Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is today understood as the first science fiction story, a story which has had immense influence on the genre of horror stories. There are numerous threads to follow in Shelley’s masterpiece, which is perhaps why the book continues to be included when the top 100 novels ever written are listed. Shelley had recently lost a child to a miscarriage when she wrote Frankenstein and her own mother had died in delivering Mary. I imagine that Mary Shelley may have received much advice suggesting she not dwell on this and get on with her life, the kind of advice some men can be prone to give when advising a woman on women’s issues. Therefore, is it any surprise that when Shelley found herself in a competition with Percy B. Shelley, whom she would later marry, and Lord Byron as to who could write the best horror story, she wrote a story about what might happen if a man brings life into the world?

In Shelley’s story, the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who creates the monster, is given an idyllic childhood. For several years, he was his parents’ only child, receiving “inexhaustible stores of affection….I was their child, the innocent creature bestowed on them…whose future lot was in  their hands to direct to happiness or misery… they fulfilled their duties toward me……with this deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they had given life.” Victor had responsible parents.

When Frankenstein successfully finished his experiment to create life, he looked down upon his creation and finding himself repulsed by the being to which he had given life, he walked away from it, leaving the being to fend for itself. Finding himself alone, the creature sought company, but soon realized he was a physical horror to other people. He understood he would never have friends.  “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, I who am miserable beyond all living things.”  Alone, wretched, and miserable, the creature starts killing people. This creature did not have a responsible parent.

In a recent column by David Brooks, entitled “Why Mass Shooters Do the Evil They Do”, he makes the point that most mass shooters are young men who should not be dismissed as mental health issues. It is more than that. His study revealed a pattern where in school no one knows these young men. They are withdrawn and in time they harden into their solitude.  They themselves understand how much they need attention simply because they have experienced that attention being denied. Or, as Shelley’s creature put it to his parent, Victor Frankenstein,  “What hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures…they spurn and hate me.” Alone, wretched, and miserable, these young men start killing people.

The title of Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, is often misunderstood as the name of the monster. But no, it is the creature’s creator’s name.  This should give us pause. Who is Shelley suggesting as the real monster? Perhaps the person who would bring life into this world and walk away from it, unwilling to care for it.  Some would say a woman seeking an abortion is a monster. But it is most often the case that a woman seeking an abortion already has one or two children, and she knows she is unable to be a responsible parent to another child, be it for financial, emotional, or physical reasons.  Who is the monster here? The people who tell her that she has no choice but to bring that child into the world? Will those people be by her side with financial support? Will those people deliver counselling for her emotional well-being?  Provide care for the child when the mother has to go to work? Or the mother falls ill?

Or will they just walk away from it? Like Frankenstein?

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