Almost everybody I know has heard of Frankenstein. Maybe not its original story, but various adaptations and references either in movies, music songs, video clips, television, and video games involve Mary Shelley' storyline or its two characters; Victor Frankenstein and his unnamed creature which some people or movies have even named or confused with the title of the book's title/creator's name. For me, it wasn't until I saw Ken Russell's movie Gothic that I decided to read the original story.
In this 200 pages novel, we have a story within a story where Captain Walton, in an epistolary prose, narrates his sailing toward the North Pole and his rescue of Victor Frankenstein he found strapped on a block of ice. Saving the man's life, but also learning the misfortunes that the scientist experienced as he gave birth to a creature whose existence has destroyed his life. In a story about the quest for knowledge and power, but at the terrible cost of several losses.
Of the Arcturus Edition, this novel doesn't have any illustrations apart from the front cover. The text is transcribed in its entirety, along with a summary on Mary Shelly's life. The prose is easily readable, an fusion of both the Gothic and romanticism currents. Lots of descriptions regarding the emotions, torments, and joys of the characters. Making it a very expressive and emotional read.
As such, this novel was a wonderful opportunity to uncover the original story that inspired all those adaptations. Which some have called one of the first example of Science Fiction literature.
Everyone has heard of Frankenstein's monster... or at least the Hollywood version, with green skin, boxy head and bolts in his neck.
But the original creature is quite different in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," which starts off rather slow but builds into a tragic, darkly hypnotic tale about tampering in God's domain, and the terrible consequences that come from it. Also: if you create a new creature out of dead body parts, don't disown him or he'll kill your family.
During a trip across the Arctic, a ship picks up a starved, half-frozen man named Victor Frankenstein. As he recovers, Frankenstein tells them his life story -- especially about how he became fascinated with science, and developed a process to reanimate dead tissue. Eventually he constructs a new creature out of dead body parts, and brings him to life.
But while the creature is intelligent and articulate, he's also hideously ugly. Horrified that he's not beautiful, Frankenstein flees... and has a nervous breakdown. Wimp.
But months later, the murder of his little brother brings Victor back to his home, where he figures out that the creature was involved. And to his horror, the creature now wants a mate. But the loathing between them -- caused by Frankenstein's disgust and the creature's increasing bitterness -- leads to even more tragedy...
"Frankenstein" is one of those rare novels that is almost beyond classification -- it's gothic horror, it's sci-fi, it's a tragedy about scientific ambition that goes where it shouldn't go. Mary Shelley was only eighteen years old when she began writing this book, but she interwove religion, science and a fiercely intelligent knowledge of human nature into it.
Her writing is a bit stuffy at times ("All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own"), but that's because it was written in the early 1800s. Despite this, Shelley's writing skills shine in the more horrific moments of the story ("I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs"), and she imbues it with a sense of painful, grimy suspense.
But the complicated characters of Victor and the creature are what really make the story work. Victor is actually a pretty horrible person -- while he's a tragic figure whose unnatural ambitions end up destroying his wife, brother and father, he's also incredibly cruel and callous to the creature because... he's ugly.
The creature, on the other hand, instantly gets our sympathy. He's intelligent and childlike at first, but his ugliness causes everyone to immediately hate and fear him. When him becomes embittered and eventually murderous, you still feel sorry for him.
Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is one of those few, rare horror books -- it adds a little more of that scientific gothic atmosphere to a classic tale of horror, slime and sorrow.
(Note: this review is for publisher Simon & Schuster's "enriched classic" edition of this book)
"Published [anonymously] in 1818, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's "Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus" is a model for Gothic fiction, science fiction, and all the horror novels that followed it. Weaving the Gothic elements of the supernatural, terror, anguish, and love with the Romantic values of nature and individualism, Shelley delivers a chilling tale about unchecked ambition and the consequences of disturbing the order of nature. Generations of scientists, ethicists, psychologists, feminists, and artists have been inspired and riveted by Mary Shelley's dark story."
The above comes from the supplementary (or "enriched") materials found in this book that contains the "complete and unabridged" enduring classic novel by Mary Shelley (1797 to 1851).
The structure of this book has front supplementary material (a superb introduction, chronology of Shelley's life and works, and an important historical context of the novel) and back supplementary material (very important notes or glossary, interpretive notes which includes an overview of key themes in the novel, excerpts from critics of the novel, discussion questions, and a suggested book and film list). Sandwiched between this front and back supplementary material is the unforgettable novel itself.
This is not mentioned in the table of contents but the novel in this book is flanked by a preface (written by Shelley's husband who drowned in 1822) and an introduction to the edited third edition of this novel (written by Shelley herself in 1831).
Thus, the structure of this book with no detail is as follows:
Front supplementary material, preface, the novel proper, introduction, back supplementary material.
On the back cover of this book it has the phrase "enduring literature illuminated by practical scholarship." You'll have to read the novel to find out exactly why it has endured since 1818. What I can say is that the novel is "a timeless, terrifying tale of one man's obsession to create life--and the monster that became his legacy." (By the way, the Frankenstein movies that you may have seen bear little resemblance to the actual novel.) It is the concise supplementary material that is the practical scholarship which illuminates this novel.
