SustainIt Book Club: Frankenstein

SustainIt Book Club: Frankenstein


As part of SustainIt’s regular book club, this article is my review of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

This is the original story of Frankenstein – a story well known and often mis-represented in modern culture, in which a ‘mad’ scientist creates a ‘monster’ which goes on to wreak havoc. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Modern Promestheus’ – a reference to the Greek mythological Titan who, at the behest of Zeus, creates mankind in the image of the gods (for which he gets severely punished).

The book has been written by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s soon-to-be-wife while on a trip along the Rhine with their friend Lord Byron. Written as part of a competition to see who could write the best ghost story, this tale is Mary Shelley’s first, and by a long way most well-known novel.

While the novel is only short, it took me a while to read. This is due, in part, to the stilted style in which it’s written. It is obvious to me that this is written by someone fairly new to writing. It is equally obvious that the novel’s quality, attractiveness and timelessness lie more in the story than the quality of the writing.

It starts with an explorer, Walton, recounting his (mis)adventures in a letter to his sister. He is sailing in the Arctic seas when he and his crew spy two figures – one a huge monstrous shape, the other a human. The latter is rescued from certain death on the ice and thus begins Victor Frankenstein’s recollection of his history to Walton.

As a young, ambitious scientist, Frankenstein seeks to create man from nought. He succeeds, but forever rues the conception of his plan. The following story is of the ‘enlightenment’ of the monster, his subsequent realisation of self and his battle with Frankenstein, his creator, to create for him a female companion. He can then retreat from this world that hates and fears him and live in peace (he having killed several of Frankenstein’s loved ones in an attempt to get him to agree to his plan). 

The book is said to be infused with the Gothic and Romantic and to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction writing. For me, the story is one of man’s often misguided endeavour and subsequent battle to ‘do the right thing’. It is a discussion of alienation from society and deals with themes that strike true today, not least of which is ‘how far should mankind meddle with nature’.

The style may not appeal to everyone, having been written by a nineteen-year-old girl in 1818. However this book will stay with me as a fascinating investigation into what it means to be human.

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