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Frankenstein
Mary Shelley
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1818



refered to by:
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson


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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein begat another monster—the frequently cartooned, green-skinned Frankenstein of popular culture who roams the streets on Halloween in the company of mummies and skeletons. In the novel, the monster is nameless, and Victor Frankenstein is the creature's creator, an earnestly romantic, idealistic, and well-educated young gentleman whose studies in "natural philosophy" (p. 40) and chemistry evolve from "a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature" (p. 41). However, it is a tribute to the power of Shelley's work—a masterpiece—that it has spawned a parody, no matter how skewed, much as Frankenstein's creation parodies the divine creation of Adam.

There is some logic, too, in the popular tendency to conflate the monster and his creator under the name of "Frankenstein." As the novel progresses, Frankenstein and his monster vie for the role of protagonist. We are predisposed to identify with Frankenstein, whose character is admired by his virtuous friends and family and even by the ship captain who rescues him, deranged by his quest for vengeance, from the ice floe. He is a human being, after all. However, despite his philanthropic ambition to "banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death" (p. 42), Frankenstein becomes enmeshed in a loathsome pursuit that causes him to destroy his own health and shun his "fellow-creatures as if...guilty of a crime" (p. 57). His irresponsibility causes the death of those he loves most, and he falls under the control of his own creation.

The monster exhibits a similar kind of duality, arousing sympathy as well as horror in all who hear his tale. He demands our compassion to the extent that we recognize ourselves in his existential loneliness. Rejected by his creator and utterly alone, he learns what he can of human nature by eavesdropping on a family of cottage dwellers, and he educates himself by reading a few carefully selected titles that have fortuitously fallen across his path, among them Paradise Lost. "Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come?" (p. 131), he asks himself. Like Milton's Satan, who almost inadvertently becomes the compelling protagonist of Paradise Lost, the monster has much to recommend him.

Despite his criminal acts, the monster's self-consciousness and his ability to educate himself raise the question of what it means to be human. It is difficult to think of the monster as anything less than human in his plea for understanding from Frankenstein: "Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am
I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing? they spurn and hate me" (p. 103). When his anonymous acts of kindness toward the cottage dwellers are repaid with baseless hatred, we have to wonder whether it is the world he inhabits, as opposed to something innate, that causes him to commit atrocities. Nonetheless, he retains a conscience and an intense longing for another kind of existence.

By their own accounts, both Frankenstein and the monster begin with benevolent intentions and become murderers. The monster may seem more sympathetic because he is by nature an outsider, whereas Frankenstein deliberately removes himself from human society. When Frankenstein first becomes engrossed in his efforts to create life, collecting materials from the dissecting room and slaughterhouse, he breaks his ties with friends and family, becoming increasingly isolated. His father reprimands him for this, prompting Frankenstein to ask himself what his single-minded quest for knowledge has cost him, and whether or not it is morally justifiable. Looking back, he concludes that it is not, contrary to his belief at the time: "if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed" (p. 56). Passages such as this one suggest the possibility that Shelley is writing about the potentially disastrous consequences of not only human ambition, but also a specific kind of masculine ambition. The point of view here may be that of a nineteenth-century woman offering a feminist critique of history.

Far more than the simple ghost story a teenaged Shelley set out to write, Frankenstein[/] borrows elements of Gothic horror, anticipates science fiction, and asks enduring questions about human nature and the relationship between God and man. Modern man is the monster, estranged from his creator—sometimes believing his own origins to be meaningless and accidental, and full of rage at the conditions of his existence. Modern man is also Frankenstein, likewise estranged from his creator—usurping the powers of God and irresponsibly tinkering with nature, full of benign purpose and malignant results. Frankenstein is both a criticism of humanity, especially of the human notions of technical progress, science, and enlightenment, and a deeply humanistic work full of sympathy for the human condition. (from: www.penguinputnam.com)

bookweb    
ON MARY SHELLEY'S BOOKSHELF

Oroonoko
Aphra Behn, 1688

The Collected Poems
Lord Byron, ...

The Talmud
The Steinsaltz Edition, ???

The Castle of Otranto
Horace Walpole, 1764

The Monk
Matthew Lewis, 1796

The Italian, or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents
Ann Radcliffe, 1797

Caleb Williams
William Godwin, 1794

Lyrical Ballads
William Wordsworth / Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798

BOOKS BY MARY SHELLEY:

Frankenstein
1818
Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear.
WHAT TO READ AFTER FRANKENSTEIN?

DON'T FOOL WITH GENETICS
Jurassic Park
Michael Crichton, 1991

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley, 1932

The Procedure
Harry Mulisch, 1998

INFLUENCED BY FRANKENSTEIN: HORROR CLASSICS
The Horla
Guy de Maupassant, 1887

Dracula
Bram Stoker, 1897

The Turn of the Screw
Henry James, 1898

Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Edgar Allan Poe, 1833-1849

INFLUENCED BY FRANKENSTEIN: SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS
The Time Machine
H.G. Wells, 1895

Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Jules Verne, 1864

MANMADE MONSTERS
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

The Island of Dr Moreau
H.G. Wells, 1896

The Golem
, 1915

MODERN CLASSIC HORROR
Carrie
Stephen King, 1974

Interview with the Vampire
Anne Rice, 1976

WEIRD AND WONDERFUL TALES
[Huis te huur]
F. Bordewijk, 1999 (collection of stories written between 1937-1951)

[Al zijn fantasieën]
Belcampo, 1979 (the stories were written between 1936-1968)

Completely Unexpected Tales
Roald Dahl, 1986 (collection)

The Last Man
1826
Shelley's 'other great novel' is about the sole survivor of an epidemic that destroys the world.
Mathilda

By the author of Frankenstein: on her deathbed, Mathilda tells the story of her father's confession of incestuous love for her, followed by his suicide.
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editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
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