At the end of the 18th century Robert Walton is a young man inspired to travel by reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and writes home to tell his sister about his adventures. But on July 31st a strange thing happens when they become stranded by ice and fog and see a man of gigantic stature on a sledge guided by dogs. The next day they find another sledge being driven by an emaciated man and take him on board. Over the following days as his health improves Victor Frankenstein tells Robert the story of his life so far.
This prosaic structure is so wonderfully everyday and sets the story so firmly on home ground that it adds a chilling factor to an already frightening and exciting tale that at its heart is about abandonment and loneliness.
Frankenstein works manically to create his creature, his excitement completely engulfs him but when his work is done and he sees his creation he’s so disgusted and scared by his ugliness that he hides.
The creature is a complete innocent, he wonders at the beauty of the natural world and eventually finds a small hut that he lives in while watching and learning from the family who live in the adjoined cottage. To him they are perfect, beautiful and graceful and by watching them he learns to read and finds a copy of Paradise Lost. He also sees a reflection of himself in a pool. He doesn’t look like the people in the cottage, what is he?Adam is also a person that has no link with other humans but God has made him perfect and given him a friend. ‘I ought to be thy Adam’ he says to Frankenstein but who would love me if even my creator has abandoned me? Instead of Adam he likens himself to Satan, but even the archfiend has his companions. He has no one. But still he believes that through his kindness he deserves friendship. When finally he decides to try and make friends with the cottagers and they too run from him in horror, his innocence turns to bitterness and then too revenge.
‘Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.’
The creatures deep sense of injustice towards him, his longing for a friend and an end to his isolation is piteous but the revenge he seeks is bloodcurdlingly chilling. ‘I could feel the blood trickling in my veins . . .I felt as if all hell surrounded me with mockery and laughter.‘ Frankenstein tells Walton. A cruel game of cat and mouse begins as Frankenstein chases his creation across Europe to the ‘everlasting ices of the north’ and back to where the story begins.
This was a book so full of surprises. I love the way Shelley so skilfully incorporates other stories so that we’re reading a story within a story that’s within a story! The use of nature as a metaphor is beautiful as we travel all over Europe with raging rivers, crashing waterfalls, mountains and glaciers and glass like lakes, visions that fill the creature with ‘a sublime ecstasy, that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy.’ all real journeys that can be mapped out and followed. And I didn’t realise the Bride of Frankenstein was an actual thing, one which gives Shelley the chance to make a wonderfully concise argument for free will – even if the creature has a mate how does he know she’ll want to stay with him and follow him around, she’ll have her own mind and he might not like her choices!
I’ve barely skimmed the plot here, I don’t want to give anything away just in case anyone reads this who hasn’t yet read the book but this was such a richly rewarding read, exciting and thrilling while asking some big questions, a very definite favourite.