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Thoughts on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley
352 pages
First published 1818

So a while ago…quite a while ago, Amy from My Friend Amy did a challenge to have various bloggers review one of what Newsweek considered the 50 books of our times, which they defined as “which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.”

I was a little late to the party, so some of the books that I might have preferred were already claimed by other bloggers. Frankenstein leapt out at me because it’s a classic, and I figured it would be a good experience no matter what.

I don’t want to get too much into the book, but here’s a couple of things you should know that I didn’t know when I started Frankenstein:

  • Frankenstein is not the monster; rather, he is the creator (Victor Frankenstein).
  • The story starts out in epistolary form, and later changes to Victor and the monster recounting their portion of the story.

Victor is a completely unsympathetic character, and the monster is a lot more sympathetic than I would have thought. However, I found this book hard to get in to, and I had absolutely no desire at any point to continue reading, though I did so so that I could complete it for Amy’s challenge.

I can only assume that the writing was great back in 1818, but the English language has changed such that reading Shelley’s writing was slow going and frustrating at times.

Does Frankenstein “open a window on the times we live in”? Ehhh…not for me. I’m sure there are more modern books that are just as profound (don’t get me wrong, Frankenstein definitely had profound moments, though I *did* feel like Shelley beat me over the head with the poor monter/bad Frankenstein thread), books that are just frankly easier to read.

While Frankenstein wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, I AM looking forward to reading Dracula, which I’ve heard is much better.

| Tags: , 18 comments »

18 Responses to “Thoughts on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley”

  1. Heather J.

    Oh yes, Dracula is much MUCH better! I was very disappointed in Frankenstein as well, but I LOVED Dracula. The flowery writing takes a while to get into but it is so worth it. 🙂


    Richard Dey Reply:

    As a mere monster story by Mary, “Frankenstein” may be a disappointment; but, as Prof John Lauritsen notes in “The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein”, it is a wowser of it’s written by a gay man when gay men were being executed in public in London. In fact, if the ‘monster’ is the gay man inside Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe, it’s a stupendous novel, daring for its dangerous times. And let’s face it, the author of all that tripe she wrote after Shelley’s death, simply eliminates Mary as its author. He wrote it. Ironic, is it not? “Frankenstein” did’t became a “bad” novel until a man wrote it …. When Mary had written it, it was a masterpiece LoL. As somebody put it, it’s like the vagina adjusting to fit any truncheon.


  2. Becky

    I can’t blame you really for not liking Frankenstein the first time through! I didn’t like it much when I read it for high school either. But. Oh. How. I Love It. Now. I’ll admit it had to grow on me, and I had to grow into it a bit. But I do think Frankenstein is relevant. I find it one of those meaning-of-life novels. One of those what-it-means-to-be-human novels. I found so much to love in the monster.


  3. kathleen

    Sorry to hear that the book was a disappointment for you. It sounds like it would be a rough read for me as well. I did enjoy the link to the 50 Books for our Times and will add some of those to my GoodReads/TBR pile.


  4. Jennygirl

    I listened to this as part of a podcast series on
    The podcaster is a former highschool english teacher, so she explained the background of Shelly and parts of the story before the chapters.
    Themes, Romantic period, Shelly’s life growing up are pieces to this book. Without her “teaching” I don’t know if I would have enjoyed or gotten as much from it as I did.

    My sympathies went back and forth between the Monster and Frankenstein. I think it’s relevant to today in terms of what does it mean to be alive, and science versus nature. Should we mess with the mysteries of life and if so can we deal with our consequences?

    Now I did read Dracula and enjoyed that as well. I think Dracula is more straight forward and not as flowerly as Frankenstein.


  5. zibilee

    I haven’t read this book, but have heard that this is a crazy difficult book to read. I am sorry that you had such a hard time with it. I don’t think I will be reading this one any time soon either! I do think you will like Dracula though. It’s a really interesting book with a lot of ambiance.


  6. Christy (A Good Stopping Point)

    I recently read Frankenstein for the first time myself. I liked it more than you did, but I’m with you in despising Frankenstein most of the time and feeling sympathetic to the monster. I can’t tell if Shelley meant for her main character to be so unsympathetic. Maybe Jennygirl who listened to it on the teacher’s podcast picked up some insight in that regard.


