Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: "Frankenstein" Classic A Month #10.2013

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
2.5 out of 5 stars

I had many issues with this book but I also enjoyed a good part of it. Hence the ambivalent 2.5 rating. As always, my classic reviews are full of spoilers and this one more than most, so don't say I didn't warn you. ;) Okay. Let's talk about the author first because that part is pretty interesting. Mary Shelley was born in 1797 but her parents were big time hippies...they didn't believe in marriage and she was encouraged to learn and question everything. When she was 17, she met Percy Shelley and they fell in love, despite the fact that he was already married and had children. They eloped and she spent the next several years having and losing babies. The summer she was 19 she was staying at a lake house in Geneva with Shelley and telling ghost stories with neighbor Lord Byron (who was a complete scoundrel). And that's when Frankenstein was born. Yep, she was 19 years old. Don't you feel bad for yourself now? I know I do. After her book was published to mixed reviews, she had a series of deaths including her husband when she was 25 years old. She lived to be 54 but refused to remarry, saying that she wanted her tombstone to read "Mary Shelley". She had a pretty sad life if you really start thinking about it.

I was expecting Frankenstein to be a true horror story which is why I picked it for my October classic. I wanted to be scared. I was not. I wasn't even a little bit weirded out for the most part. But let's start at the beginning. The book starts off with a series of letters from a ship captain named Walton to his sister who lives in England. This was confusing enough but then when he starts telling his sister about a man he meets on his travels who starts telling Walton a story parts of which were told to him, it just becomes this nesting doll of who said what. And the letters were truly boring. They're all about how Walton wants a friend and it just starts to get a little weird. "I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine." Okay then. It finally starts to get interesting when the stranger starts telling his story. Not really sure why he felt the need to tell every little thing about his life ("I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic.") but whatever.

In case you haven't guessed yet, the stranger is Frankenstein. I'm assuming you were aware that Frankenstein is actually the scientist and not the monster. The monster never even gets a name. Young Victor Frankenstein grew up in a happy family, with a mummy and a daddy and brothers and a lovely girl named Elizabeth, who was taken in as a young child from a peasant woman in Milan. Victor always considered Elizabeth "his" and she, along with his best mate Clerval, were what kept him from becoming a sullen outcast. Victor became interested in the science of life and death at an early age and soon focused his studies "...with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life..." So yeah, he was a strange child. (I can make Harry Potter fit in any review lol.)

At the age of seventeen, after mourning his mother's death, he went off to university and began his descent into the weird world of alchemy. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles.

It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being. ...I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large.

Sure, that seems smart. Make the monster even bigger than you first thought. Victor goes into this kind of frenzy of studying and gathering materials (IE: body parts) and basically starts ignoring every other part of his life. And I apologize for the large amount of quotes, but there are some really good ones, so here we go:

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasure in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.

So Victor continues on in this state for nearly two years and he finally succeeds...the monster comes to life. There is no lightning storm or shouts of "It's aliiiive!!" or even a hunch-backed sidekick. The monster opens its milky yellow eyes, Victor freaks out and runs off to his bedchamber. The monster shows up, hovering creepily over his bed, and does the "father??" routine but Victor wants none of it and runs into the night. (Running is a theme, FYI.)

Then, horrors, Victor's pal Clerval shows up suddenly to check on him. They make their way back to Victor's pad, which is ominously empty, and Victor falls into a sort of delirious fit that leaves him bed-ridden for months. (Another theme) Clerval takes care of him and two years pass. Yep, you read that right...TWO YEARS go by and he doesn't do anything about this monster that he let loose into the world. He doesn't even know if it really is a monster, he just assumes. Especially when he gets a letter from Elizabeth telling him that his younger brother was murdered. Victor immediately heads home, where he is confronted by the monster first thing, so yeah, he was probably right. A servant girl is accused of the murder and Victor can't say anything without incriminating himself, so the girl is tried and hanged. Good job, Vic. His whining and selfishness really got on my nerves throughout this book. Also, his lack of nerves. Every other page, he's fainting and falling into a horrible illness that takes months to recover from. Grow a spine, weenie...or steal one from a cadaver, whatever. Anyway, after all that mess, Victor takes off and ends up on an icy mountain where he's confronted by his creation. Who is surprisingly eloquent.

