Crashing thunder and stormy skies are the scene set for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a story of pride, passion and power. When a zealous scientist tries to create a superhuman race that shall worship him as god all havoc breaks loose when his creation escapes. Unfortunately the creations experiences in the outside world are heartbreaking and soon vows to avenge his misfortunes by destroying his creator. And as the monster is a bundle of stitched together parts the book is a biblio-genesis means that the book is a mixture of different genres-Romantic, Horror and the newly formed Gothic.
This is one of the reasons for the books enduring popularity, but what are the differences from the contemporary audience of 1818 to the modern 2006 reader. The book starts at the end with Victor Frankenstein in chase of his creation in mind for its destruction, he unfortunately looses it and is washed in to the icy land of the North pole. He is discovered by Robert Walton, a man on the quest for the North-West passage. On Walton’s ship when Frankenstein recovers he begins to tell Walton of his reason for being in the North Pole.
Frankenstein’s main character is the crazed scientist Victor Frankenstein, a young Swiss boy, he grows up in Geneva reading the works of ancient and outdated alchemists, a background that serves him ill when he attends university at Ingolstadt. After mastering all that the professors have to teach he becomes captivated by the ” secret of life”. After discovering the secret he begins work on his master race and those who “bless me creator”. Unfortunately when he sees the hideousness of the monster he runs and later finds the monster gone.
Now with the monster gone he returns to his home after hearing of the death of his brother, not knowing it was by the hand of the monster. Victor changes over the course if the novel from a innocent youth fascinated by the prospects of science into a disillusioned, guilt-ridden man determined to destroy the fruits of his arrogant scientific endeavour. Victor in a sense is seen as a tragic character but he doesn’t have that critical attribute, the realisation of his misdeeds and the acknowledgement of them. “…
My past conduct; nor do I find it blamable “. At the end of the novel when Victor dies. With the multiple narrators and, hence, multiple perspectives the novel leaves the reader with contrasting interpretations of Victor- mad scientist or brave adventurer. This adds to the popularity of the book as readers cannot relate to Victor and find him in-depth and new. The contemporary audience would have never seen a character like Victor Frankenstein and the morale dilemma posed by the book-dangerous knowledge-would have never been tapped into.
Although times have changed and the media frenzy over new and improved versions of the classic still continue to shape our perspectives to the mad scientist in search of ungainable knowledge in modern times. Just as the monster is the heart of the story the structure is too. With the narrations of Walton to his sister, Victor to Walton , Monster to Victor, Victor to Walton and finally Walton to Monster. The monster lies right in the middle of everything. After escaping Victor’s lab the monster heads towards nature, he is and adult in size but a child in mind.
He has no conception of senses and language. When he finds a burning fire he is amazed at the warmth it radiates in the cold surroundings, but he is confused when he puts his finger in the fire and hurts himself. He is unable to determine how something that offers such pleasure could also be a thorn. The monster is Victor’s creation, assembled from old body parts and strange chemicals, animated by a mysterious spark. Abandoned by his creator and confused he tries to socialize only to beaten and chased because of his stature.
After several unsuccessful encounters with humans he decides to take refuge in an old barn. He is happy to find that he can spy on his neighbours through a small hole. There he learns the human language and now can relate emotions to causes. He then decides to approach a member of that family, an old blind man who can see past his grotesque form. Unfortunately he is interrupted by the old man’s nephew and he chase the monster out of the house. Vengeful he acclaims to take revenge on his creator for abandoning him , and therefore starts his journey to Geneva.
The monster is never born evil in the book only the way society has treated him has morphed him into what he later becomes- a cold blooded killer. Walton’s letters to his sister frame around the main narrative. Walton captains a North pole bound ship and although the constant urges from his sister to return safely, he says “I shall kill no albatross”. Walton parallels Victor in many ways, like Victor e is an explorer and chasing after “country of eternal light”- unpossessed knowledge. Victor influence is great but he eventually turns back unlike Victor.
These characters add a lot of imagination to the book and this furthermore adds greatly to the book’s enduring popularity. Three seemingly alike characters but in many ways different, they all narrate part of the book and this provides three different views on the same plot. In a way that echoes the monster’s stitched-together body parts, the novel is a collection of stitched-together genres. This is no less apparent than in chapter 5. The book is a mixture of genres- Horror, Gothic, Romantic, Semi-Autobiographical and science fiction.
Chapter 5 is the creation of the monster and the Horror, Gothic and Sci-fi themes are clear as Mary Shelly has used fitting features to all these genres. “Dreary Night”, “Rain pattered dismally”, “Horrid Contrast”. Horror is the darkness and our natural fear of the unknown. Sci-fi is the horrid creature from another world or unearthly. Gothic, a new genre at the time, led by Frankenstein. Gothic elements are everywhere, they create tension, fear and curiosity. In chapter 5, Shelly has used Gothic elements such as the dismal weather, the flickering candle, the lonely mad scientist and the improper wretch.
This adds to the enduring popularity as the social context of that time was that science was the way forward and people began to question certain religious beliefs. The books anti science message is clear. It says that unpossessed knowledge isn’t always good. The themes in the book are diverse as Frankenstein is a biblio-genesis, a collection of seamed together parts from other works. Greatly influenced by Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The mariner’s story parallels Walton’s and Victor’s, they are all at the land of ice and snow.
Just as the mariner tells his tale to the wedding guest for redemption, Victor is driven by guilt. Both Victor and the mariner cause their own destruction- The mariner should have cared for the albatross, Victor should have cared for The monster. And as the killing of the albatross became literally and metaphorically a burden for the mariner, the monster, likewise, is Victor’s burden. They are also linked when Walton mentions to his sister that he shall “kill no albatross”. In conclusion, the enduring popularity of Frankenstein is testimony to a great writer.
Shelley has used many new elements to achieve this, on the way inventing a new genre. Frankenstein is seen as a fore father of all modern gothic novels, rightly so it has had many alternatives and we have seen the creature in many different lights. The heart of its popularity lies within the creation of the monster and Shelley has used many different themes to entice and incaptivate audiences till now and probably for generations to come. Character such as Victor and the creature will never be forgotten due to their unique traits and flaws. I suspect that the novels ideas and plots will continue to last whether under different titles.