Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley
Published: 1818
Website: Wikipedia Page

Frankenstein, described by some as the first work of science fiction, is surprisingly novel-like. Similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which of course came significantly later), the science aspect of the narrative takes a secondary role and acts mainly as a vehicle for the rest of the story. In fact, the science which animates the monster who has captured the imagination of several generations of literary critics and Halloween costume designers is intentionally left out in Frankenstein’s recounting of his miserable life, ostensibly to protect Walton, the scientist cum shipman who rescues him from the Arctic tundra. Thus, the main thrust of the story takes place in a more traditional format, which some interesting twists. The overarching story is that of Walton, who writes letters to his sister about his journey north and happens upon a sick man leading a sled pack through glaciers and eventually comes to hear his story, which is told in classic first person narrative and includes the story of his monster, who himself tells his life in first-person. While this may seem confusing, the stories are distinct and engaging enough that the unorthodox layering actually adds important elements to the story, making each character sympathetic in turn.

When a story is fundamentally about conflict, as Frankenstein is (between personal hurt and public harm, between creator and created, between god and man, between human and non-human), it is the more comfortable option to give the reader a hero to back throughout, but Shelley refuses to take this route. Instead, she forces the reader to consider every character’s hardships and motivations in making the often terrible decisions they make. There is room for disagreement, but at least the underlying reasons are understood, which makes the shared humanity of the humans and monsters (and it’s not always apparent which is which) all the more clear.

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