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Review: "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley

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As a nuts-and-bolts Science Fiction fan for several decades, I avoided reading Frankenstein because the name had been caught up in endless cliches and had been inextricably linked with the horror genre, which I considered a repository for bad science fiction. However, when tasked with finding works by female authors for this website, Frankenstein was one of the only ones I could find that was remotely linked to my favorite genre. Now I have to admit that I am sorry I waited so long.

First published in 1817, Mary Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was just 18. She was so far ahead of her time that another notable science fiction book by a woman would not appear for another 128 years. The story may be a little soft on science (even to the point of calling science "natural philosophy") and it is admittedly more about psychology. But it is nonetheless a fascinating study, encompassing such concepts as obsession, cowardice, irresponsibility, and retribution.

Shelley brilliantly captures the enthusiasm with which young persons embrace new endeavors, sometimes oblivious to the consequences that might ensue. She presents an allegory that questions the principle: what is good must also be beautiful. At the same time she creates a vivid picture of the pain of maturing and coming to terms with one's past actions.

Protagonist Victor Frankenstein is an embodiment of the philosophy that you make your own heaven and hell. He  created a huge but hardy creature, and upon giving it the breath of life he determined this creature to be too horrible to accept. Rather than deal with the creature, Victor flees, leaving his hideous creation to fend for himself. His unwillingness to either accept the creature or comply with his requests prompted the abandoned creature to turn to vengeance and violence. As readers we are thankful that Victor Frankenstein left no offspring, as perhaps they too would fail to meet his standards.

Frankenstein is not only an interesting window into the mind of a genius; it is also a vivid depiction of the social mores of the early nineteenth century, and how much society at large has and has not changed in the past two centuries. Would the world's current societies overcome revulsion to the creature's ugliness in favor of his eagerness to please and desire for acceptance?


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