Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

It’s my second time reading this book, and I still adore it. It’s one of my favorite books, and this time I got to add a lot more to my understanding of it. An understanding that was pretty flawed the first time around, never mind, no one remembers that.

The first time I read it I was impressed by how everything seemed to fall into place, like everything was meticulously planned and put into motion, each event following the last in a perfect wave of death, hubris and destruction. I didn’t get that feeling the same way the second time around, but the sentiment still stands. There’s a beautiful circular movement to this book, helped along by the framing of the letters and then Frankenstein’s story around the Creature’s tale. It’s as if they’re constantly circling a happy centre, where everything may very well work out, but a centre they can never reach.

It’s a book with a lot of interpretations. It can be read as a political allegory, as a way of working through the emotions caused by the French revolution; the elevation, the hope of a new tomorrow, and then it all crashing down. There’s the gothic elements, the fear of the masses, the subconscious rearing it’s ugly head, but also a critical look at enlightenment. There’s a more feministic reading, the idea that this is, on top of everything else, Mary Shelley’s fear of a male dominated society. Power to the people was slowly happening, but the people meant men with money and, as hindsight (and current events) can tell us, a society ruled by men is a very, very legitimate fear if you’re a woman, poor or not white. The women are all absent or die in ‘Frankenstein’, and even during the process where they’re the most required (giving birth) no woman is present. Frankenstein births his creature entirely on his own, clinically, scientifically, artificially.

I’m partial to the most obvious reading; man playing God and being punished for presuming himself capable of taking on such a task. This particular book I feel takes on a brilliant ambiguous version of that classic tale. Frankenstein is not truly punished for playing God and artificially creating life, where life is not supposed to exist. It’s not that he takes God’s work out of his hands, it’s that he’s incapable of playing both God and caretaker. He can’t find it in himself to love what he’s created, which is the greater crime.

The creature, in turn, is consistently shunned from being part of society, an outcast, and when denied the opportunity to get a mate and start his own society, he turns to violence, to revenge. He’ll always be the more sympathetic character to me, but he’s still a rational creature that chooses vengeance over forgiveness. They’re God and Satan, each incapable of entirely fulfilling the role they’re supposed to, but just as incapable of turning away from it, to forgive or see their own mistakes for what they are.

‘Frankenstein’ will always be to me one of the greatest examples of a work where there’s constantly the sense that everything could be righted, that one choice could change everything for the better, but both the Creature and Frankenstein constantly turn from it. They’re both lessons to be learned.

Obviously, though, the greatest thing about this book is that (as far as I can tell) one of Viktor Frankenstein’s brothers, Ernst, actually survives. That’s gotta suck. Your entire family is dead because your brother was a fucking idiot and there you are, still alive, with nothing left. Amazing.

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