"All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us."

Seriously? I don't have a dead guy's brain rattling in my head and I can't speak that well! Basically, the dude is super sad and it's all Victor's fault. Because of that, the monster wants Vic to listen to him and show some freaking compassion for the pitiful creature. So Victor sits down and listens to the guy's story, which though really long and wordy, was one of my favorite parts of the whole book. Speaking of long and wordy, this review is getting there, yes? Let's try to speed things up.

The monster wakes up to a scary world, with no idea who or what he is. Victor totally shunned him so he goes off into the world. After freaking out some villagers, he comes to realize that he's kind of a leper of some sorts so he hides in the woods a lot. He finds a small cottage with a hovel of sorts next to it and hides there and starts spying on the family living there. Turns out it's an old blind man and his two children. That's where he learns his humanity and language and such. He starts to care for the family and does things for them in secret, like cutting wood and shoveling snow. He begins to find his humanity again.

These wonderful narrations inspired me with strange feelings. Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle and at another as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike. To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being.

After observing the family for months and months, the monster finally decides to reveal himself, in the hopes that they will accept him and love him. It doesn't go well. And in a fit of rage, he sets fire to their cottage and takes off to find his creator. Way to live up to stereotypes. He finds Victor's family, kills the boy, sets the crime on the help, and starts stalking Victor when he shows up, and now we're back at the icy mountain. What does the monster want now? He wants Victor to build him a woman, a companion, as ugly & ostracized as him, and then he'll leave him alone forever. Understandably, Victor is like "Whaaat??? No way, dude." But then the monster threatens him and says he'll follow him to the ends of the earth til his dying days, blah blah and Victor reconsiders.

He finally agrees and then a whole bunch of months pass again. Victor and Elizabeth get engaged, but he refuses to marry her until his deed is done (although he doesn't tell anyone that, so she thinks he has another woman somewhere). Victor and Clerval go off on this "gentleman's holiday" of sorts which Victor set up so he could go somewhere far away to make the lady monster. He gets all the materials together and does more research but in the end, just can't bring himself to do it. The monster, of course, is keeping tabs on him the whole time and is super pissed when he sees Victor destroy the body. The monster retaliates by killing Clerval, which Victor is accused of and hey, he falls ill again. Oh, before that he gets this ominous message from the monster: "I shall be with you on your wedding-night." Whoa dude, not that kind of relationship. Haha, just kidding.

Victor is freed from prison, marries Elizabeth, they honeymoon on a tropical island, the monster finds them and kills Elizabeth, Victor faints. He doesn't actually get sick this time though. He finally decides to take out the monster once and for all, especially after his father dies from all the grief, and starts tracking the creature all over the world. And they make their way to the icy sea where he meets Walton and the story is back to the present. Victor is near death which is very sad for Walton, who thought he might be his friend. Alas, Victor doesn't want a new BFF.

"When you speak of new ties and fresh affections, think you that any can replace those who are gone? Can any man be to me as Clerval was, or any woman another Elizabeth? Even where the affections are not strongly moved by any superior excellence, the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain. They know our infantine dispositions, which, however they may be afterwards modified, are never eradicated; and they can judge of our actions with more certain conclusions as to the integrity of our motives."

I love that; it's so true. And we're at the end of the book...Victor dies after telling Walton to seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, the hideous monster shows up on the ship and is kind of mad that Victor died and the chase is over. Because he was kind of enjoying himself. He tells Walton not to worry, that he's done killing, after one last person...himself. And that's it. Honestly, I think I prefer Young Frankenstein.

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