It’s over 200 years since Frankenstein was first published in 1818 and it is a remarkable achievement that we’re still reading this book today, in a genre that has mushroomed. Certainly one of the greatest monster stories of all time and credited for creating the mad scientist and the first science fiction story.
The story starts with a number of letters written by Robert Walton to his sister Margaret telling of his exploration, his ambition in the frozen Arctic circle and the glory he could acclaim with illustrious recognition. From the outset, however, he reflects that he does not have a companion and seems to report desperation for a male friend
“… when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection.”
Caught in a freezing sea, Robert and the ship’s crew spot a man in the distance travelling at speed being pulled on a sledge by a number of dogs. The following day they come across another man needing rescuing as he has lost his pack of dogs and his sledge. This stranger needs care and during his rehabilitation tells Robert his life story and why he was chasing the man from the previous day.
We know the main story of Victor Frankenstein, the scientist that played God and undertook his scientific research to create a human being, only to realise he created a monster.
“I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this, I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
There have been many adaptions of the story over the years and although Mary Shelley’s version didn’t have him pitted against werewolves and vampires, the re-animation of a dead being, remains a fundamental element.
What is interesting is how different readers will find context and meaning running as deeper themes and I often wonder if Mary Shelley realised the depth of the story beyond a horror story or was it her intuitive talent. For example, I feel that the main psychological theme that underpins the main characters is one of loneliness. Robert Walton desperate for a friend, Victor Frankenstein separated from his loving family and alone in his work, and the monster, a freak, so fatally different and doomed to isolation. The sense of segregation and seclusion pervades the atmosphere throughout the novel.
The prose and structure of the novel certainly have a style associated with that period and I find this a personal choice. The writing often settles on anxious thoughts and dilemmas from Robert or Frankenstein, and in telling the story I felt this a little labour-some at times.
What is additionally quite interesting is the background to Mary Shelley and while she claimed to come across the Frankenstein story by way of a dream it seems more likely that it was a daydream as she prepared to enter a horror-story competition and pulled on actual places and names. In 1814, at the age 16, Mary Shelley’s ran away from home with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Over the next two years, she gave birth to two children. In 1816, the couple travelled to Switzerland and visited Lord Byron at Villa Diodati. While there, 18-year-old Mary started Frankenstein and it was first published anomalously in 1818. It wasn’t until 1831 when the book was reprinted that full credit was given to Mary Shelley as the author.
I would recommend reading this book as one of the classics but it did drag at times and the prose was over-elaborate on occasions.
In 1910, Thomas Edison adapted the story for film and made a short 15-minute film of Frankenstein