I did an essay on Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ recently as one of my end of year assessments for uni (which I got a first in) and so I do feel like a bit of a pro on it now. However, books for me tend to get ruined if I over-study them, so hopefully as I am writing this I do not get flashbacks of me end of year panic writing fest. This truly is an interesting story, and I hope after reading the plot and some quotes you will see just how far the cinematic reimagining of ‘Frankenstein’ is from the original.
‘Frankenstein’ begins on a boat in the Atlantic and is told through the first-person episolory narrative of Walton, who writes this story to his sister. He describes meeting a strange man called Victor Frankenstein, who takes over the narrative (now a framed narrative) and tells us about how he was always obsessed with science and reanimation. He tells us about how he reanimated a body (made out of various corpses), however he feared what he hadn’t created and fled. The monster escapes and roams the country, while Victor hides in a tavern. Victor comes home to find that his little brother has been murdered by strangulation, and his housekeeper Justine is framed for the murder. Victor knows it was his creation that killed William, yet he keeps quiet because he is worried about everyone finding out what he has done and Justine is executed for the crime she did not commit.
The creature and Victor cross paths, and the creature tells Victor about how he understands language as he spied on a family for months. When the creature goes to make friends with this family, he is chased away as he is scary looking. He recounts a few other occasions which highlight how rejected the creature feels by society. He demands that Victor “make me a mate of my own” so that he can go live with her in South America. Victor agrees, yet changes his mind halfway and tears her apart and throws her away. He’s worried that they will make creature babies. The creature is upset by this and swears he will get his revenge.
Victor gets married to his life-long sweetheart Elizabeth. However, on their wedding night, Victor finds her strangled in her bed. Victor gets so angry at the creature that he chases him around Europe and Russia, and finally to the Arctic where he meets Walton and the story begins.
Victor is on his death bed now, and Walton is taking care of him. The creature comes in and briefly tells Walton his side of the story. Victor dies, and the creature disappears.
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful”
”Live, and be happy, and make others so”
”if I can not inspire love then I will cause fear!”
”Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it“
‘Frankenstein’ is more than just a horror story. It’s a story of love, society and morality. Note that throughout the plot explanation, I tried to keep away from using the term “monster” to describe the creature. To reduce the creature to just a “monster” or a villain to be feared would be to completely overlook the tormented soul and complexities that lie beneath the scary surface. The creature and Victor are often seen as reflections of one another. They have a complicated relationship with science and religion (note, John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is alluded to throughout the novel), both attempt reanimation and both have their lover taken away by the hands of the other. I would be foolish to talk about Shelley without noting her feminist activist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. Although Mary never knew her mother, feminist issues can be seen between the lines of her novel, suggesting Mary was at least partially influenced by her iconic mother. ‘Frankenstein’ is the story of man when they remove women from important issues (At the time the women would have been campaigning for suffrage, but in this example Shelley uses reproduction). Man creates a scary and disgusting creature, which wreaks havoc and murder. And why does Victor refuse to make a female creature? He is scared of reproduction.
And now I leave you with the age old question: who is the monster, the creature or his creator?