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The Original Frankenstein

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Mary Shelley

Working from the earliest surviving draft of Frankenstein, Charles E. Robinson presents two versions of the classic novel--as Mary Shelley originally wrote it and a subsequent version clearly indicating Percy Shelley's amendments and contributions. … see full wiki

Author: Mary Shelley
Publisher: Vintage Books
Date Published: September 08, 2009
1 review about The Original Frankenstein

The Modern Prometheus

  • Jan 29, 2008
Pros: Refreshing to read the original and see what Shelley really wanted to say

Cons: A few literary elements that would never fly today

The Bottom Line: A good read, though the prose at the time won't be for everyone, but it's nice to look into some of the earliest of science fiction writing.

I’ve wanted to read Frankenstein for years, but for some reason or another, never managed to do so. Finally my writing program gave me the perfect excuse, and I bought a tiny travel-sized hardcover volume, complete and unabridged, the version Mary Shelley wrote in 1818 before making later changes in 1831. Then, due to an abrupt bout of stomach flu, I had plenty of time to read this whilst confined to my bed.

We all think we know the story of Victor Frankenstein and his monster, dead flesh brought back to life, a thinking, moving being of large proportions and equally horrific looking. Not quite. The real story is much different (I think in 1994 Kenneth Branagh attempted to give us the Mary Shelley version with Robert De Niro, but the public didn't accept it).

Victor Frankenstein does create a living “person” out of dead materials, but he is so horrified by what he has done, he runs from his creation. The creature is now alone and stumbles through the world, trying to find his place in it, only to learn his appearance inspires terror in all who see him. Left alone and miserable, he decides his creator has failed to teach and protect him as a creator should, and vows revenge. Soon, Victor and his creation are chasing each other down to the ends of the earth, nothing left to either but rage, misery, and eventually death.

Ah, but that is only a sample of what you get in the book. This book is written in an epistolary format for the most part; written in the form of letters (and journal entries) from a man named Walton to his sister. He is sailing far north seeking glory when he finds both Victor and the creature. Victor tells Walton the story and Walton writes it all down (and of course does a fabulous job). As you read you learn about Victor’s childhood, how he came to his crazed ambition of bestowing life upon something, and his thoughts and feelings as many sorrows come to pass due to his actions. Even better, the one thing you’ll get here that you won’t get in any Frankenstein movie is the story of the creature. That’s right – the monster talks! Rather eloquently, I might add. You learn what happened to him after Victor abandoned him, how he tried to enjoy life and be virtuous and helpful, but instead the constant way he was received by all men, women, and children drove him into despair and eventually hatred. (He reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera in many ways, actually).

I’ll let you make your own judgments as to who is really at fault (though we all know it’s Victor *ahem* Ok, well, he started this whole thing anyway), and instead focus on the other aspects of the book. While the story and writing is all very skilled, well put together, and is very clear about surroundings, actions, thoughts, and feelings. It does take a while to get started. You’ll have to go through many pages before reaching Victor’s attempt to bring life, and even after that, you get a brief glimpse at the creature before it’s gone again and doesn’t resurface for many more pages.

I do have issues accepting the fact that the creature is going to become that skilled in the English language in a matter of months, and I also question why, if Victor could give life to something that is a mishmash of body parts, he could not restore life to those who have been killed. He knows the secret of bestowing life to lifeless matter. Where does the difference lie? Likewise, Mary Shelley doesn’t connect people well; if you were never aware of the name of the man who created Frankenstein, you’d never have a clue until pages and pages into the book. Victor’s name isn’t mentioned until then. In the same respects, either I missed something, or Shelley neglected to mention Victor had two brothers as well. When the name William was mentioned, I was never sure how he related to Victor until someone finally said “brother.” This would never work now; my critique partners would destroy me over that sort of hiccup. But it worked well enough during Shelley’s time, so you will simply have to go with the flow and accept the book for what it is.

There are a great many themes in this book you can take with you as well. The most prominent one (I felt) was the danger of seeking glory, blindly and without thought to the possible consequences. This is the same thing Walton is doing, and because of his ambitions, his entire crew is in danger of perishing in the middle of a frozen ocean. While Walton mused to himself that he might not make it, it doesn’t appear that he ever thought of the crew. Victor was so busy thinking of himself and the magnificence he was creating, he failed to truly see what was on his table, or what the other potential outcomes could be.

To get the full effect, you really should read the book. The ending may surprise you (it surprised me), and it will be a very interesting ride up until then. It kept me reading, that’s for sure (and not because I was stuck in bed – I have a TV and movies in my room). So go get the original version and finally read up on the true story of Frankenstein’s monster.


P.S. And no, we do not get to learn about the secret to animating dead tissue, so don’t expect to see that here. Victor was very adamant that no one make his mistake, so he never explains how he does it.


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