This book is part of the "Enriched Classics" series which has good, helpful supplementary material. This series includes such titles as "Wuthering Heights," "Great Expectations," and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
Finally, there were only two things that irritated me with respect to this particular book:
(1) On the cover page it states that the "supplemental material [is] written by Margaret Brantley." Who's Margaret Brantley? We're never told.
(2) We're not explicitly told the edition of the novel that's in this book. (Through doing my own research, it seems it is the original 1818 edition.)
In conclusion, this is truly a great work of literature that, as a bonus, is enhanced with helpful notes and insightful commentary. I guarantee that after reading this book, you will know the REAL story of "Frankenstein!"
(published 2009; supplementary materials published 2004; novel first published 1818; introduction; chronology of Mary Shelly's life and work; historical context of the novel; preface; the novel "Frankenstein;" Mary Shelley on her novel; notes; interpretive notes; critical excepts; questions for discussion; suggestions for the interested reader; 350 pages)
(novel "Frankenstein" in 4 letters and 3 parts or 23 chapters; 270 pages)
<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>
on November 9, 2012
What hasn't been said about "Frankenstein"? 200 years after its publication, this book on the relation between the creator and his creature is still part of our culture. The myth that became a legend that became a myth. I loved this book, from the imagery that takes its roots in the Romantic poetry (Mary Shelley was married to Percy Bysshe Shelley, a Romantic poet) to the relation between Frankenstein and his creature, and the relation the reader entertains with the text. This Penguin Classics edition is also great for the annotations and the prefaces, if you want to go beyond the story and understand where Mary Shelley got her inspirations and why and how she wrote it. Plus it's cheap.
More than all though, I loved to read this classic because it shatters everything that has been added to the story of "Frankenstein". Forget Igor, forget the dumb green creature walking laboriously, get ready for a nice ride!
P.S.: If you have a Kindle, you can get this book for free.
on January 26, 2009
Frankenstein is a great novel. I went into it with all the flawed knowledge that television had told me of the tale. Of course, I was blown away with how the tale really went. I really enjoyed this book, and my friend who read it was also pleasently suprised by just how "awsome" it was.
I will try not to mention any plot give aways, but I feel I need to mention some things. The main characters in the novel are Victor Frankenstein and the "daemon" we all know he has created. My emotions for both these characters constantly varied throughout the book. Both characters were driven by such strong emotions, that I know caused them to make great errors in their judgement.
I just wish Victor had the sense to as calmly as he could sit with the monster and discuss why certain things could not be so, and how even though initially the monster was undeserved of the disgust he recieved, that since he had commited horrible crimes, he did indeed deserve all he had recieved. A rational "person", would likely begin to realize that he was right.
I would highly suggest reading this book.
on May 2, 2004
This Norton Critical Edition makes an excellent value in literature. If you are a student of literature, this volume will help you gain a thorough knowledge of Mary Shelley's original text (lots of context and critical essays included), as well as editions that followed. It contains her original preface (supposedly much influenced by Percy) as well as her 1830 preface. If you do not know, Mary's monster is not the monster one finds in the movies, nor is Dr. Frankenstein. Further, if you have not read an edition other than the first, you don't know about the incest issue that is in the first edition, but not later editions. As you will find in reviews below, this is not a flawless novel, but it is a must read for any well-read person. What is rarely discussed is the influence of John Locke, whose Essay Concerning Human Understanding Mary Shelley read closely just prior to writing the novel. The influence of his work on hers is substantial. Read in the light of Romanticism's reaction to the Enlightenment and Locke et al gives one a completely different perspective for understanding the work. I think you'll find Mary's philosophy appropriately and interestingly feminine, without being feminist; another surprise, considering her lineage. Definitely a good read!
on January 19, 2004
Frankenstein exceeded my expectations that were based on movies I have seen by the same title. This book is a literary masterpiece that sets a bar for terror that is yet to be surpassed.
I was very impressed by the writing skill of Shelley. She does a terrific job telling this story, using three narrators that offer different points of view and voices.
The monster is a character that elicited sympathy, respect, anger and hatred. He is intelligent and articulate in a way I did not expect. His ability to convey emotions and thoughts creates mixed emotions about him. Yet, because his hatred and anger prevail, these emotions prevailed in me too in my regards of him.
Shelley shows the danger of allowing one's ambitions to overtake balance and reason. We see the character of Dr. Frankenstein forsake all to see this dream of creating life realized. We see the consequences of his actions that are a warning to us to tread more cautiously regarding our ambitions.
All of the characters are developed comprehensively.
I enjoyed reading this but had to set it aside at times because of the tragedy it entails. You know where the story is headed but still hold out some hope that it will turn out more positively--like watching Titanic, you know it is going to sink but still hope maybe it won't.
I think this is a timeless classic you should read.
on January 18, 2004
I was surprised by the literary beauty of this book and by its intriguing horror. It was not at all what I had expected based on my exposure to Frankenstein movies and tales. This story is quite different in many ways that make it more appealing to the reader.
