Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I recently finished Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. As a writer and as one with a degree in English, I feel almost obligated (and somewhat unqualified) to critique it.  I have a list of all the books I've read, which I rate 1-10. I give Frankenstein a 6 - mostly because it went longer than it should have given the plot, the narrative style was repetitive and long-winded, and, for me, there is only one truly climactic part in the book, and it isn't the ending. (Spoiler alert!)

First, Frankenstein is long, too long.  The reason for this becomes clear when reading the Author's Introduction to the Standard Novels Edition (1831), where Shelley states: "At first I thought but a few pages--of a short tale; but Shelley [her husband] urged me to develope [sic] the idea at greater length." Percy Shelley was concerned with reputation, not with a good story, or where the real story lies. I feel the real story is much shorter than the novel is. The real plot is the relationship between Frankenstein and the monster, and the former's self-loathing for having created the latter, and the latter's terror over the former. Much could be cut: the letters, the detailed descriptions of family connections and scenery, how the monster survives in the wilderness, what he observes as he hides, etc.

Second, the narrative style is often repetitive and prosaic: "I felt tormented," "Anguish filled my bones the likes of which are indescribable," "My mind was consumed with guilt for that evil deed which I did do," etc. (These are made-up sentences, but fit in rather nicely with Shelley's writing, which isn't a compliment). Further, there are too many "stories within stories" employed in this frame narrative. There were several times where I simply forgot who was narrating. This is mostly because of the restrictive nature of the epistolary framework used by Shelley.

Third, there's a lack of true suspense and a vivid sense of horror - not an absence but a lack. The most exciting part of the book is when the monster exacts his revenge and kills Frankenstein's wife. It was blood-curdling for me imagining this beast-man above the murdered corpse of an innocence, which we had been foretold and warned of. Why couldn't it have ended there, or soon thereafter while it was good? The ending isn't exciting; essentially, the monster shows remorse and that he was good, after all. Really?

I will be choosing further readings more carefully.

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