I have seen a few of the movie adaptations of Frankenstein but somehow I never got around to reading the book. I knew that it was supposed to be rather different and much more sophisticated than a simple horror story, and I was really excited to finally read it, but I have to admit I’m sorely disappointed after finishing it, and a big part of this is the main protagonist.
Victor Frankenstein has to be one of the most pathetic and self-obsessed idiots ever created in literature. His whining is legendary, he spends very little time thinking about other people than himself, and, although his intellect allows him to bring an inanimate corpse to life, it fails him in every other respect. He never considers stopping the creature, and by doing this cleaning up his own mess, until almost the end of the novel, although his inaction has led to several deaths already. The creature tells Victor that he will be there in his wedding night, and instead of correctly deducing that this means that he will be after his betrothed because the creature has been after the people closest to him before, he is convinced that it intends to kill Victor himself. This, of course, is erroneous.
Then, there is the creature. He’s basically created as a blank slate, but in just a few months, he goes from that to reading Plutarch and Goethe. Also, he has one really bad encounter with people, and the next thing he does is kill Victor’s young brother. So, there’s some incredibly quick escalation happening here. All this caused me to not have any sympathy for the creature, because it should have gone for its maker if it wanted revenge, and not for innocent people. Because of this, he really seems to be no more than just a hideous and evil monster because how can I believe that he had such a good heart, as he tells us himself, if he turns bad so abruptly and completely?
Of course, this is a science fiction story which is not required to be realistic, and additionally, it is highly symbolic because it is meant to have a philosophical aspect that concerns itself with the nature of evil and with the hubris of man who thinks he can play god without consequences, but I am still convinced that there has to be at least a minimum of logic and natural progression in a story, and I just don’t see this being the case here. There are a lot of things glossed over that the reader is supposed to simply accept, like the creature travelling the whole continent and the sea without being seen, his magical properties like super strength and low food requirement, the voyage to the Arctic, and a few others. A writer doesn’t have to spell out everything but a little more detail and background would not have been amiss here. As mentioned, the characterisation of the protagonst is also a real problem, and his illogical behaviour made me irrationally angry, while other parts of the book were simply tedious to read because it seemed that absolutely nothing was happening for long stretches.
Nonetheless, I can see why it made the impact it has, because the premise is deeply interesting and original, and the strongest point it makes, and this is as relevant today as it was then, is that humankind does not know how to respect the boundaries of nature, and how to clean up its messes. This can be, for example, applied to climate change and other environmental issues that we are causing ourselves. Just like Frankenstein brought the creature to life, there are things humankind created that just got away, took on a life of their own, and seem impossible to rein in afterwards. I just wish that the execution was not so lacking because there is a truly great book buried under a mountain of schlock.
CBR11 Bingo: Classics