I have very little idea as to how to go about reviewing Frankenstein. Frankly, it took some effort. I realize that I started this whole gauntlet with H.P. Lovecraft, a veritable king of overwrought and antiquarian prose, but I could not handle the dialogue (internal or external) in this book. And considering that it is a series of first person narratives within one another, that’s saying something. Lovecraft wrote to match a style, he wrote to elicit a feeling out of time, and yes, he overdid it quite a lot of the time. This is not a fourth Lovecraft review, but he certainly has something to say about the book and about why I finally cracked it open.
In his seminal essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” Lovecraft calls Frankenstein “somewhat tinged but scarcely marred by moral didacticism.” I’m not entirely sure that I agree. Hardly a page–nay, hardly a paragraph passes without Victor waxing eloquent on his utter worthlessness and inhuman betrayals. He cannot recount a moment of his story without warning his listener in the framing narrative against any repetition of his mistakes. Further, he lambasts curiosity itself. The novel is chock full of messages, many of them wonderful if not wonderfully wrought, but among them seems to be a painfully unnatural aversion to looking behind the pretty colors of the imminent natural order.
The story preceding the completion of the monster (overlong and consisting not so much of a family history as an epic poem in praise of upper-class rural Swiss upbringing) is clearly meant to more profoundly devastate the reader following later tragedies, but it is tough to feel deep loss when every character acts, thinks, and speaks in the exact same way. We can never miss anyone when everyone else is the same person. There is only one character who stands out, one character who displays anything other than tragically inappropriate sensationalism and loquaciousness, and that character is cast aside from the human race entirely. Yes, Frankenstein’s monster is the novel’s single interesting and unique player. But holy crap is he fascinating.
Despite Shelley’s unfortunate inability to let the monster speak as anything other than a presumptuous noble, massively educated and with gilded tongue, the creature manages to articulate himself more clearly, sincerely, and sympathetically than all the rest of the cast combined. When he is given the opportunity to finally speak for himself (halfway through the book about two framing narratives deep) it is a shot to the mouth. It is waking up to a jack-hammer on your nightstand. The “daemon’s” brief(ish) autobiography is spectacular and exactly what the novel needed as a whole. It reinvigorated me; I became excited to read the book and dove in at every opportunity. It gives a focus and a pace to the story that the theretofore meandering speechifying of Shelley had hogtied and hidden behind a shed of ostentation. And then it was over. And Frankenstein continued in his blind game of both considering himself the lowest and unluckiest of human beings and blaming his creation for everything from stubbing his toe to the very Earth pulling a Krypton and blowing the fuck up. And yes, this is a charge which I will level at the character at every turn. Seriously, any sympathy he may have incurred is swept into the toilet every time he gives voice to his apparently unparalleled woes. But enough about Frankenstein; that guy sucks.
Frankenstein’s monster is an incredible creation, both of the title character and of Shelley. The manner in which he relates the creeping development of consciousness is enthralling; his first periods of animal survival have in them something beyond the experience of the author; his early observations of humanity pull one up and out of cynicism and gives one a planetary pride; and his fall is as devastating as it is unavoidable. Read this book. Read the hell out of it. Read every crappy chapter that you have to so as to absorb the story of the conglomerate creature. Make it a part of yourself. Prometheus was never terribly interesting, anyways. The good stuff is what we’ve decided to do with fire ever since he slipped us some.