Friday, November 13, 2009

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I wish I knew more about art, like those cultured artsy types that frequent parties I'll never be invited to, have their clothes custom made and invariably talk with an accent from where I can never tell. More specifically, I wish I knew how to describe a painting or sketch or other art piece with the eye of a skilled master who can tell the differences between light and dark, shape and contour, color, or even symbolism. For now my untrained eyes appreciate art based on how it makes me feel when I look at it. That's it. Be it a famous Monet, or the picture of stick people my son drew of our family that now hangs on our fridge. Technique and style, or even price doesn't matter to me. It's all about subjective emotion.

For instance, this painting by Henry Fuseli titled "The Nightmare"on the cover of my copy of Frankenstein. I feel all kinds of things when I look at it. Horror. Fear. Distaste. Wonder. Even beauty. The way that woman is lying there, prostrate and dead, yet still the most alive thing in the painting. The whole thing reminds me of a Greek tragedy. Which to me is exactly what Frankenstein is: a tragedy. I felt all the same things when I read this novel, i.e. fear, horror, loathing, with a little beauty woven in between.

Having seen multiple versions of this on film, I expected the story to be one way and found it completely the opposite. Instead of feeling sympathy for Victor Frankenstein and the situation he found himself in, I disliked him for most of the novel. I thought him weak and a coward. His creation on the other hand, I found to be born neither a monster nor a saint. I found him to be a product of his environment. Frankenstein had the chips of life in his hands, he may have laid them how he chose, perhaps even in order like any well-meaning but overbearing parent, but instead threw them high into the air and let them fall were they lay, in disarray, even scattering them about with his own hands. Like leaving a child to fend for itself in a forest full of wolves.

I thought of a lot of things while reading this book, mainly the obvious question that still holds true today being, just because we can, because we have the knowledge, should we? As Frankenstein himself says,
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

There are many modern day Frankenstein's, first in the movies, like The Terminator series, the Firefly series, The Matrix, I am Legend, and what about real life situations like Einstein and his regret over the bomb, cloning or growing babies in artificial wombs. The advances in science in what we might call creation will continue to grow by leaps and bounds every year until one day in the not too distant future, Frankenstein may not be so futuristic after all.

I thought of the whole parent/child relationship in the book and how that relates to my real relationships. In that light, I felt more sympathy for the poor creature than I ever thought I would. And finally I thought of Mary Shelley. Only eighteen when she wrote this ghost story in the company of famous people, including her husband. By twenty-two she was a widow and had lost several children and pregnancies.

And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart.

She had a sad life. Which for me made the book all the more poignant, like one long poem from beginning to end. Well worth reading at least once.
4 stars.


Rebecca Reid said...

I've heard mixed things about this -- people either love it or hate it -- but your review has convinced me that I need to read this sooner! It sounds wonderfully moving.

L said...

It's true, people seem to like it or hate it. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can see why it's a classic. I loved her writing style and it is a scary book, but I thought her main character an idiot, and her monster talked way too much! It's easy to see why the movies re-write the story.

I had just read an article about Mary Shelley in Newsweek right before I read this book and I felt that made me appreciate it more. She lived a privileged yet terribly sad life.

Colorado_22 said...

I thought the book was very different than what was expected. I too felt horrible for the poor creature, but felt no remorse or pity for Victor. I thought the book told a sad tale about the powers of self-education, and how far one can self-educate. In the book Victor was able to teach himself enough to play "god," and although that is slightly-far fetched, it makes one think, is it really? Shelley was very bright for her age, and the tale she told had many realistically dark and depressing themes.