“Am I thought to be the only criminal, when all of humanity has sinned against me?”
So this week I’m making good on last week’s New Year Resolutions – though the new year already feels remarkably old, doesn’t it?
But this week’s book was purchased in a charity shop (side note – it is a lovely edition too, so it counts doubly as a win!), it was written by a woman and it is something I normally wouldn’t read – science fiction, which I normally avoid as much as I can.
Well, to be precise – this book isn’t just any Science Fiction book. This book invented the genre of Science Fiction! And, just to add, Mary Shelly was only seventeen when she wrote it. 17! All I got up to when I was that age was failing my driving test several times. I was definitively not inventing new literary genres.
I want to write a thousand more words on Mary Shelley and her incredible life, but I’m hoping to get my hands on a biography soon, so let’s shelf that plan and focus on the book for now.
Everyone thinks they know the plot. Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster! Frankenstein builds a monster out of human remains, and the monster then goes on a killing spree. Cue a pop culture icon that appears every Halloween, in endless vampire movies, and has become a staple of our shared culture.
And all of this is true, but not quite.
First of all, I should say that the book was a really good read. There’s this dry sense of humour throughout (and if you are looking for a short read, it comes in at just under 200 pages!)
So Victor Frankenstein is actually a college drop out. He never got a PhD, so he shouldn’t be called ‘doctor’. But it is true – he builds a being from discarded body parts, and makes it live.
Upon seeing the ugly creature he created, Frankenstein then just goes:
“So I wanted to create life but turns out I’m Not Prepared At All so I’m just going to abandon this eight-feet tall toddler and call him stupid and ugly if it ever talks to me again.”
He nopes out of the situation, flees his dorm room, and just pretends this never happened. He returns to his family in Switzerland, and tries to forget about that teeny tiny thing he created, until it catches up with him two years later.
The moral of Frankenstein is not necessarily ‘don’t make a monster from stolen body parts’, it is ‘if you make a monster out of stolen body parts you should be prepared to love him even if he is an ugly beast made of stolen corpse bits.”
It is Frankenstein’s denial of his responsibility as creator that causes the monster to become murderous.
There’s actually a lovely bit about the monster – who hid in the woods for a year after being created, learning about life and trying to understand why he came into being – where the monster sits in the forest, trying to imitate birds.
The monster wasn’t a monster by birth, it became so because the one person who should have been there for him – his creator – fled from his responsibilities.
And that’s why this is an incredibly modern book – because the question of accepting your responsibilities – and, more broadly, accepting the fact that actions have consequences – is one of the most important issues of the 21st century.
So do yourselves a favour and read this book. It’s always great to go back to the classics, especially if they hold up to the times, and had such a profound impact on pop culture as Frankenstein did.
And have some more respect for teenage girls.