On Friday morning, I was discussing Frankenstein with a good friend of mine over breakfast. We were in Sugar Magnolias,in Gloucester awaiting one of the best breakfasts to be had in Massachusetts. Now, my buddy Mike does not like Frankenstein where as I, well it will be hard for me to say I *like* it (which I will explain more about in a minute) but I think the book is very important and as a Sci Fi fan I think he aught to respect it more. Consequently I bring Frankenstein into the conversation and wave it in front of his face whenever I think there is an opportunity to make him think better of the book. I was bringing it up in this instance because I had asked him about the most recent Planet of the Apes movie which he had gone to see and which he had enjoyed. When he described the plot, it sounded remarkably like the plot of Frankenstein and I asked how he could still hate the book, when this enjoyable movie had the same plot.
That my buddy Mike will continue to engage me in discussions of Frankenstein, instead of shutting me up with a withering glare or by simply saying that I don't know what I'm talking about is a kindness given that 1) he is a professor of rhetoric and I'm a network administrator and 2) as became apparent in our most recent exchange he has read the book more recently than I have.
I don't remember what age I was when I first read Frankenstein, but I remember that I got the book by ordering it from Scholastic through my school. When I was a kid, before the advent of Amazon.com, Scholastic and other publishers of children's books would distribute catalogs through schools. The catalogs were age-appropriate so that a 4th grader would not see the same catalog as a 1st grader. A kid would get a catalog and an order form from his/her teacher and take it home. The kid and his/her parents would decide what books to order and bring the order form and a check back to the teacher. A few months later, the books would arrive.
I wanted Frankenstein because I was fascinated by horror and occult books. When the thin volume arrived I was disappointed because it said "abridged" on the cover. Even as a grade-schooler I saw no point in reading abridged books. I don't know what I actually expected the plot to be--I only remember that having discovered an interest in ghoulish literature, I was delighted to see a book that I knew (even at the age of 8 or 9) was a classic work of horror in my catalog.
I was disappointed and shocked. This was the saddest book I had ever read. I hated it, because it made me so sad. Why did Victor Frankenstein suddenly hate his own creation? It wasn't horrible to him when he was sewing dead limbs together (which I personally, would have found gross) but once it was alive he despised and feared it. Why would he not, once his creation had come to him and begged him for a wife not give it to him? His creation merely asked for a companion.
When I discovered that I had to read the book in 9th grade English I was dismayed--I hated that book. I have not reread the book since then. Why then am I forever bringing this book, which I hated in (let's say) 4th grade and again in 9th grade into the conversation?
Frankenstein made a big impression on me. At the time I first read it I was simply horrified by how stupid and cruel people could be--even smart ones like Dr. Frankenstein. But as I've read more science fiction, I have come to the conclusion that Frankenstein is important because it is one of the first pieces of science fiction. The story is important because although science changes and the manner of writing books changes (epistolary novels have fallen out of fashion) the story is still relevant. I realize that I am not the first person to have made this connection--but I made it on my own without the guidance of a professor or anyone else (since most of the people I know who have read the book prefer, like Mike, not to discuss it.)
My undergraduate degree is in French Literature--not English Literature. If,like my buddy Mike, I'd had to read Frankenstein in college and spend hours discussing, and writing papers on, whether Frankenstien's fear of his creation had it's roots in Pygmalion or whether he (Frankenstein) was trying to be God by creating new life, or whether the whole book was really about how people were afraid of science and scientists I'd probably hate the book too.
Instead I've come to my own conclusions about Frankenstein. They range from "why not just pick some guy who died of a heart attack and replace the heart--instead of building a whole new being" and "well, actually it would never work because once the brain dies, if you reanimate it, it will be with severe lack of function" "The real monsters are the normal humans" and "If you're into reanimating corpses, make sure you have stomach--not just curiosity."
That I think is the real point of the book, and it's one that is still relevant. If you are creating a monster, have some plans for what to do with it once you've created it. Have some sympathy for your monster