Book Re-Reviewed: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Because us first-year MFAs were the last people to sign up for classes in the Graduate English Department back in August, we got stuck with the leftovers. I wasn't entirely sold on the class I got - British Romanticism and the Sciences of Life - but it wasn't the worst option either. Overall, I'm glad I took it. My professor is funny and smart, and I'm getting a taste of a literary history I know nothing about. Unfortunately, old poetry and essays about the emergence of science as a legitimate field of study aren't exactly my thing. Nevertheless, the reading for this class hasn't been all bad. Best of all, we got to do Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a book I've always liked.
This is the third time I've read Frankenstein. The first time was back in high school, and I loved it. It was as angsty and full of guilt as any melancholic seventeen-year-old writer could want. The second time was in college, in a modern European history survey class. Now, here I was reading it again, this time to study its connection to science in the late-18th/early-19th centuries. I fell in love with it all over again. Frankenstein is a super-solid book, I'm happy to report.
If you've somehow managed to escape your various levels of education without once touching this book, here's the general plot: temperamental, snobby Victor Frankenstein goes to college, learns how to create life, builds a hideous monster, and then pays for his actions for the rest of his life. One of the most remarkable aspects of Shelley's novel is the way she layers three narratives into such a short book. The book begins with Walton, an explorer up near the North Pole, and his letters to his sister. Walton finds a dying Victor Frankenstein and brings him aboard the ship. Then, we get the narrative in the voice of Victor. Finally, in the middle of the book, we spend a few chapters in the voice of the "monster." The book has its faults, but the construction is ingenious.
Is Frankenstein full of massive implausibilities? Yes. Is it brimming with an almost ridiculous amount of emotional hysterics? Yes. But who cares. It's a fun, fascinating read that says more about its time period than just about any other piece of Romanticism out there. I highly recommend it.