Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shall I not then hate them who abhor me?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Frankenstein is a story of love, creation, innovation, sorrow, and madness. Our protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, is a young man living in Switzerland at the beginning of our tale. After his mother's death, he goes off to study philosophy and science at a university. After many months of experiments, he stumbles upon the ability to create life. He patches together a human being and (Ta Da!) brings it to life. Then he freaks out, falls into a fever for a few weeks, and (VERY IRRESPONSIBLY) ignores his monster. After he gets better, he returns home upon hearing that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered. When he arrives home, Victor bumps into the monster and becomes convinced that he is responsible for William's death. Their family friend, Justine, is tried and convicted of the murder, and then executed. Victor is distraught. While traveling in an attempt to forget about his monster problems, Victor runs into the monster again, and the monster admits that he killed William and framed Justine. He chastises Victor for creating him and leaving him to his own devices, hideous, deformed, and unlovable, and describes how he tried to make friends with various humans but was shunned and hunted like an animal. He demands that Victor create him an "Eve", a companion monster who will be able to love him. If Victor creates this companion, the monster promises to disappear from society (and go to South America - No society there, obviously!) with his Eve and stop murdering people. Victor hates himself and doesn't want to create another monster, but he doesn't want to put his family in harm's way any more. So he disappears to a small cabin on an island in Scotland (obviously there's plenty of laboratory equipment and pieces of dead bodies to build monsters with on small remote islands) and tries to make himself create another monster. He decides he can't go through with it, and, knowing that the monster is watching him, Victor destroys the almost-completed Eve. The monster is furious - the next day, Victor arrives on a neighboring island only to find that he is being framed for having killed his own best friend, Henry Clerval. He recognizes the finger marks on Henry's neck and knows the monster has struck again. Victor is eventually exonerated and returns home, now in an even deeper despair. He prepares to marry his adopted cousin, Elizabeth, whom he has loved since birth, and decides he will kill the monster if he shows up on the wedding night (as promised). Just after the wedding, Victor discovers the monster standing over Elizabeth's corpse. Victor chases the monster to the ends of the earth, eventually traversing icebergs near the Arctic Circle. Our narrator, an explorer who has been traveling through the same area, discovers Victor, and nurses him back to health after finding him (ONCE AGAIN) near death. Victor relates his tale, and the narrator completes the tale by relating to us the sad story of Victor's death on the boat. The monster appears and expresses contrition to the narrator, but the narrator tells him it is too late for forgiveness. The monster promises to end his own life, and leaps off the boat onto a nearby iceberg, slowly disappearing from view.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I really enjoyed this book, and if you haven't read it, I definitely recommend picking up a copy. It's also delightfully short, which was refreshing after some of the selections on the list. Here are my thoughts:

-I could tell that Mary Shelley was the wife of a poet (Percy Bysshe Shelley). She made a lot of poetic references (Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Tintern Abbey) and the way she wrote was not just lyrical, but often with a great attentiveness to the sound of the words themselves. I read the first 10 pages or so out loud, and if I'd had the time, would love to have read the whole book aloud just to hear the words roll off my tongue.

-So, you probably already know this, because apparently EVERYONE already knew this but me, but the monster isn't named Frankenstein. The creator of the monster is Victor Frankenstein, and the monster is just...the monster. Poor guy never even gets a name! So if you're planning on being the bride of Frankenstein for any upcoming Halloween, you're just Elizabeth, a lovely Swiss lady. If you want to be a scary creature, you should make it clear that you're "Frankenstein's monster" or "Frankenstein's monster's to-be companion". I know it's a mouthful, but I feel confident you can remember!

-Frankenstein is surprisingly eloquent and well-spoken. He explains to Victor that he learns language from observing people and teaches himself to read books like the Bible (which is why he wants an Eve), so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but based on pop culture I sort of thought the monster would just be like, "Unnhh. Me angry! You created me! Unnh!" Not the case. Maybe I'm mixing the monster up with George of the Jungle.

-Shelley is very heavy-handed with the foreshadowing, and she says things like, "Those were the last days of my life that I enjoyed happiness." I understand the idea behind foreshadowing, but at a certain point, it kind of GIVES EVERYTHING AWAY. It's like starting a story off with, "Yesterday, I went to the doctor's, and it was the last appointment I'll ever have in my life." Hello, leave a little suspense, will you?

-So, the descriptions of how Frankenstein created his monster are pretty grotesque, but lovely Ms. Shelley makes it sound almost pleasant: "I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame." Is that a nice way of saying that you chopped up and mutilated corpses? It sounds a lot prettier than "I took a chainsaw to some dead bodies I found lying around".

 -I love the description of when Frankenstein brings the monster to life - so delightfully creepy: "It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open."

-When Frankenstein tries to attack the monster, he yells, "Begone, vile insect!" AWESOME comeback, Frankenstein. Awesome. It reminds me of the scene in "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton" when Topher Grace's character says he'll tear him to pieces with his bare hands or his Vicious rhetoric.

-The monster describes to Frankenstein how when he first discovered fire and its warmth, he was so excited that he stuck his hand right into the fire. Shocked by the pain it caused, he yanked his hand back out. I felt so bad for the monster trying to figure out why fire was good and bad without anyone to show him or explain it to him!

-My biggest problem with this novel was that I didn't like Victor. He seems like an okay guy and all, but then he goes completely nuts and decides to build a patchwork person and then when he succeeds in bringing it to life, he's like, WHOOPS! DID I DO THAT? He actually just disappears and collapses into feverish madness after the monster comes to life, and he is SO IRRESPONSIBLE WITH HIS MONSTER. He wakes him up, and then he freaks out, and he leaves the monster all on his own for weeks. Should I be SURPRISED that this monster who has had no education or love from his creator goes off and KILLS YOUR FAMILY? Because honestly, Victor, I'm not sure what you expected. That you could just make him from scratch and then IGNORE HIM? Seriously. Later on, when he's had several of his family members killed by the monster, he says, "I felt as if I had committed some great crime, the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed drawn down a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime." Hm... How exactly do you define guiltless, Victor? Because I don't really consider building an enormous corpse creation with the capacity for extreme violence and then walking away to be exactly guiltless. And I've got to say, I felt like he just "fell into a fever" every time something really bad happened. Maybe if you weren't such a 17th century woman (oh! I've just had some terrible news and I've SWOONED!) Victor, then your family would still be alive. Even at the end when Victor is chasing the monster through the Arctic, he describes how the monster would leave him food or help him along the way to continue the chase -- seriously, Victor - your own monster had to HELP you hunt him down? And even with his help, you FELL INTO A SWOON again and had to be rescued by the narrator. After which you fell into ANOTHER SWOON and died without killing the monster. Nice going, Victor. 

Like I said, there were some beautifully poetic sentences in this book. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • "What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?"
  • "The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine."
  • "I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth."
  • "Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world."
  • "A being whom I myself had formed, and endued with life, had met me at midnight among the precipices of an inaccessible mountain."
  • "Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness?"
  • "A grin was on the face of the monster; he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendish finger he pointed toward the corpse of my wife." (Can't you just see the monster?)
  • "Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north."
In the scene where the monster apologizes and promises to end his life of misery and destruction, the monster says to the narrator, "I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks." There's such beauty in this line.

Well, I'm a week away from the end of my first year of my master's program (yippee!) and soon I will have SO much time for reading! Off I go to read about Rats and People. Or Possums and Boys. Something like that.

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