Friday, February 26, 2016

Mary Shelley

It's been an interesting experience reading Frankenstein for the first time. For one, the book turned out to be an easier read than I'd expected. And while Shelley's prose can feel dated, there's a certain rhythm that emerges, a feeling of being "locked in." I enjoyed that. 

The experience of reading Frankenstein turned out to be unexpected for a second reason, too: I couldn't immediately discern a moral message. This was especially strange because the book has a tendency to be repetitive in both its articulation and evaluation of emotion. Put differently, Frankenstein never amounted to a parable; instead, it read as an extended epistolary novel, charting human tumult within the artificial confines of letters. 

That said, I suppose Shelley's book does - on some level, at least - impart a moral message. For me, that message amounted to a reminder: a reminder to embrace what's near. 

Victor, for instance, is torn between ideas of creation and discovery, and the safety he associates with human relations. Over time, his creation of the daemon comes to represent an assault on this safety; it serves as a reminder that obsession has the potential to consume us. 

That said, there's more here, I think, than the contrast between old and new, between humanity and brutality: there's an equally powerful strain in the novel focused on fear. Victor is tortured by his disdain for the monster (who is, after all, his own creation). At least part of this disdain is a result of the monster's features; but more of it, I think, is a result of the threat he subtly poses to Victor's imagination. There's a temptation here to move beyond the known, and that temptation is rooted in a willingness to shed fear. The daemon, in effect, suggests a universe beyond friends and family, one in which humanity gives birth to something which surmounts itself. 

It is in this way that you might read Frankenstein as a book casting a conservative light on exploration and discovery. But I prefer, in the end, to read it as a meditation on obsession and revenge, and on the extent to which we would do well to remind ourselves - as people, as humans - that the best is often in front of us, and that what we seek to create in our image might never be quite as good as the real thing.  

1 comment:

  1. Jesse Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde and Dracula are both good reads...