Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in January 2016 Part I

What I Read in January 2016 Part I . . . 

Frankenstein by Mary Woolsonecraft Shelley--Classic/ Historical Fiction/Horror

Frankenstein: Tie-In Edition If you only know Frankenstein from the horror films, forget what you know. This is a complex tale of what it means to give life and the responsibilities that comes with. It debates nature vs. nurture and provides a lot of food for thought.

Victor Frankenstein has a lot in common with a certain snake-like villain who shall not be named. They both pursue the study of old philosophers/wizards for the sake of knowledge that will bring them glory. Victor has a slightly different motive in mind. While he doesn't wish to subjugate Muggles, he does something nearly as bad - he creates life and then abandons his creation - in essence he tries to play God. While the Romantic writers weren't known for being particularly pious, this book draws heavily on Milton's Paradise Lost (which I have not read). In essence, Victor tries to play God and suffers the consequences.

What are the consequences of creating life? What is one's responsibility to the life one has created? Victor's response is to scream, faint and become ill for long stretches at a time. He takes absolutely no responsibility for his actions and continues to blame fate and destiny for his misfortunes. I didn't find him a sympathetic character at all. I felt more sympathy for the Creature, who goes unnamed throughout the novel, except for a number of negative epithets like demon, wretch and devil. He doesn't have a proper name and he doesn't have anyone to guide him through life and help him figure out who he and find his place in the world. Instead he's condemned because of his gruesome appearance and forced to flee. He becomes self-educated and realizes Victor, who should claim some responsibility for him, instead hates him. The two begin an antagonistic battle where neither shall live while the other survives. What happens throughout the novel is of course tragic but it doesn't happen because of destiny. Victor annoyed the heck out of me because of his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions. I felt sorry for everyone else except for him. However, he did have a good point about not doing what the Creature asked. I think though, that it could have worked and if it didn't, the Creature would have taken care of any problems.

This book features two unreliable narrators. It's a story within a story plus another story within that and yet another story emerges! Walton tells the story as he heard it from Victor. Victor claims he's telling the truth but who knows? Then we get the Creature's story, but it's told by Victor and is Victor's representation of his Creature and the Creature's words and deeds. Is it the truth? What is the truth and is the truth stranger than fiction? We never know. All we have is Walton's word that Victor claimed to be telling the truth.

I found it hard to get through this novel on my own without the pressure of class deadline. I forgot how much of the story is told in "high falutin'" language. There are also tons of classical allusions and references to unfamiliar European locations. I read the 1818 edition this time. There are some minor changes, the most significant being Elizabeth's heritage and Victor's free will. Romantic Circles has a very nice annotated online edition of the novel and I compared both editions at JuxtaCommons.

I don't know how many stars to give this book, so I'll rate it 4/5 because I enjoyed it so much in college but not so much this time around.

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