Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
“If I have no ties and no affections, hatred and vice must be my portion.”
*warning: small spoilers ahead*
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Kenneth Branagh and enjoyed every minute of it. Two long walks and some household chores flew by and suddenly the book was finished. The voice of Kenneth ‘Mister Shakespeare’ Branagh (who also directed and starred in the 1994 film Frankenstein) is perfect for this prose and both the writing and the narration as well as the story itself kept me glued to the pages (or in this case, glued to my earphones) and left me wanting more.
Damaged characters are my kryptonite, so you can imagine that I sympathised heavily with the creature that Victor Frankenstein, a student of chemistry and natural philosophy, had built and then abandoned after he’d been horrified by it upon bringing it to life.
Frankenstein’s creature is referred to as ‘the wretch’ or ‘the daemon’ in the novel and he is of course commonly known as ‘the monster of Frankenstein’ in popular culture.
I will refer to him only as ‘the creature’ though, because I do not think of him as a wretch, demon, or monster.
Although he did set out to take revenge on Frankenstein and committed various evil acts in the process, the creature was far from evil himself. He was lonely, damaged and misunderstood, and enraged because of that. He was capable of love, but no one showed him any affection. He recognised beauty, but no one saw beauty in him. He even had a thirst for knowledge, but no one taught him.
If Frankenstein hadn’t shunned the being he had created, but had taken the trouble to teach him, to raise him and show him affection, it could have all been so different because this creature had so much potential. What if?
“Unfeeling, heartless creator! You had endowed me with perceptions and passions and then cast me abroad an object for the scorn and horror of mankind.”
The subtitle of Frankenstein is ‘the modern Prometheus’, but it might as well have been ‘the story of a brilliant scientist who is also a bit slow on the uptake’ because somehow Frankenstein always had his epiphanies a minute too late.
Let’s go through three of these that made me question Frankenstein’s brightness:
– Epiphany 1: Frankenstein spent months putting together a human being. He saw what his creature was going to look like, limb after limb. Yet only after he animated it did it hit him that he had created a monster and he ran for the hills.
– Epiphany 2: After Frankenstein promised his creature that he would make him a female companion he set to work. Again, he spent months building this female being. And when did it strike him that maybe this female would become as vicious as her male counterpart? When was he hit with the sudden thought that the male and female creature might procreate and be the Adam and Eve of a wicked species? Exactly, when he was nearly finished (but, thankfully, this time before he brought the being to life).
– Epiphany 3: The creature had already killed two of Frankenstein’s loved ones, caused the death of another loved one, and had made it very clear that he would continue to take his revenge when he warned Frankenstein that he’d be there on his wedding night. And what did Frankenstein do on his wedding night? He left his wife alone! As soon as I heard that he left Elizabeth on her own I knew… She dead. She very dead indeed. But of course, that realisation didn’t hit Frankenstein until he heard a scream and found a lifeless Elizabeth. Well, colour me not very surprised.
Two other things that made me frown:
– After Henry was killed Frankenstein fell ill, but he talked during this illness, murmuring about how he was the cause of all the murders and how he had created a monster. And yet no one around him questioned this? Did the people around him who heard him feverishly confess to murder and talk about a demon just shrug it off thinking ‘well, that’s bloody disconcerting, but let’s not do anything about it’?
– Elizabeth asked Frankenstein if he hadn’t found another woman he’d rather marry or if he didn’t consider her more of a sister than a potential wife. Frankenstein replied that he was very sure he wanted to marry her, but that he had this massive secret that he would tell her about only after they were married. That, my dear Elizabeth, is a red flag.
To me, the best parts of Frankenstein are the chapters in which the creature tells Frankenstein what happened to him after Frankenstein turned his back on him. How other people also shunned him and how he learnt from the cottagers he observed. How even the cottagers didn’t give him a chance and how much he craved a friend.
I was mesmerised by the way the creature told his story and these chapters consist of some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read (or, in my case, heard).
“The young girl was occupied in arranging the cottage; but presently she took something out of a drawer, which employed her hands, and she sat down beside the old man, who, taking up an instrument, began to play, and to produce sounds sweeter than the voice of the thrush or the nightingale. It was a lovely sight, even to me, poor wretch! who had never beheld aught beautiful before. The silver hair and benevolent countenance of the aged cottager won my reverence, while the gentle manners of the girl enticed my love. He played a sweet mournful air, which I perceived drew tears from the eyes of his amiable companion, of which the old man took no notice, until she sobbed audibly; he then pronounced a few sounds, and the fair creature, leaving her work, knelt at his feet. He raised her, and smiled with such kindness and affection that I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never before experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food; and I withdrew from the window, unable to bear these emotions.”
The novel is perfectly balanced, making the reader understand both Frankenstein and his creature. On the one hand, you sympathise with the poor being abandoned by his creator and you curse Frankenstein for not helping him and for not taking responsibility (almost wanting to shake him violently and shout ‘he just wants to be loved!’). On the other hand, you feel for Frankenstein whose loved ones get taken away from him one by one and who’s haunted and tormented forever by the being he so ambitiously and passionately put together and so mistakenly brought to life.
The ending caught me off guard and for a second I thought my audiobook had stopped playing because I’d lost Internet connection, but the book was simply finished.
It didn’t surprise me because I thought the ending wasn’t good, but because I still (perhaps somewhat childishly) long for an ‘and all was well’ ending. For a happily ever after. But the ending is perfect in its sadness. A heartbreaking tragedy.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
This review can also be found on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2672426521