1818 text - that make this edition superior to others.
As with all reprints of classic works of literature, I recommend that the so-called introduction (which is really more of a commentary) is best read after the novel.
on 25 July 2015
Bought this for school study. It's typical oldy-worldy prose. Basically, there's no point reading it if you don't like that style of literature. Shelley's style is boring and complicated and she takes a very long time to make her point. Her characters aren't very well rounded or believable and the outcome of the story is thoroughly miserable. However, if you're a fan of the Gothic I suppose you would consider this as a "must-read." In terms of studying, this edition was a good choice for making notes in the margins and highlighting etc. Served its purpose.
on 12 November 2001
As I'm sure most of you know the story of Frankenstein, I'd just like to say a few words about the essays. This is a great edition for students, as you can read both modern responses to the text and those from Shelley's contemporaries. I found the essays on feminist and psychoanalytical responses invaluable; the commentary on the text is top-quality. I know it''s an expensive edition, but trust me, it's worth it!
on 6 November 2012
Mary Shelley, 1818
Here's another classic story I'm reading for the first time! Frankenstein the novel, as I suspected, is almost nothing like the various incarnations of Frankenstein I've run across over the years. I've seen so many versions of the monster in childrens' shows, comedy specials, skits, and other forms of media, but none of the pop-culture depictions of the monster seem to accurately represent the sadness and abundant emotion of the book.
I shouldn't be surprised at it anymore, but it seems like all British or American literature from the 19th century has to be set inside a frame story--the narrative has to be told to somebody who told somebody who is telling the reading audience about it, or something equally layered. Frankenstein is actually not told by Victor Frankenstein or by his created monster, but by a third party whose main purpose seems to be praising Victor Frankenstein's character to the high heavens.
The story starts out with some guy, Captain Robert Walton, writing to his sister about the weather in St. Petersburg. He's a sea captain and he is preparing for a big voyage to the Arctic, where he hopes something amazing and purposeful awaits him. As his letters continue, it becomes clear that Walton is seriously poetic and he really wants a like-minded best friend because pouring out his heart in well-composed letters to his sister is just not doing justice to the depth of his feelings. But Walton's loneliness doesn't last for too long because his crew soon discovers a dying man floating on a big piece of ice. As the man, Victor, is nursed back to health, he admits to Walton that he has been in the Arctic chasing another person, or rather a "demon" as he calls him. Then Victor begins to share his long, tragic story with the captain.
Victor's thirst for knowledge led him to serious questions about the nature of life and souls. He was a brainiac who devoted himself to the intense study of various educational disciplines, including a few areas of spiritualism and quackery. Time passed and Victor learned how to give life to inanimate biological objects. He cobbled together an eight-fool-tall body, ran an electric current and some other stuff through it, and brought the ugly creature to liiiiiife. But no sooner does his pet project come to life, than Victor runs away from it in disgust. Strangely, it's at this point that I, as a reader, go from feeling a certain fondness for Victor and his obsessive studying to feeling outright revulsion for him because he refuses to take responsibility for something he made.
And I do feel very sorry for the monster, which I did not expect to happen. The monster does some cruel, vile things, but he had no real guidance. He didn't ask to be created and abandoned, and it isn't his fault that his own creator views him with absolute horror. Victor created a life that could have had some value if he had chosen to assign said value to it, but instead he leaves the creature alone in hopes that it will run away and just not be his problem anymore! But it becomes his problem once again when the creature kills his younger brother and frames a servant for the crime.
At one of the climaxes of the story, the creature confronts Victor and talks to him for the first time. The creature has been through a lot of painful encounters with human beings, most of which began with him trying to do something kind and ended with him doing something destructive. He wants Victor to make him a companion so he can live happily ever after with her in the wilderness, but his plans for a monster wedding don't ever come to fruition because Victor sabotages the effort. Victor and his monster proceed in a gruesome game of one-upsmanship where each tries to hurt the other horribly, and they both succeed. When this very short book is over, the body-count is about as high as your typical Shakespearean tragedy: everyone we care about (and some people we don't) has died.
What's the moral of the story, then, if you're looking for one? Perhaps that seeking after too much knowledge or pursuing science for science's sake is a bad idea. Jurassic Park has also taught us that. Another moral or lesson I see in Frankenstein is the importance of compassion and empathy--if Victor had cared for his creation as he ought to, the many, many deaths could have been averted. That's why the story is tragic; a little less obsession and selfishness from our protagonist would have changed everything. Grade: B
-"Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin." (pg 16)
Victor-"But now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. " (pg 26)
Monster-"I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy" (pg 80)
Frankenstein, or more correctly, Frankentein's Monster, is something known very well in popular culture. Most, when they hear the word Frankenstein conjure up the image of the moaning giant with bolts in his neck popularised throughout 20th century film and television, so I was surprised to discover just how different the original monster in the book is from the one we have come to know.
The story is presented in epistolary form, within the frame of correspondence between Captain Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret. Captain Walton tells the tale of how his crew rescued Victor Frankenstein from what would undoubtedly have been a frozen death during their excursion toward the North Pole. From this chance rescue, Victor recounts to Captain Walton the story of how he ended up so far North, explaining to them precisely what was the creature the crew saw pass them a few hours before they rescued Frankenstein.
What follows is, in essence, Victor Frankenstein's life story. Beginning with his childhood we come to discover how Victor became acquainted with outdated ideas on Natural Philosophy and what led him to his fascination with life and how life can be created. He recounts the tale of his work in creating the monster that came to be his torturer and come to know of his revulsion of his creation once life was given to it. It is this revulsion of the creature and its subsequent rejection which sets in motion a chain of horrific events perpetrated by the monster which brings Victor to his current state; being rescued by the captain.
I won't go into much detail from what I have already said about the story as it is something that is best discovered yourself while reading the story. Many other reviewers have written about how different the book really is from the image of the Frankenstein's Monster we have come to know in popular culture. Most striking is the monster's acquired education and eloquence through his observance of a family over the course of a number of years. The crimes that are committed at the hands of the monster, through his acquired use of language, allow him to explain his motivations and his internal mental torments which thus make him a sympathetic creature. The crimes he has committed are ones of true abhorrence, so perhaps for some it may be difficult to feel that sympathy, but it is the rejection by his creator and his abject loneliness, brought on from being the first and only of his kind, that compels him to act the way he does.
The story is truly compelling and sometimes legitimately scary, yet the tale of Frankenstein's monster is perhaps allegorical of the way in which life, happiness and acceptance are viewed, especially in the classical world. Perhaps the monster is even a metaphor for our own pursuit of love, companionship and the struggle to come to terms with our creator (God). In fact, there is reference made to the Biblical 'Adam' in the story, to whom the monster seems to relate, in that Adam's existence was only really complete and satisfied when he had his 'Eve' and the monster's motivation was simply to gain his own 'Eve'.
The edition I bought was of the Clothbound Classics series and it has a look and feel to it that makes it a welcome and proud addition to any book shelf, so I would strongly recommend that you pick this up. It really is something to be enjoyed.
on 2 January 2016
I am an English student and specifically bought this book as it says on the cover that it is the 1818 edition, which it is not. It is actually a later, revised version of the novel. I ordered this specifically as I needed the original edition and this has caused me a lot of trouble. The cover of this book is totally misleading and the publishers need to revise this issue.