Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Updated: 4 days ago

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


This novel was published in 1818 when Mary Shelley was 20, and it was inspired by her visits to Germany and Switzerland. So far, so typical of a Regency-Period lady's travel habits. It so caught public imagination that it's never been out of print.


Frankenstein has gone through countless editions, become a staple of nineteenth-century horror narratives and more recently has enjoyed a deep relationship with audiences of film and TV, players of computer games and readers of fan fiction. It has entered into the canon of western cultural identity, and almost everyone is aware of at least the bones of the tale.


Dr Frankenstein creates a monster by stitching together parts of different corpses and then reanimating them using electrical forces. This concept quickly took its place in the horror pantheon, featuring in the fiction of HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and many others.


The monster quickly escapes his creator, runs amok through Alpine Europe and, after he is rejected by his fellow humans, turns on his creator by killing Frankenstein's brother. The doctor's attempts to placate him by promising to generate a companion for him fail, with more bloodthirsty consequences for those nearest to Frankenstein. The doctor then pursues his creation north, hoping to destroy him and prevent further killing.


The cover of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley shows old-fashioned electrodes.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein caught the attention of a literate upper middle-class interested in foreign travel and fascinated by the well-established, aristocratic itinerary through mountain scenery that took place on The Grand Tour.


Far more exotically, it foresaw how explorations to Polar Regions would fascinate western societies for well over a century to come. Its publication also took place at a time when intellectuals were eagerly debating whether the divine powers of creation could be assumed by mankind, and scientists were experimenting hard to determine what limits existed to the power of man's intellect and knowledge. They were also fascinated by human anatomy, the description of which is an integral part of this novel.


All of the above factors help to explain why, in addition to its blood and gore, Frankenstein attracted an immense reading public for the rest of the nineteenth century. However, its true revelation lay in the use of psychological insight to examine the behaviour of both the doctor and his monster. The use of both characters as narrators was also groundbreaking.


Earlier works within the gothic horror tradition usually revolved around a mysterious source of evil working alongside mankind's own capacity for darkness embodied in a larger than life villain. By contrast, Mary Shelley produced a skilled portrait of how evil could be created by our own hands if we recklessly sought to subsume the role of creator from that of the all-loving deity with whom it should reside.


Whenever I read Frankenstein, I am struck by how forgiving and inclusive it is. The monster is created in the worst possible circumstances by an arrogant scientist-inventor, but he is not born evil. His longing to be accepted and to belong is profoundly human. His rejection by society and Frankenstein's refusal to supply a mate tip him over the edge into sustained violence from which he will never be able to pull back. Above all, it describes the emotional consequences of Frankenstein's experiments from the perspectives of the perpetrator of them and the victim.


This is a wonderful novel and well worth reading despite its length. There are so many amazing written versions and screen adaptations of the Frankenstein story that the tale is ubiquitous, but I always find some new psychological insight when I return to the original itself.


Thank you for reading my review of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The comments section is open. See you on Wednesday.


You can buy Frankenstein by Mary Shelley as an e-book here. You can subscribe to my blog here.


If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte here.


If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Gentleman Jack here.

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