I recently discovered the joy of audio books. While they are convenient and perfect for my daily three-hour commute, they are also a great way to get through books that I started, but didn’t finish, but wanted to finish (yeah, I’m one of those people).
I am currently working my way through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s been years since I started reading it (okay, more like decades, but who’s counting?) and I’ve noticed some things since I last picked up the book:
First of all, Mary Shelley is VERY wordy. Oh my goodness. The woman had an amazing command of the English language and took great measures to make sure you understood what she was talking about, down to the minutest detail. I had to look up some of the words she used, as I was unfamiliar with them. Which wasn’t a bad thing as it has expanded my vocabulary. Sometimes less is better though.
Secondly, she tended to go off on rabbit trails, talking about places and people (again, in great detail) that had no bearing on the story. When the monster told his story to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, he went into a lengthy, LENGTHY discourse about the backgrounds of the family that he was staying near. At one point, he said, ‘this will prove that what I’m saying is true.’ It really didn’t, but I went with it. And so he continued his story, or rather their stories, for the rest of the day (and he got started early). I’m sure Victor was thinking, ‘OMG, just get to the point.’ I know I was.
Some of Ms. Shelley’s tale required you to suspend your belief. Especially with the monster, who sprang into being and then within two years, had an expansive understanding of the language (written and spoken), philosophy, government, religion and people. The last one is not too hard (they were the true monsters, after all); still, within the span of his education, he was reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Werter, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I still haven’t read those books.
All that aside, the most challenging thing about reading Frankenstein this time around is seeing an eighteenth century experiment through twenty-first century eyes. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t detract from the story, because I started questioning it. If it took months for Victor to create the monster and its mate, how did the parts not rot? Wasn’t the lightning which brought the monster to life (alluded to, though not specifically mentioned as the tool of reanimation) just a crude defibrillator? Would not a being created from human body parts be human? Was it truly another race, which it was constantly called? Would it require re-introduction and re-education if it had the a human brain to start with? Or would death have wiped away all of that?
Those questions may be valid, but they are also moot, because Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein was never about the monster. It was about the ethics of Frankenstein’s experiment and his responsibility to the being he created. It was about the beauty of life and the need for companionship and love. And lastly, it was about innocence lost and made bloodthirsty in the mistreatment at the hands of our fellow man.
I’ve been told I ask too many questions sometimes; that I delve too much into a story, instead of enjoying it. And truth be told, if I wasn’t enjoying Frankenstein, I wouldn’t be reading it again. I love the genre, I love the story. It’s just interesting to me how age and time have changed my perception and understanding of it. Maybe that’s what Ms. Shelley truly had in mind when she wrote the book — to get her audience thinking. Shouldn’t that be the goal of any good author?