Book and Author of the Week
Be honest, how many of you were assigned this book in school whether high school or college and did not get past page 10? I was never assigned. How’s that for honesty, but if I had, chances are I would’ve made it to page 14. I do not nor have I ever cared for romantic writing no matter how much acclaim or notoriety it has achieved. The story of how this book came about is intriguing as it is. You see the greatest writers were assembled in this Italian villa that included the flamboyant Lord Byron and his friends poets, John Keats and Percy Shelly, acclaimed poets who would end up dying young, Lord Byron proposed they have a contest to write the scariest story possible and the winner was a young eighteen year old bride whose mother was a famous feminist at the time Mary Woolsencraft, by the name of Mary Shelly as she wrote about the dark arts in her masterpiece Frankenstein. Most of us are very well versed in the Hollywood renditions of a mad scientist who brings a man (?) from an assembly of dead parts. Having read some writings about a German scientist who attempted what her protagonist Victor Frankenstein did in her novel.
Now I am not a fan of romantic writing, but first I feel I must clarify what romantic writing actually is...it is not about love and passion as we are conditioned to think, Romanticism is movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. Novels such as Moby Dick and Great Expectations are two classic examples of this type of literature, some of it we had to deal with in English class. What I find troublesome, is the lengthy elaboration on the “human condition” and the constant emphasis on the morality that accompanies the human condition. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein spends most of the novel pursuing his creation while emoting over the fact that it is an abomination of nature. Indeed the ramifications of producing a creature from dead organic tissue is something that indeed has moral implications. What I find discerning about romanticism is that the author assumes the position of judge of morality often stating what is right and what is wrong as if, I the reader, is not intelligent enough or moral enough to come to this conclusion on my own. In reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, I was overwhelmed by his claim of what I should think was right and what was wrong. While Frankenstein is relatively a short work (compared to Melville's Moby Dick), Mary Shelly spent most of the novel in this chase which took Victor to a hazardous journey by ship to the Northwest Passage when the vessel is iced in as the monster raced to escape authorities after the murder of a couple of children in a German village. Due to his emoting about his moral responsibility for havoc his creation is causing.
My problem is that since I was a kid, I have been bombarded by Hollywood on the idea of this monster as portrayed originally by Boris Karloff that gave us our most famous image of Gothic Horror that would continue with a parade of other humanoid horrors that kept the theaters packed for over thirty years. In that bombardment, we have come to view the monster as something much different than Mary Shelly had intended. While the creation was immoral, the creature was symbolic of the immorality of society during her time. In reading her book now, time has corroded some of the deeper meaning that she intended and that is a shame. I can see why this book was highly regarded as I have when I have read other Romanticism authors like Dickens, Hugo and Meville, but I have trouble with the position of the author in relation to the reader. My overall opinion on this book is for you to get by page 10 and judge for yourself, don’t let my opinion sway you...
Frankenstein: The Morality of the Monster.
While we are in the business of genetic engineering in CRISPR research, I find parallels between this research and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. In the reanimation of dead tissue which was part of alchemy’s exploration of the darker arts, Mary Shelly is clear on her position of her condemnation of such a possibility as her protagonist Victor Frankenstein spends most of her novel chasing the creature which has no name. That which is nameless cannot ever hope to be human. Recently in Reedsy, I wrote a story entitled “The Orion Project” in which a chimpanzee becomes human through genetic engineering and produces a dilemma on whether he is human or not. I leave that decision to the reader whereas true to her literary genre of Romanticism, Mary Shelly makes that call for us. If Mary Shelly was to write her tale a century later, the monster would be more Karloff-like and her book would have centered on the process of reanimating dead tissue raising the question at that time; should we be messing with Mother Nature. As we try to assume normalcy after a long period of sheltering down and inactivity which has crushed our economy we face the question; what has more value, human life or livelihood? These are questions of value, something that Mary Shelly touched upon when she penned the tale of hers.