What on Earth can I say about Frankenstein that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over?
I added this book to my reading list some time ago, along with Dracula, to put right the wrong of not having read these classic horror books.
Dracula was a disappointment to me. True, it’s a rollicking good yarn, but it seemed to me to lack texture and depth – with no real layers beyond the plot it could excite but not move.
Not so with Frankenstein.
The story is familiar enough, but it’s not the plot points of this story which are so compelling. The language of this book is simply, stunningly beautiful. True, it’s of its age (as was Dracula) but it’s soulful and poetic – with a depth of emotion that conveys the real depths of despair felt by Victor Frankenstein as he comes to terms with the consequences of his actions.
The origin of this book is as well-known as the story itself. A challenge thrown down by Byron for he, Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) and her then lover Percy Bysshe Shelley to write a tale of the supernatural. Mary Shelley’s short story was so strong that with Percy Shelley’s encouragement she expanded it into a novel.
The legacy of Frankenstein is visual: Boris Karloff, with a flat head and bolts through his neck. What an injustice, when the writing itself can hold its head high in the company of the story’s co-progenitors.
Indeed, I was taken by surprise by the quality of the writing; by the elegance of the prose. It’s heartfelt, sincere, mournful – not absolute as the black of night, but rather an ever-darkening sadness that wraps itself around you as you press towards the end. It was with pleasure that I re-read many of the passages – torn between racing ahead and savouring each word.
Here, the monster faces his creator, “Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.”
We hear the story from three viewpoints – of the sea captain, who rescues the exhausted Frankenstein, of Frankenstein himself and, of course, of the monster Frankenstein created – all wrapped cleverly into a single narrative. So, we’re afforded a greater insight into the torment of both Frankenstein and his unnamed creation – our sympathies changing with new insights into their motives and feelings.
The plot may be described as lightweight compared to the film versions most of us know – in fact, I’m sure this is the reason that various writers felt it necessary to embellish the story, to keep it moving along in a cinematic way. What a shame that, in so doing, they’ve mainly lost this book’s unique poignancy and depth. The greater shame is that the real story remains untold for those who don’t venture beyond celluloid.