Review of Frankenstein
I read Frankenstein this month for The Classics Club October Dare. I’m a procrastinator, so I’m really lucky that I have a review done at all; I’m actually proud of myself since I did think ahead, takes notes, and make an outline. I just didn’t leave myself enough time for a couple drafts. And I have more words on this book/the background than the close to 1,000 below.
I’d never really wanted to read Frankenstein; I am not drawn to horror which is what I thought this book was. I procrastinated to start it, and then quickly realized that the book is incredibly dull, predictable rather than suspenseful and frightening. Then I procrastinated because of the tedious verbosity and dull, slow (because of said verbosity) plot. This book requires far too great a suspension of disbelief and not for creativity but for plot holes and devices. I knew some of the circumstances of the writing, written by a teenager during a sort of dare (although undergoing revisions, possibly with her eventually husband’s help). But because it was a classic I was expecting a solid story and prose vs obviously written in Romantic vein by uncontrolled, undisciplined teenager! I think it is famous for the barest plot concept that more recent portrayals have developed and that readers then insert into the story.
This book features absolutely atrocious prose. I was gagging over the stock Romantic language and expression; the flowery verbosity and excessive, sanctimonious and fawning emotionalism and sentimentality. The author is tedious and repetitiveness with details that take away from the story rather than add to it. These fountains of extraneous detail fill in most of the story which would have little substance else because concepts pertinent to the plot are vague and general. And I didn’t find a hint of irony in all this language either.
In amidst all this fluff, some scatter trails of a plot float. With much unrelated verbosity we are get the story from various narrators in a general and literal way (and Frankenstein continually drops spoilers). Everything has told us by the author via her narrators rather than displayed via art; she gives no detail (regarding the actual plot), not from mystery, but from ignorance and lack of creativity. In addition to having a spare plot delivered literally, the plot has so many devices, holes, and implausible points. Shelley exhibits total unawareness of any other class than her own (and any other point of view than her coterie) and this leads to so many of the issues.
Let’s start with Victor Frankenstein, who by the by is no doctor but a pedantic, spoiled, sheltered, young fool. Because of these things, I don’t see how he had: 1) the ability to pursue this creation; he very obviously isn’t the brightest, 2) the interest/passion to pursue such a thing (so little reason had he that I assumed his friend would die and he would revive him, nope, he is just playing around, and he didn’t seem to have passion for anything except whining and protestations, 3) the stomach for such a task; he was such a hypochondriac and always talking about his delicate sensibilities, and 4) the will for such a task; he is indecisive, passive, and lazy elsewhere in the story, dragging his feet at every turn.
Now onto his implausibly created monster. He isn’t described and since the author doesn’t forget any other descriptions (however poor they are and however little they apply to the story), this doesn’t come across as mysterious but rather a lack of creativity. Everything about Frankenstein’s creation is implausible; he has a fully developed mind with the elasticity of a child’s brain with the thought processes of adults. His mind is full of Romantic sensibilities which he quickly taps into thanks to the improbably (and highly Romantic) circumstances of finding himself by educated people who coincidentally aid his learning. All of this is too convenient. He could have had the soul of a demon or another dead person or the mind of the person whose brain Frankenstein gave him. He could have truly come from nothing, truly a blank slate in which case he would have had the mind of an infant or an animal.
In the same vein, a double-minded author doesn’t equal a truly conflicted villain; that requires insight and talent. He comes across as a psychopath; only when he gets what he wants does he act anything like appropriately, his manipulations and revenge, his complaints and reviling, his vicious triple murders (two of which were in cold-blood, the other a child murder) of innocent people to wreak personal revenge all point to psychopathy. His rage isn’t the bewildered, blind lashing out of the abused and abandoned by humanity (that is also implausible, no one gives him any aid at all?), it is very specific, clever revenge. He goes from zero to one hundred in this quite fast. Of course, there are inconsistencies here, sometimes he does rage against humanity (from his tiny experience).
Overall the moral issues are grossly and falsely simplistic expressions of false choice moral “dilemmas”—more from inconsistent plot and lazy thinking, ignorant/irresponsible idle upper-class perspectives than from any understanding of the complexities of human nature and circumstances. All sorts of misunderstandings of duty and virtue. Virtue doesn’t turn to evil; doing good in good times doesn’t make one virtuous; the monster wasn’t ever virtuous, nor did he try. As to the idea that Frankenstein is the villain, I don’t think the story has the depth and irony; I don’t see any irony at all in Victor Frankenstein’s portrayal; I don’t think Romantics understood or appreciated in since they enacted in their own lives as well as in their stories such drama that is ludicrously ripe for satire). I think we can get deep discussion out of the plot and morals (or lack thereof) in the book, but that fact doesn’t make the novel itself deep.
After reading, I immediately had to look and see what other reviewers thought on Goodreads. This review expresses my opinions (and I’m sure others) in a hysterical way.
Ohhh that Romantic, sentimental thinking and writing does my head in too! It’s the same problem I have with Wuthering Heights – unrealistic, implausible and poorly conceived. Show, don’t tell was obviously not a part of early 1800’s thinking 🙂
I guess it can be seen as an interesting study in how writing styles have changed with time and how the juvenile brain views the world. As you say, not a deep book, but one that can promote a lot of discussion.
I enjoyed Wuthering Heights the first time I read it, I was around 20, so way more into melodrama. I didn’t care for Jane Eyre as much (I still don’t love it, but that is taste alone, not because of the writing, which is excellent). Reading both at an older age, I can tell Charlotte’s writing is better (and her other books, to me, even better), but it is hard to judge talent because I don’t know how much rewriting and editing was done. However, I still think that all the Brontes had talent. I don’t see potential for the same level of talent in Frankenstein, but it is hard to tell with such a young author, and I’m not sure how much re-writing was done (if that was the result of a lot of revision, the potential for talent looks faaaar lower). For comparison, I mean I read some of Jane Austen’s juvenilia and its obviously immature, but at the same time, she started her famous novels at a fairly young age but continually revised them.
I don’t care for Romanticism always, but Frankenstein is terrible Romanticism. I think that it is more accurate for me to say I loathe terrible or mediocre Romanticism (and perhaps it has a higher likelihood of being that?!). Again, I’m not sure what Romantics I’ve read.