Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly – Book Review

This month Allie and I are featuring Harrowing Historicals, books with a scary bent that were set before 1960.  Frankenstein fit perfectly within that vein, and is also the subject of an upcoming podcast that I am recording with Jen from Devourer of Books.

I have read Frankenstein twice now within as many years.  I first read it last year when Heather and Jill did their Dueling Monsters Readalong of Dracula vs Frankenstein.  I wasn’t a big fan of it then, and I have to admit that a second reading has not made me love it that much more.  Maybe at some point in the future, a third reading will be the charm.

Frankenstein begins when Walton, a lonely sea captain, finds Victor Frankenstein in the middle of the Arctic giving chase, quite unsuccessfully I might add, to a monster he has created.  His efforts have left him dispirited, in poor health, and on the verge of death.  Walton doesn’t yet know his story, but he feels that the man is a kindred spirit and that under different circumstances, they would be good friends.  Frankenstein recognizes something of his reckless passion in Walton and as a warning, relates his extraordinary story to Walton not to follow in his footsteps.  The novels continues as Frankenstein, explains the origins of his monster and how it wreaks havoc on his life in face of his betrayal, abandonment, and lack of love and companionship.

In my second reading Frankenstein, I was a little bit more taken with the exploration of loneliness, and the lack ofconnectedness that is experienced by Walton and Frankenstein.  In many ways these men stack up comparatively, and though Frankenstein appears to be somewhat humbled by his experiences, he recognizes the excitable passions which led him down his path are ready to be ignited in Walton. Shelly seems to be hinting that others will attempt what Frankenstein has done, and that playing god, and seeking to remedy personal longings and inadequacies,  is a quality intrinsically ingrained in human beings.

Frankenstein may have been innovative for its time – Shelly wrote it when she was nineteen and it is an exploration of emerging class themes, man’s monstrous nature and the monsters it creates out of misguided principles – but when I read it from my contemporary perspective, it is really difficult for me to feel that this is either an enduring or compelling work of fiction. Frankenstein as a man and character is outrageously hard to appreciate and the plot and its circumstances are not well-defined. Character motivations and the means by which accomplish them require more suspension of disbelief than I had to give.

I can definitely understand wanting to explore the origins of life and even a slight god complexes, but the desire and motivation in creating a seven foot tall, supernaturally strong, creature out of corpse materials escaped me completely.  I was just mystified as to how to accept that this made enven the slightest sense to Frankenstein.  This is definitely a story of obsessive behavior, and you have to wonder who is truly the mad man.  When Frankenstein, abandons the monster, it first educates itself, spouts philosophy, struggles with its nature, and then gets mad and goes on a murderous rampage and genrally makes Frankensten’s life, hell.  I felt not a drop of sympathy for him, but was very amused by the monsters SAT vocab.

I can appreciate that Frankenstein went on to inspire further exploration of the themes it tackles, and monster stories in general, but I find more enjoyment from fiction whose ideas are supported in a less haphazard and slightly less nonsensical fashion.  The novel is based on an interesting premise, but it was hard for me to read it without be distracted by the enormous holes in the plot.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Make sure you check out Allie’s favorite scene from Wicked, the Broadway show based on the book of the same name by author Gregory Maguire, yesterday’s Harrowing Historical. I was always terrified of the Wicked WItch of The West when I first started watching The Wizard of Oz. Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs will be awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.

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  1. I’m not sure whether I think you are brave or crazy for reading this twice and even considering a third read! Like you, I appreciated the idea of this book but wasn’t all that crazy about the book itself. Have you read Dracula? I liked that one much, MUCH better.

    1. I haven’t read Dracula yet. I have started it several times and I have yet to get into it. i am going to give it another go around. I don’t know why I keep trying to like Frankenstein. I think because it was such an inspiration for many, I just want to enjoy it more.

  2. I’ve never read Frankenstein. Often, usually around Halloween, I consider picking it up, but it just never appeals to me enough. I think I’d be more likely to try Dracula.