The tale involves a monster that is truly hideous in form but reveals a conflicted mind and heart. Shelley effectively causes the reader to have mixed feelings about this creature that wields destruction while confessing its own misery and affection for humanity.
She also conveys the dangers of a person pursuing his or her ambition at the cost of other values such as relationships and peace.
The novel is told in an innovative fashion. Shelley uses three different narrators to tell the story. This creates some variety in the point of view and in the voice of the narrator.
This book is very compelling, but at times I had to put it down due to the tragedy of it. The whole time you know where its events are leading and a part of you wants to go there and another part wants to avoid it--like watching Titanic, you know it is going to sink but you still hold out some hope it won't and you try to avoid its definitive demise.
I think this is a horror story that has yet to be surpassed in literature. I really felt for the characters, including the monster. I was completely entertained by the skillful writing.
on November 18, 2003
Modern readers must jump through a number of hoops to enjoy this legendary novel. Written between 1816 and 1818, this is very much a novel of its era, and both language and ideas about plot are quite different from those of today. That aside, and unlike such contemporaries as Jane Austen, author Mary Shelly has never been greatly admired for her literary style, which is often awkward. But perhaps the biggest hurdle is that of our own expectations: while it certainly sent icy chills down the spines of 19th Century readers, FRANKENSTEIN is not a horror novel per se.
While Mary Shelly might have been stylistically weak, her story was not. Nothing like it had been written before, and the concept of a student endowing life upon a humanoid creature cobbled together from charnel house parts was unexpectedly shocking to the reading public. But even more shocking were the ideas that Shelly brought to the story. Having created this thing in his own image, what--if anything--does the creator owe it? And in posing this question, Shelly very deliberately raises her novel to an even more complex level: this is not merely the conflict of man and his creation, but also a questioning of God and his responsibility toward his creation.
In some respects, the book is written like the famous philosophical "dialogues" of the ancient world: a counterpoint of questions and arguments that do battle for the reader's acceptance. More than anything else, FRANKENSTEIN is a novel of ethics and of ideas about ideas, with Mary Shelly's themes arrayed in multiple layers throughout: God, self, society, science; responsibility to self, to society, to the things we bring to society, to the truth; life, integrity, and death--these are the ideas and issues that predominate the book, and any one expecting a horror novel pure and simple is out of luck.
Mary Shelly is a rare example of a writer whose ideas clearly outstrip her literary skill--but whose ideas are so powerful that they transcend her literary limitations and continue to resonate today. And indeed, as science continues to advance, it could not be otherwise so. Mary Shelly could not see into the future of DNA research, laboratory-grown tissues, test-tube babies and the like--but between 1816 and 1818 she wrote a book about the ethical dilemmas that swirl around them. And for all its flaws, FRANKENSTEIN is perhaps even more relevant today than it was over a hundred and fifty years ago.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on April 24, 2003
I have read "Frankenstein" several times. Although it has been included in the genre of horror tales it is not so much a horror story,but more a tragedy.
It's a story of scientist who creates an artificial being in attempt to understand the secrets of life.
However when he gazes upon the hideous countenance of his creation he rejects it automatically thereby avoiding total responsibility for his actions.
This of course brings about some negative repercussions for Dr.Frankenstein as his creation seeks revenge for his rejection.
Unlike the way that this creature has been portrayed in most of the movies,the creature in this book has some intellect for it had taught itself to read and speak.
Which is impressive as this man-made being never went to school or had a tutor to help.
Also this character displays a human sense of empathy when it is able to identify with some of the people in the books that it was able to read.
Obviously the author Mary Shelley had portrayed this creature in such a way as to gain sympathy for it from the reader.
Even after this creature kills the wife of Dr.Frankenstein one still feels more sympathy for his creation rather than Frankenstein himself.
The creator it seems is not so god-like in this novel for after he creates the hideous looking creature he abandons it and any responsibility for it.
One wonders seriously if this man ever thought about the consequences of his actions or whether he just did it to prove himself god-like? If so maybe his ego was more in control than his intellect. That's probably why when he saw ugly the creature was he turned away from it rather than face the fact that he had botched up his creation's appearance.
If he was truely dedicated to his work than he would have or should have attempted some plastic surgery to remedy the hideous appearance of his man-made being.
Because of it's hideous appearance the creature recieves a less than positive response from the few humans it encountered,which is why this creature became so bitter and misanthropic.
This more than anything makes this tale a tragedy than a horror story.
Rather than terrify the reader,this story appeals more to one's sense of sympathy instead,especially for the unfortunate creature who through no fault of it's own is brought into this harsh world to experience the fear and animosity of it's creator and the people that it had encountered.
Although written in the early part of the ninteenth century this particular story is still of current importance to our times as well,especially when we are on the brink of genetic tampering and artificial intelligence.
There are some among us who believe it possible to create machines that can think and maybe even feel like us.
Which does raise some disturbing questions of whether we should really want robots or machines to think and feel like we do.
After seeing the movie "Bladerunner" I seriously doubt that a race of man-made beings like the replicants should be a welcome idea or that it could be of any benefit to us when we come in conflict with such creatures.
If anything this novel by Mary Shelley serves as a timeless reminder of what might be the result of creating something in our image.