  7. Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books

    I read FRANKENSTEIN back in high school (many moons ago), and don’t remember whether or not I found it slow-going. I read Rudyard Kipling’s KIM for the Newsweek Challenge; that is, I started it … couldn’t bring myself to finish it. What a list!


  8. heidenkind

    Huh, I forgot that this book was in epistolary format. Hmmm. I remember kind of liking it, but obviously my memory’s pretty fuzzy.

    If you think Frank’s a difficult read, try Lorna Doone! Aiiiieee.


  9. Jennifer

    Crazy that you are reading Dracula – I’m reading it right now. I have to say that so far I don’t love it. But I did love Frankenstein. Maybe it was because of the fact that I was reading it in a class that I loved with people who brought incredible insight into the conversations that we had. I agree with you that the monster is a much more sympathetic character than Frankenstein is, but I think that’s definitely building on the themes that Shelley is exploring. And I have to say with modern technology building the way it is, the themes of our responsibility to creation is extremely relevant.


  10. Laura

    I didn’t *love* the experience of reading this book either, but I do love the fact that it’s one of the earliest examples of sci fi/horror we have. The prose was slow-going, but stitching a man together out of old, reanimated parts? Oh Shelley, little did you know we’d all be going wild for zombies years later!


  11. Stacy

    I have this one on my shelves thinking it’s a short classic and I should be able to read it easily on a free day. Only I’ve never felt the urge to pick it up. Your review did not help this non-feeling 😉


  12. Susan

    Most of the time we feel we have to bow down to the classics; it was a pleasure to read a review that does not. You do know she wrote the book in one night — hanging out with friends (among them her husband, Percy B. Shelley and I believe Lord Byron), they decided to have a contest where each would write a book during the night and then gather together the next day and read them. When you think of it that way, maybe it’s an amazing book!


    Tee Reply:


    yes, she wrote it as a challenge or contest between her husband and Lord Byron. they were each meant to write a ghost story. the men all wrote a short story that night and shared theirs in the morning but Shelley was the only one who did NOT have something prepared. in fact, it took her quite some time to get words on paper and after having a dream about a mad artist cringing over his artwork that he had created she came up with the idea of frankenstein. she then sat down to write what is now chapter four, where the monster is created. it was her husband, upon reading the chapter, who convinced her to pursue writing a novel. it was by no means an overnight creation.

    i really think that having some background knowledge of society at the time as well as Mary Shelley’s personal life, views and values will give you a different scope on the novel. it really makes a difference.


  13. Sonia

    I find it interesting that companies allow people, especially children, to be mislead into thinking Frankenstein was the monster when they weren’t. I mean have you seen the halloween costume!? But in all actuality, when we break it down and talk about who really was the “monster”, if any of you have read the book, we all see the similarities between the two. Maybe we put out Frankenstein this way because we read between the lines?


  14. Fishes

    I am reading Frankenstein in school ight now,I find it hard to understand but the description Mary uses is good also pathetic fallacy is used init and that makes the book interesting to read.


    Heather Ordover Reply:

    JennyGirl (above) mentioned my podcast, CraftLit, and I’m so pleased she did. A lot of new listeners have found their way to the CraftLit Library over the years to listen to Frankenstein after reading this blog post.

    You have my sympathies. I, too, had a hard time with this book the first time through. The language is NOTHING like what we’re used to these days (ah, the Romantics… they loved them some flowery words), and the vast difference between what we think the monster is (scary Boris Karloff) vs what he really is (the sweet, misunderstood kid from the wrong side of the tracks with really bad BO and pants that are too short) can leave a lot of readers wondering WTH.

    The comparison I made on the podcast (and obviously continue to make) is if you liked “Young Frankenstein”–where Gene Wilder is a putz and the Monster (at the end) has one of the most lovely speeches about love and faith and humanity you’ll ever find in a comedy–then you’ll appreciate seeing where Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks’ ideas came from.

    Except for the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” bit. That’s not from Shelley.

    Lots of classic Audiobooks-With-Benefits are sitting’ in the Library (FREE) at — all friendly like. Skip the crafty bits at the beginning by using the time codes given in the show notes.



  15. Kristen ()

    I believe that those who did not enjoy Frankenstein must not have recognized the symbolism and the beauty within the piece itself. I admit, Frankenstein arguing with himself of whether not he will create the new monster for “Adam” (as some call him) was time consuming, but pertained exceptionally well o the character OF Frankenstein. It was a wonderful read. I have only just finished it, the novel being required in my advanced Placement English Literature.


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