It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. 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; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
from Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is my entry for the classics category for The 2012 Eclectic Reader Challenge. Although largely classified a tale of horror, the novel is more accurately described as science fiction, and having been published in 1818, is considered by many to be the first example of the genre.
The story is written as the first-person accounts of two characters: that of Dr. Victor Frankenstein himself, along with introductory and concluding narratives from a polar explorer named Robert Walton. All is presented as a group of letters from Walton to his sister, Frankenstein’s narrative having been dictated to him.
There are only a few things in common between this novel and the several film versions I have seen over the years, making this a mostly new experience. One of those things is the main theme of the story: the consequences of man playing God, like a harbinger of scientific possibility gone wrong. Interestingly, for a science fiction novel published nearly 200 years ago, and accounting for the fact that the events in Frankenstein take place in the 1700s, it didn’t feel as if the science was especially rudimentary or obsolete.
In Frankenstein, the theme is quite literal, as the Doctor creates life, even referring to his creation as his “Adam,” and with plenty of allusions to the biblical account of creation in the book of Genesis. Unlike God, however, Dr. Frankenstein shuns his creation and casts it from his presence for the sin of merely existing—more a sin of the creator than the created. Thus rejected, the creature flees and quickly learns that he has no place among humanity, as the people he meets shun him in the same manner as his “father.”
The rest of the novel tells of how Frankenstein’s monster becomes aware of his origin and his place in the world, and eventually attempts to coerce his creator into making a mate for him—an “Eve.” When Dr. Frankenstein refuses to finish the “bride,” his monster begins his revenge.
The novel shows an effective juxtaposition of God and man-as-God, making it apparent why this theme would be used, one way or another, within the science fiction genre even to this day. It also effectively splits the reader’s sympathies between the well-meaning Doctor and his lonely and unloved creation.
Frankenstein suffers from the over-description common to novels of the period. However, it wasn’t so overdone as to make me stop reading, the suspense of the tale more than making up for the excessive wordiness.
The only other real problem I found was the lack of distinction between the voices of the narrators; even Frankenstein’s monster, when he finally corners his creator and gives his account, is indistinguishable from the others. This could be explained away, since the monster’s account was being conveyed by Frankenstein to Walton, and the whole thing recorded by Walton in letters to his sister. Still, it felt less than ideal.
I have lately been doing most of my reading via e-books on my Android phone, and although I usually read Amazon Kindle versions, I have several apps for accessing a wide variety of formats. Since Frankenstein is in the public domain, I decided to read the novel with my Google Play Books app to see how the features stacked up with the Kindle and Nook apps.
Statements were added to the text explaining that the book was scanned from a print copy, with optical character recognition (OCR) software providing the conversion from print to text. I’m pretty certain that the actual printed copy of the book was good since the novel has been around for nearly 200 years and has passed the eyes of many editors. That said, I can guess that the OCR’d text was only cursorily edited at best.
Punctuation issues were fairly common, as were words haphazardly split in two—stuff I’ve seen before when using this type of software myself. I can only assume that more contemporary novels (those not requiring the use of OCR) wouldn’t suffer from the same issues.
With all of this in mind, I can’t see letting the production quality affect the overall rating of the novel, since it’s likely that other formats wouldn’t suffer from the same issues.
Even more so than Dracula, I felt as if I were reading something brand new—thanks to Hollywood for straying as far as it did from the source. Although I didn’t love Ms. Shelley’s writing style, the story was a good one, and I’m happy I took the time to read this classic of science fiction. Three stars.