    1. I am hoping to read Dracula sometime soon. The thing about that is I have read a few Dracula re-tellings that I have enjoyed. I hope the original will be as accessible.

    1. I think you are right about that Jenn. I want to like it more, but Shelly needed too give me a little more to work with. Right now I am reading the first book in the Dean Koontz Frankenstein series. I have to check out some of the movies. I am very interested to see whether those narratives flesh things out a little more.

  3. Excellent post, Nicole! I read Frankenstein a few years back (I think) and totally loved it. I was talking about the book to all who would listen in my family. I’m planning to re-read it one day.

    1. Thanks Alice1 I keep trying to like it, but I doubt that it will ever be a favorite of mine. I may check out one of the movies. I love that it causes so much discussion, because it splits people right down the middle. I think a lot of it depends on what your expectations are for classics.

  4. I read an annotated edition of Frankenstein which was helpful in that I think I was able to appreciate more the nuances of the story (although it’s not my favorite classic horror). I remember being struck by how anticlimatic the animation scene was — I had to read the chapter twice before I realized Frankenstein had brought the monster to life. I think the horror films emphasize that moment so much because it seems like it should be so momentous, but I guess for Shelley the science of that moment was not nearly as important as the philosophy of the act.

    1. well it was a burning goal in his life to create this thing and you are right, it is rather ho-hum, and Frankenstein just takes off. I was confused in that section both times. This is a big idea book, but fiction for me is about stories and character, so the leaps that she took were too great for me. Somehow, I do keep trying to like it more than I do.

      1. It’s funny; I don’t mind philosophical/ethical discussions in my fiction, but for whatever reason, I’m pretty cold on Frankenstein. I’m a Shelley fan, too! I think I’m a bit sexist in my reading: the mad passion of one man doesn’t really grab me.

  5. I’ve never read Frankenstein OR Dracula. And I call myself a lover of scary stories! In the movies, though, I always feel so much empathy for the monster.

    1. I did feel sorry for the monster. I kept hoping that Frankenstein could find some compassion for him, or at least that someone would. The family rejecting him was upsetting to me. But wait, that might not have happened in the movie.

  6. I read Frankenstein for this year’s Halloween season too. It was my first reading of it and actually I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a lot more poetic and thoughtful than I thought it would be, and I felt quite sorry for BOTH protagonists – the Creature in his loneliness, as he realised he would always be an outcast thanks to his appearance, and Frankenstein being tormented by his conscience far too late to stop his own destruction. I even teared up a bit at the end… I still need to get to Dracula though – I read half of it a few years ago, but I was a bit enamoured of Gary Oldman in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ at the time so I wasn’t really reading it for the right reasons!

  7. I never read Frankenstein because I am frankly too afraid that I end up having bad dreams. Your post makes me wonder if I am missing all that much.

    1. No, no, Iris! You should definitely give it a shot to see how YOU get on with it – and don’t worry, it’s not nightmarish at all. I’m a wimp when it comes to spooky stories, but this wasn’t like that at all – it was more of a profound reflection on humanity than a tale of horror… I read it a few weeks ago and gave it 4 stars, I really enjoyed it!

  8. I listed to this on a podcast by an English teacher who explained the background and nuances, that made it intersting for me. If I read it on my own, I don’t think I would have liked it so much.
    Dracula I did read, and enjoyed it very much. It read like a spooky story.
    Great review and I love the “SAT vocab”. So true!

  9. I read this for the first time about a year ago and truly enjoyed the development of the creature longing for a relationship with his creator. I am sure I will need to re-read several more times to truly appreciate all the literary analysis.

  10. My daughter just had to read this one for sophomore English and I did some reading along with her. Didn’t care much for it and I’m not sure I understand the appeal. Your review has pretty well convinced me not to bother reading the entire thing.

  11. I’m impressed that you were willing to read it again after not liking it the first time. I keep telling myself I need to read this one. It’s too short not to!

  12. This has never been one of my more favored stories. I guess I just couldn’t get with the story. Dracula, however, has always been one that I read over and over again ~ usually around Halloween!

    Thanks & Happy Halloween,