Mary Shelley

55 Classics Review #5 – Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


As I was finishing Frankenstein I happened upon the cover of a children’s science magazine that said, “Should we bring extinct species back to life?” It is troubling to me that the imaginary science of Frankenstein is so dangerously close to what we find modern science capable of today and the moral obligations are still as foreign to those who practice now as they were to Frankenstein himself.

There was so much I loved and some I hated in these pages, but before I get into what I have to say I must state that there is probably no work of fiction more greatly abused by film adaptations than Frankenstein.

There is no groaning ghoul, there are no pitchfork-welding villagers, there is no accidental murder, and no animalistic fear of fire. The film adaptations of this story are literally their own works of fiction entirely. Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein is about as close to the text as any other film I’ve yet happened upon.

This actually made Frankenstein a delightful read. The sheer foreignness of the story kept me on the edge of my seat. The original text is surprisingly readable even though it was published in 1818 and it reminded me a lot of the writing style Bram Stoker put into Dracula nearly a century later. Shelley employs a series of letters and story-within-story retelling to add depth and believability to her tale. While the characters can become a little wordy in their impassioned monologues, I was ultimately very pleased with the writing style.

The great thing that I never knew about Frankenstein is the complexity of implied and directly addressed questions of the brokenness and disconnections of humanity. Both Frankenstein and his creation are constantly reflecting on their own powers for good, enjoyment of natural beauty, and horrifying capabilities toward evils.

The story is told through the interactions of a fearless young explorer who encounters Frankenstein, and it would be easy to take the story as a treatise against morally questionable science practices if the main characters weren’t constantly oscillating between cursing Frankenstein’s blind science power trip and priding themselves in their own capabilities as fearless leaders. Frankenstein, his monster, and the narrator quickly fall back and forth between horror at the careless evil he committed and confidence in the powers of men to overcome the world.

Here we come to the part I didn’t like about the story. From a purely narrative perspective, I have always been easily annoyed by characters who see miscommunication happening and do nothing to rectify it. Perhaps I’m a bit of an over communicator, but I hate stories where nothing is done to clear up simple and tragic misunderstands. Frankenstein himself spends the majority of his life after the creation of the monster watching in silent horror as the repercussions of his creation play out, doing nothing or far too little too late. He refuses to confess his action to all those closest to him, despite the increasing toll it takes. The only time he decides to take any really decisive action is when he desires to kill the monster. The monster is similar, originally eager to see beauty, family, and community. When he can’t get these, he rages and eagerly pursues the greatest opposing horrors.

This aspect of the story does not ruin the story by any means, but it does provide a defeatist tone. It is full of terror, but maybe the greatest tragedy is how little any character is actually willing to pursue the good, beauty, and truth which they so eagerly live for, but each is more than happy to act on every violent impulse which provokes them.

As I read the story I began to feel strongly that Frankenstein is a grandfather text to both surrealist and science fiction genres. The story is classic science fiction and the character’s monologues feel like a precursory stepping stone to what Kafka would write a century later.

The book does a wonderful job of exploring the philosophical questions surrounding moral obligations in science, what it is to be human, the beauty and evils of mankind, and the terror of total ostracism from relationship. The violent and self-destructive tone does not destroy the power of the story, but it does leave us without a real protagonist, with ultimately confused and powerfully nihilistic characters.

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The Classics Club


This morning I stumbled upon a wonderful blog called The Classics Club. Its exactly what I never knew I was searching for!

The premise of the club is a simple one. To join, one must simply submit a list of at least 50 titles that you personally consider classic in some way and commit to attempting to read and review all of them within a time frame of hire own choosing, up to five years. I eagerly spent some of my morning and afternoon building my own classics list.

A Few Notes Concerning My Selections

• I chose a very broad spectrum of titles because I am interested in a broad spectrum of fiction. I am aware that many, nay most, are probably not classics or only exist as classics in a certain subculture.

• They are in the order I came up with them, so I will not be reading them in this or any other particular order.

• I chose a number of children’s titles because I love children’s literature more now than when I was a kid.

• The spirit of the club is to read new titles, so I have only allowed myself step or three re-reads. I chose them mostly because they are lesser known titles and I was eager to re-read them to review them.

• Most of these are either titles I own and have not read or titles I started once and got side-tracked from finishing.  I thought this seemed like a great opportunity to officially pursue them more diligently.

• The list is mainly novels and chapter books, with a smattering of short story collections, picture books, essays, and curated diaries.

• I intend to use the maximum allotment of five years, finishing the list by 2/22/2019.

The List (55 titles)

– The Plague by Albert Camus

– The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

– Watership Downs by Richard Adams

– Letters To An American Lady by C.S. Lewis

– On Stories by C.S. Lewis

– The Worm of Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison

– The Giver by Lois Lowry

– Mr. Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien

– Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

– The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

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– Odd And The Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

– Phantastes by George MacDonald

– The Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

– The Silmarilion by J.R.R. Tolkien

– Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

– Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

– A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

– Redwall by Brian Jacques

– Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

– Poems of John Keats by John Keats

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– Brothers and Friends : The Diaries of Major Warren Lewis by Warren Lewis

– The Third Man by Graham Greene

– The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

– The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

– Peril At End House by Agatha Christie

– Bring It To The Table: On Farming And Food by Wendell Berry

– The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

– Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams

– War In Heaven by Charles Williams

– The Food Of The Gods And How It Came To Earth by H. G. Wells

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– Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang by Ian Fleming

– Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

– The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

– At The Back Of The North Wing by George MacDonald

– Jeeves In The Offering by P. G. Wodehouse

– Heavy Weather by P. G. Wodehouse

– Middlemarch by George Eliot

– The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe

– Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

– The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

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– On Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

– A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

– An Arsene Lupin Omnibus by Maurice LeBlanc

– The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

– The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton

– King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

– The Sorrows Of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

– Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

– In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

__________

– Runaway by Alice Munro

– The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchanan

– I Sing The Body Electric by Ray Bradbury

– Walden by Henry David Thoreau

– My First Summer In The Sierras by John Muir

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As a somewhat saddening side-note, I realized while curating this list that I finished reading every Sherlock Holmes novel years ago. While there are only four novel-length Holmes stories, I was surprised to realize that I had finished all of them years ago. I’m certain that I haven’t read all the short stories yet, but it was a strange sensation to realize that I had long since finished these and even forgotten that I had completed every one of them.

Anyway, I am excited to get any feedback as I start! If you have any personal thoughts, experiences, or opinions on any or all of these titles, I would love to hear them. I need all the advice I can get!