“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain
Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.
Since this is my first classic challenge, I thought I’d ease myself in with a book that is both classic and a genre I already enjoy. Having read other books based around this, including the brilliant This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel, and seen many movies who borrow characters from this work, June’s Classic Challenge is Frankenstein.
Author: Mary Shelley
Publication Date: 1818
Rating: 3 stars
After a childhood of indulging his scientific curiosities, Victor Frankenstein has realised his purpose: to create life from death. But despite succeeding, once he lays eye upon the creature his has created Victor knows he has made a grave mistake. He has created a monster, one which torments his soul and preys upon his family. No-one is safe, and now Victor must travel and destroy his work before anyone else is hurt.
Frankenstein is a novel that explores the nature of playing God and questions the limits of science. Through its melodramatic prose and horrific descriptions, it is a masterwork of the Gothic and Horror genres. The idea of an arrogant young man who believes he can defeat death only to have it go terribly wrong is one that has been used many times since this novel’s publication. Victor tries to play God, only to regret his actions and detest his own creation, which in turn causes the Creature to hate him in turn, blaming Victor for his wretched existence. The novel challenges the idea of power between man and God: Victor is the creator thus the Creature believes him to be the cause of his suffering, and the only one able to relieve it, yet the Creature is far superior in strength and ability to survive in the wild. He haunts Victor’s every move, striking down those he loves one by one despite all efforts to stop him; the Creature’s free will gives him power over his God. The Creature also blames his murderous intent on Victor, insisting that he was inherently virtuous before the misery of rejection caused him to seek vengeance, whereas Victor believes him to be monstrous through and through. Mary Shelley questions the nature of mankind: are we born to good, or is this just a human ideal? After all, animals have no sense of evil, just survival. Is Frankenstein’s creature man or beast? As in real life, there are no solid conclusions drawn.
Within this novel’s style it is possible to see the origins of the Gothic genre. Whilst the questions asked are intriguing and it reads well, it is written in an almost painfully melodramatic way. Victor is often found weeping at mere thoughts and worries, whilst his creature laments his fortunes over and over to anyone listening: “When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.1” This reads as awfully heavy-handed, and soon becomes fairly boring.
It is easy to see why Frankenstein is considered a classic: its deep questions into human nature and the tormented journey of both Victor and his creature are fascinating to read. However, it is hindered by the overly dramatic writing style and self-serving soliloquies, which causes the novel to become repetitive.
1 All you need to do is add an “O” to the beginning of this quote and you have yourself a Shakespearian monologue!