Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Book Review: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

My mother's tender caresses and my father's smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections. I was their plaything and their idol and something better— their child, the innocent and helpless monster bestowed on them by Heaven.

Frankenstein cover photoI first read Frankenstein in 1997 or 1998, when I was a student at BYU. It was nothing like I had imagined based on the pop-culture images I had seen (I hadn’t then, seen a movie adaptation of the book and, I confess, I still haven’t).

It was so much better. I think that was one of the easiest essays I wrote during my college years, a feminist interpretation of the book that I’d have to dig deep into some old Zipp drives to find now.

It’s been my favorite classic ever since, but I’ve only reread it once, sometime back when my Bigs were all little and we didn’t have Kaleb yet. I think I didn’t want to revisit it because what if it had changed somehow? What if I didn’t still love it?

This year at work, I was in charge of our city-wide reading series. It had already been decided that we’d do some sort of horror in 2023, but when I got the assignment I decided that it would be Frankenstein rather than Dracula (shorter and more accessible and…well, I’ve never read Dracula and I didn’t want to create a whole month’s worth of programs without having read the book first).

I fumbled a lot of things on this, my first really big project as a programming librarian, and my coworkers had to cover a lot of my slack, but one thing I did do right was pick Frankenstein.

Turns out I’m not the only person who loves this book. We had some fantastic community-wide discussions about it.

And my fears that it wouldn’t hold up to my memory? Totally unfounded. I did have a slightly different response to it this rereading. I am so drawn to experiences in mountains, now, but I don’t think that Victor’s adventures in and around Mont Blanc (this was the second book set in those mountains I’ve read this year and now I absolutely must go and hike them) stood out for me as they did this time. My first reading highlighted the aspects of motherhood the story draws out; I think my thesis was something about how the book implicitly proves the necessities of a mother in a person’s life (a theme undoubtedly supported by the university I attended).

This reading, I was haunted by the unmade—she is, after all, nearly completely formed by Victor before he decides he should not bring her to life; at least in a made form, she existed even if she never thought, laughed, or suffered—bride of the monster. He demands that Frankenstein make her because he wants someone in the world who loves him and who he can love. But his impulse is, I think, a selfish one. And maybe it is the impulse that drives us all, in the end, to become parents. The idea that we’ll have someone small to love us, and someone who will (maybe have to?) love us all our lives.

But that leaves out entirely the monster bride’s consent. What if she had been made and then she just didn’t love the monster? What if family ties, however they are made, don’t guarantee affection? What if she was a lesbian? What if he detested her? What if she fell in love with someone else? What if she, once she understood her fate, felt only fury at the monster for dragging her into a world that would despise her, only because he was lonely?

In essence, Victor thinks some of these things and they are some of the reasons why he unmakes her form and scatters it across the moor. I think he is more motivated by his fear of damaging the world and his own life, but those considerations do at least come into his brain.

(Also, isn’t it wild that when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein humanity didn’t know the simple answer to one of Victor’s most pressing concerns, that of the monster and his bride creating a whole new monstrous tribe? That Victor could just leave out the uterus was something no one really understood then. Wild.)

And it also drove home the thing that I have learned, and continue to learn, as I parent my adult children. The thing that Victor never could learn (although I do mostly believe that Elizabeth could have learned this): a parent’s job is to love his or her child for who that child is, not for who the parent imagined, hoped, or even thought he or she created the child to be.

(I actually really despise Victor quite a bit.)

At this writing, my little city read of Frankenstein has been finished for two months. But I still feel haunted by that idea: why did I become a parent? Did I fully consider my children’s consent? Can anyone ever really do that anyway?

And I just think it’s amazing that, more than 200 years later, Frankenstein still holds up to some intense questioning and it still sparks great discussions.


The comments to this entry are closed.