Review: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley revolves around an account given by Victor Frankenstein of his life to an ambitious explorer of the Northern Pacific Ocean: leaving his home in Geneva to pursue an education in Ingolstadt, Frankenstein picks up knowledge from professors M. Waldman and M. Krempe, eventually becoming obsessed with imbuing life into an inanimate being. Having subsequently succeeded, he abandons his creation, horrified by its grotesque appearance, an action that leads to disastrous repercussions when the monster causes the death of two of his loved ones. But then the creature does something even more unexpected when he attempts to strike a deal with Frankenstein, agreeing to leave humanity alone in exchange for an action which would put Frankenstein in a moral dilemma.
It is apparent why this is such a stand-out novel in literature, with numerous film adaptations appearing throughout the past century. An unparalleled sense of sympathy is evoked for the protagonist, as the author’s strong mastery of vocabulary places us in the shoes of Victor Frankenstein, allowing us to understand the melting pot of emotions that he experiences throughout the novel. Additionally, there is a haunting sense of catharsis as we are reminded of the potential dangers and pitfalls which scientific discovery and innovation may pose to mankind, that we should always bear in mind not to cross certain boundaries and limits. The skillful depiction of the protagonist’s downfall serves as a disturbing warning and a humbling lesson to those who feel as if they can afford to go against nature.
Another unique feature of this book is the portrayal of the antagonist — Frankenstein’s creation. He is not portrayed as a one-dimensional symbol of evil that causes wanton destruction with no rhyme or reason. Shelley devotes a significant portion of the novel in explaining why the monster is so bitter and manages to convey a sense of sympathy, also possibly hinting towards how society rejects anyone who does not fit in; even as we display unreserved love and care for those close to us, we do not hesitate to keep out individuals who possess undesirable traits, and as a result, perhaps no one can truly be kind-hearted.
However, some weaknesses are prevalent in the novel. Firstly, the author has a penchant for over-describing various pieces of scenery, sometimes taking up whole paragraphs in such painstaking efforts. In some cases, it successfully reflects the mood of the narrator; at other times, it’s quite irritating and results in an uncalled-for interruption in plot development. Secondly, some readers may be unaccustomed to the overly formal and mannered dialogue. Whether this is reflective of 19th century conversation habits amongst Englishmen or mere exaggeration to enhance the novel’s melodramatic nature is debatable.
Despite these minor flaws, Shelley’s keen understanding of human behaviour and strong mastery of imagistic descriptions makes the book an entertaining read.