Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Wordsworth edition book

I first read Frankenstein pre-2006. I know this because I started recording my books in that year and it’s not on my list, so that means that I read this at least nine years ago. Which is, quite frankly, a little depressing and a fact I hadn’t clicked onto until just now so excuse me while I go throw up in a corner.

Anyway, the point is that I remembered very little about this book. I know I didn’t like it much and I do know I moaned a lot because I thought it comprised of nothing but essays and lectures on morality.

I’m not sure what made me pick it up now, other than I’d finished my current book and it was right there on the Kindle (but then again, so were 70+ other books). Anyway, I’m glad to report that while I don’t love Frankenstein, my opinion of it has much improved since 2005 (or whenever).

Plot summary: Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Slightly spoilery, but only slightly.

When I first started the book, I actually thought that maybe the wrong book had been delivered to my Kindle by mistake. The story opened in the Arctic, on a ship surrounded by ice, and that couldn’t possibly be correct. Shows how much I remembered, right? 

I think I must be more accustomed to classics than when I was fifteen or so, because I didn’t really notice any long-winded moral essays. That said, it isn’t overly accessible and it does get a little dull at times. There’s a lot of walking and waiting. I can deal with that though. What I can’t deal with, however, is Victor Frankenstein. I’m trying to decide who’s worse – him or Tess Durbeyfield. They’re both so self-pitying and melodramatic. Although perhaps I’d be melodramatic too if a creature mushed together of dead bodies started chasing me round the country… Tess still has no excuse.

Anyway, I really dislike Victor. Everything is his own doing but he just refuses to see it. The Monster goes “Hey dude, you were pretty shit. Still, if you’re nice to me now, I’ll just amble off and leave you in peace,” but Victor is too busy being shrill and denoucing the creature as evil. You know, that creature he created. He doesn’t take any responsibility for his actions – he runs away screaming the second the monster comes to life and just leaves him to fend for himself.

   I perceived, as the shape came nearer (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach and then close with him in mortal combat. He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. But I scarely observed this; rage and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt.
   “Devil,” I exclaimed, “do you dare approach me? And do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! Or rather, stay, that I may tample you to dust!”

This is never really addressed throughout the book, which irritated me. You could say that Victor gets his comeuppance, but he sees this as penance for creating the monster, not for abandoning him or being cruel. That is what the creature’s behaviour stems from, after all.

It’s amazing how little gore there is in this book. I know it was published in 1818 and so had to be more tasteful than today’s horror novels, but this is a book about sewing together a creature from the parts of dead men! It’s very vague, in a clever way, such as ‘I collected the materials for the process,’ meaning ‘I dug up dead people.’ No body parts or surgery is mentioned at any point. I don’t know why, it just bemused me a little. 

It barely even mentions what the monster looks like. There’s no green skin, no bolts through his neck, no moaning noise… He actually has super human speed, so I doubt he walks at a crawl with his arms outstretched. It just shows how much movies are responsible for the image we have of Frankenstein’s monster.

Speaking of (and I know if you’re reading a review of Frankenstein on a book blog, you probably don’t need to be told this)… Frankenstein is the man, the doctor that created the monster that doesn’t have a name. The green creature with bolts is not Frankenstein. But we knew that 🙂

I read in the introduction that Frankenstein came about because Mary Shelley suffered a series of still-births and obsessed over the idea of creating life in a non-natal situation. I don’t know how true that is but I would certainly have read the book with a different tone if I had known beforehand.

It’s a little creepy at times I suppose, but only slightly. I did feel for Victor Frankenstein by the end – we all do silly things when we’re young. I admit mine tended to involve sambuca shots and funny hats, not the creation of 8 ft horror icons, but there you go.

While I did get into the book, it did feel very slow going and I never really wanted to pick it up once I’d put it down for a while. I’m glad I reread it so I have a clearer idea of what it’s actually about, but I can’t say it’s one of my favourites.

Read Laura or Ellie’s reviews of Frankenstein. They’re more eloquent and less negative!  


  1. Ellie says:

    I think I read this at school (the memories are hazy) and I was supposed to read it at uni but, you know, I skipped that one. I would like to read it again, although I wonder if I'd go into it with too many preconceived ideas of what it's about and then be disappointed. We shall see.

  2. When you think about the Frankenstein motion pictures, names like Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mary Shelley and James Whale ring a bell. In any case, have you ever known about Kenneth Strickfaden? Since quite a while ago buried in the chronicles of blood and gore flick popularity, Strickfaden is the man whose electrical plans made Frankenstein the film that it is.

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