I suspect that Frankenstein has endured so long for two reasons.
One, it’s a simple story. A person can relate the plot and theme to another person in the space of a paragraph.
Two, the story is complex enough that that paragraph can be a very different one each time. It all depends on the reader/writer.
I’ve heard plenty of times that the theme of the story is the dangers of Presumption, of Man daring to play God.
Rubbish. Frankenstein is an admonition to be a good parent, to take responsibility for the things one creates. The mistake that Frankenstein makes is not in creating the Creature but in abandoning him when he fails to be the beautiful thing that Frankenstein thought he had built. Yes, the Creature is a killer. He’s a dangerous being. And maybe he would have been if Frankenstein had “raised” him with love and attention. But he didn’t. He was a self centered, self pitying, self deluded coward.
But that’s my version. Part of the fun of watching the different movie adaptations and reading various sequels is experiencing other versions of the story.
I’ve just finished The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak. It’s probably the last Frankenstein story I’ll be reading for a while. Without my daily commute I no longer have the time or inclination to read that I once did.
As with most of the other Frankenstein sequels I’ve read, Memoirs changes the events of the original novel to fit the story the current author wants to tell. Gone are little William, Justine and Henry Clerval. Victor’s brother, Ernest, remains but so little attention is paid to him that he seems like a character that the author forgot to write out of his final draft.
The story purports to be the edited diaries of Elizabeth Frankenstein, a foundling adopted by the Frankensteins. The diaries have been collected and edited by Robert Walton, the explorer who encountered Frankenstein at the North Pole. In his search for the truth of Frankenstein’s story Walton has researched the Frankenstein family and interviewed surviving witnesses to the events. Walton footnotes the diaries for historic context and to give his stuffy opinion of all the perverted and obviously unlikely things that Elizabeth does. This from a guy who got all crushed out on starving crazy man who brought a patchwork corpse to life? Pot? Say hello to kettle.
In Memoirs Elizabeth has been adopted in part so that she can be the eventual wife of Victor. Caroline, Victor’s mother, is an adept in a women’s mystery cult and believes Victor to have the potential to be a mighty alchemist. As children Elizabeth and Victor are trained in the alchemic mysteries with the intention of them eventually performing a Chymical Marriage that will somehow heal the world. Needless to say things don’t work out as planned.
I wasn’t bored but I can’t say was engaged either. If this hadn’t been a library book that I’d run out of renewals for I would have set it aside for more exciting fare. It’s hard for me to hang on to a feeling of suspense when I know when and how the main character ends up dead. Except for a short sequence where Elizabeth runs off and lives feral for a few months the girl is mostly at the mercy of and a tool in the plans of others – her adopted mother, Seraphina the wise woman, young Victor and finally the Creature.
Part of what kept me reading was the hope that the novel would have a different end than the original. Frankenstein was perfectly capable of lying to Walton. Maybe Elizabeth was going to run off with the Creature and Victor killed her to prevent it. Or something. Given that Roszak had left out three of the original novels most significant characters I was willing to let him give the story a new ending.
Nope. Elizabeth ends up with her throat crushed here as well. I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler. If you’ve read the original novel it shouldn’t be
The book has its moments. The setting of late 18th Century Europe with its upheavals in scientific, philosophical and political thought helps to ground the story and gave me some more historical context for the culture at the time the original novel was written. Victor remains an ass but Elizabeth’s views of him allows me to have sympathy for this version of him. The Creature strongly resembles Shelley’s version even if he’s not the nimble demon of the original. That lets me have more good will for the book than I might otherwise.
I am left wondering though. In Memoirs we get a good account of Victor’s medical training at Inglestodt. We read his descriptions of the dissection of cadavers including those of pregnant women. While medical science at the time hadn’t quite worked out the whole sperm-and-eggs-and-chromosomes-combine-to-make-a-baby thing it did understand that the baby needed a womb in which to grow. The reason that Victor destroys the Mate that the Creature has begged for is that Victor doesn’t want to take the chance that the Creatures will breed little evil Creatures. So why doesn’t he just leave out the womb when he makes the Mate? The Creature probably wouldn’t have known. Not if Victor included the other parts.
Oh. Right. Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant chemist and scientist but he’s still a self involved, myopic ass.