I was subjected to mostly Shakespeare in high school thanks to the personal tastes of teachers who didn’t follow a more traditional reading list curriculum, so, sadly here I am reading Frankenstein for the first time at the age of 36.
All of my previous knowledge of Shelley’s book comes from the 1931 classic film starring Boris Karloff as the monster, a movie which I must admit I’ve never seen. But thanks to the monster’s constant use in pop culture and other reference in society, like everything else we are subjected to on a regular basis, the image became an icon which became embedded in our brains as knowledge – knowledge I was completely wrong about!
This is the perfect example of Hollywood taking a book, keeping its concept in a sense, and changing everything else. For example, Victor is not really a mad scientist living in some German castle high on a cliff using all kinds of bizarre machinery to give life to a body he stitched together from body parts that his assistant Igor picked up in some prison cemetery. Nope! Not it at all really. We don’t even have the classic torch wielding mob scene in the end.
Instead, Victor is a smart student who becomes interested in medical science while at university and discovers how to give life to that which is dead. He does steal body parts from crypts and such, but that’s it. No castle. No glamorous laboratory. No Igor. Shelley doesn’t even really go into the details about the creation of the monster itself. The monster just wakes up one day and Victor is immediately disgusted by what he’s done.
Six years pass before Victor even encounters the monster again, when Victor’s young brother is killed and a beloved guardian is accused. Here, we meet a very intellectual monster who tells Victor the story of how he has been observing a poor family living in a cabin in the woods and has been learning by their everyday actions. The monster rattles on for a good fifty or so pages about everything he has seen and experienced. No one-worded “Massster!” mumbles for him! But it is from the monster’s point of view that we really begin to see the intention of the classic story.
This is a book about human suffering and acceptance. It is about our need in society to fit in and to have friends and companions like us and who do not judge us. Frankenstein has been called the first “science fiction” book, and while it lacks certain dark elements that might attract today’s readers, it’s still a good solid Victorian novel with underlying themes of the human condition.
I’m glad I spent time with Shelley at this age; I certainly appreciate it more than I probably would have twenty years ago.