Forgive me if I’m giving all the most basic Comp 101 analyses here. I just read this a month ago. I hope some college freshman plagiarizes this essay in good health.
The original Frankenstein has a lot more poetry than I expected, and a lot fewer pitchforks.
I finally read it over the summer as part of my Back to Basics project. I have a friend who’s an English professor who regards it legitimately as one of her favorite books, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein sets up the high brooding tone early and never lets up.
Large portions of the book are given over to the monster’s own narration, as he tells his story in florid prose. The monster is depicted as force for horror, although he insists he could’ve been a saint if he got the proper upbringing. I’m not sure you’re supposed to believe him — Shelley leaves that pretty open.
Seen through the eyes of a sea captain, Victor Frankenstein is painted in a very sympathetic light. Although all mad scientists believe they’re doing the right thing, Victor Frankenstein makes a particularly compelling case for himself as a man of virtue led astray by ambition. In leaving this question open, Shelley creates a character that really gets under your skin.
Every man hates the monster on site, although it’s not explained why. His physical form is described as hulking, but Shelley never spells out what about his visage causes everyone to recoil in horror. Perhaps the monster’s evil is easy to see? Perhaps he doesn’t have the capacity for good that he thinks he has? Or perhaps humans just fear the “Other.”
I’ve been mulling this point over ever since I closed the back cover. To me, after 200 years of Frankenstein knockoffs, the idea of a hulking human-like creation is not automatically a source of horror. Maybe I’d feel differently if I actually saw one. But I think the book Frankenstein may have paved the way for such a thing to be accepted in real life.
(Above is an image from the early 70s “Spawn of Frankenstein” feature that ran as a backup in the Phantom Stranger. In retrospect, it’s a very faithful adaptation of the concept.)