Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Revisiting Frankenstein

Not long ago, a TV ad for The Frankenstein Chronicles prompted me to download Mary Shelley's 1818 classic, Frankenstein, and read it on my iPad. We all know the story, or some version of it. Doctor Frankenstein builds a creature in his laboratory, and it turns out to be a monster that goes on killing rampages.

What an imagination Shelley had! Victor Frankenstein has an idyllic childhood in Switzerland--perfect parents, no misfortunes, and a lovely cousin and playmate named Elizabeth who is expected one day to be his perfect bride.

As an adult, the highly intelligent and happy scientist Doctor Frankenstein labors in his lab to create a man. But why, when he could marry Elizabeth and create fellow humans in the easy, traditional way? He wants to advance the well-being of the human race. Of course, he discovers too late that his handiwork is hideous. How it's possible for the good Doctor to be so clueless must simply be put down to literary license.

The misfortunes that follow aren't the monster's fault. He wants love and acceptance, yet his creator hates and rejects him, purely on his looks. At night he gathers firewood as a favor to the local cottage dwellers, hoping that they will appreciate him when he finally shows his face. But when the townsfolk see him, they run away in terror. The only person not to fear him is a blind man. Only after being roundly abused does the monster despair and begin his path of destruction and vengeance.

Shelley accomplishes a lot without describing the monster in detail, though we do know he is eight feet tall. The terror comes from people's reactions. Artists' renditions often depict him with a bolt through his neck, but that didn't come from the story.

The prose is florid, overblown and awash in emotion, but it's 18th-century fiction. I love how no matter where Dr. Frankenstein goes to find peace, his monster shows up.