Frankenstein – Mary Shelley’s Promethean Tale


Who is the monster?

This question, above all others, is what Mary Shelley’s popular Gothic tale poses to us. Frankenstein is a novel inspired by the Greek Promethean myth (along with Paradise Lost and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) whose fame has spread from James Whale’s 1931 film adaptation, and not from itself. Yet its story is just as profound as others from the same genre. Shelley constructed messages of morality that live on into our own generations, which is something that many other novels since have failed to emulate.

On a fundamental basis, Frankenstein is a story that makes us question life. Are we the creators, or the created? Are we gods? Or are we mortal cages of flesh, doomed to decay into nothingness after an existence that, for all intents and purposes, is completely irrelevant? One of the most respectable things about this book is that, whether objectively or subjectively, Mary Shelley gave us an answer. We are not gods, and the power of gods is not something we should pursue to imitate. These questions are still present in the modern human psyche, effectively making the heart and soul of Frankenstein immortal.

If Shelley lived in the twenty-first century and wrote Frankenstein, then the monster would have picked up a Playstation controller or a television remote and used games or television drama to pass judgement on the human race. As it is, Shelley’s novel was published in 1818 and the monster picks up a book. This book incites him to violence, along with his own inclinations to find some form of revenge for the cruel abandonment by his creator. It is undoubtedly and admittedly absurd to suggest that this creature could pick up a book and learn to fluently speak a language (as he does whilst observing the language in use), yet the good intentions are there and unmistakable.

Indeed, Frankenstein is utterly and completely flawed in the application of its narrative. Very little seems to make sense a lot of the time and it does at  feel as if Mary Shelley improvised the entire novel after a huge burst of inspiration and never fully developed some of the ideas. She returns time after time to extensive descriptions of nature and surrounding landscapes, without attempting to be more concise. These vivid descriptions, however, do give us a great insight into the period of romantic writing from which Shelley came from and, make no mistake, it is absolutely gorgeous language, petrified by extensive vocabulary and a singularly insightful vision.

Furthermore, only Victor and his creation have unique voices throughout the novel. Interesting characters come and either go or remain but never hold their own. Elizabeth Lavenza, Robert Walton, Henry Clerval and Alphonse Frankenstein are a few characters who should by all means be very interesting. Yet whatever adjectives you use to describe these people, they do not feel like people, but rather objects who Shelley moves around like chess pieces to satisfy the development of Victor and the monster.

Yet for all its failures there are just as many successes. The imagination and sheer fantasy of the novel is unmatched in comparison to even the likes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Wuthering Heights. It is a criticism of society’s propensity to not care and to lack compassion for those who look different and are, at their core, the same and yet still ostracised for their physical appearance. Said ostracism is directly comparable to countless social adversities that have been overcome throughout the years, such as racism and homophobia to name but two. Frankenstein outlines the automatic responsibility that is mandatory for a creator to its creation – a message applicable to any parent but also, now, to the technology and scientific discoveries getting closer and closer to “Frankenscience”.

Talented writing both beautiful and addictive mixed with undeniably important themes save a book containing a incoherent narrative hanging on a thread from being merely average. Frankenstein is an interesting and unparalleled story – a meaningful novel perfectly suited for a lover in literature, but possibly not for the casual reader. It is a excessively flawed piece of writing, but one that will always be remembered for its permanent importance to the state of the human race.