Frankenstein – Mary Shelley Book review

It’s been a while since I’ve read this gorgeus book – poetry in the form of a monstrous story. Man trying to be God by creating life – in his own form and shape – and then having to deal with the birth of identity, free will and intelligence. Does it sound familiar to you? A creature, after receiving the gift of thought, starts doubting the purpose of his existence and hating his maker? A mis-understood lost soul only looking for affection and upon receiving none going out to destroy?

“I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst”

images.pngFrankenstein is a literature classic as it deals with concepts of Man vs God, Man vs Man and inner doubt about the ethics of creation. It’s still valid today as it was nearly two hundred years ago as it poses the question: If man is able to create life, should he?

Frankenstein, in his desire to prove his mastery of the medicinal arts, creates a human – from parts taken from different bodies, an abomination which is in different chapters described as tall, towering, monstruous, ugly and stunted. But what he did not reckon for is that his creature survived and learned from a mountain family words, language, kindness and eventually the feeling to be shunned based on appearances, the value of company and the tragedy of loneliness.

Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change. The sun might shine or the clouds might lower, but nothing could appear to me as it had done the day before. A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the history of man.

He then goes on to learn more, to find out everything he can about himself, the world around it and the people inhabiting it. He is like a child learning and lacking a person to teach him, he turns to books.

“I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors, and with the wants which were for ever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sunk deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.


His questions show that he is sentient and self-aware – more than many of us are today:

My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

“The words induced me to turn towards myself. I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these advantages but, without either, he was considered, except in very rare instances, as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few! And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as men. I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?

He goes on a quest to find Victor and ask him to make him a woman to keep his nights and days full of meaning.

Frankenstein at first refuses to help him, but after witnessing a murder on his estate, he goes to England in search of inspiration and then settles in Scotland, on an island where the other inhabitants were so poor and down-driven they could not have cared less about him. Here is is plagued about what he has done and what he must do and his mental torment is stopped when the monster, not having received an answer, presses the matter – driving Victor into a fit – making him destroy the research so far.

“Shall each man,” cried he, “find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man, you may hate; but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness for ever. Are you to be happy, while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions; but revenge remains — revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die; but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.”

images (1)Frankenstein then goes away just to be trapped in a snarl on the next island, where he is accused on manslaughter because he happened to be out at the same time the monster killed another person. He recognizes the victim and his reaction and attitude just make him seem more guilty. Frankenstein lapsed into a delirious fever for several months, ranting and raving about killing the monster. M. Kirwin believed him innocent of the murder and had a doctor and nurse tend to Frankenstein while he was imprisoned.

By the time he awakes, he finds his name had been cleared by the other islanders and his father had come to see him and remind him that his cousin Elizabeth was still waiting for him back home and they are to be married.

“The cup of life was poisoned forever, and although the sun shone upon me, as upon the happy and gay of heart, I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me.”

He goes back home to his beloved cousin (and I must say, the way she speaks to him gave me shivers 🙂 )

“My dear Victor, do not speak thus. Heavy misfortunes have befallen us; but let us only cling closer to what remains, and transfer our love for those whom we have lost to those who yet live. Our circle will be small, but bound close by the ties of affection and mutual misfortune. And when time shall have softened your despair, new and dear objects of care will be born to replace those. of whom we have been so cruelly deprived.”

His feelings for her are strong as he wants to be with her, knowing that her life might be in balance – especially if the monster finds her.

How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!


3977016uHe rushes home but still has the monster’s promise at the back of his mind – the promise to strip anything of value from him as punishment. And so he does, in his wedding night he finds his new wife strangled and thrown like a rag doll over the marital bed.

He starts a search party to find the monster and then starts chasing him through Europe on his own, through to the Northern lands and all the way to the Ice Lands where he gets picked up by a stuck vessel on the verge of dying.

What his feelings were whom I pursued I cannot know. Sometimes, indeed, he left marks in writing on the barks of the trees or cut in stone that guided me and instigated my fury. “My reign is not yet over”– these words were legible in one of these inscriptions– “you live, and my power is complete. Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north, where you will feel the misery of cold and frost, to which I am impassive. You will find near this place, if you follow not too tardily, a dead hare; eat and be refreshed. Come on, my enemy; we have yet to wrestle for our lives, but many hard and miserable hours must you endure until that period shall arrive.”

His suffering was fueling the monster’s thirst for revenge and the sicker he got, the better the monster loved it. It’s interesting that he did not let Victor die – he wanted his nemesis alive to torture, always within reach but never caught.

ship.jpgHe nearly dies but before his lights extinguish, he manages to befriend the captain and tell him his story, extricating a promise that the captain, should he see the beast, shoot him on sight and not listen to his “persuasive” words. Even sick as he was, he was driven to catch the beast and kill it.

But such is not my destiny; I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence; then my lot on earth will be fulfilled and I may die

When Victor dies, the ship captain is presented with an unusual visitor, the monster coming to cry at his master’s feet, regretting the loss of his creator.

He paused, looking on me with wonder, and again turning towards the lifeless form of his creator, he seemed to forget my presence, and every feature and gesture seemed instigated by the wildest rage of some uncontrollable passion.

“That is also my victim!” he exclaimed. “In his murder my crimes are consummated; the miserable series of my being is wound to its close! Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst.

Alas! He is cold, he cannot answer me.”

frank3His regret is not completely covering his rage though, as his hatred over his creator swallows his countenance:

My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.

He realizes that with the loss of his arch-nemesis and creator, he had also lost his will and his solitude has returned. He’s not crying for Victor, he’s crying for the idea of Victor, of a person pursuing him (even with the intent to kill him).

actual“Yet such must be the impression conveyed to you by what appears to be the purport of my actions. Yet I seek not a fellow feeling in my misery. No sympathy may I ever find. When I first sought it, it was the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed, that I wished to be participated. But now that virtue has become to me a shadow, and that happiness and affection are turned into bitter and loathing despair, in what should I seek for sympathy? I am content to suffer alone while my sufferings shall endure; when I die, I am well satisfied that abhorrence and opprobrium should load my memory. Once my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.

I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion.

But now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.

Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation;

I am alone.

6 thoughts on “Frankenstein – Mary Shelley Book review

  1. You are most likely going to enjoy the new film Mary Shelley (2017). I just saw it as part of the British Film Festival in Sydney. Its a deliciously Gothic tale of the tempestuous life behind Frankenstein; highly recommended. See my review.


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