on November 12, 2007
Most editions of Mary Shelley's landmark book available today follow the heavily revised 1831 version. The impulse behind this trend is an honorable one (to present what is seemingly an author's "final revision"),but the 1818 version is preferable for many reasons. Looking back on her creation in later life, Shelley felt obliged to alter the book's focus in significant ways, adding what critic Marilyn Butler accurately describes as "long passages in which her main narrator, [Victor] Frankenstein, expresses religious remorse for making a creature..." The author sought to make the 1831 edition less controversial and thereby more palatable to the tastes of the reading public. The 1818 version is closer to Mary Shelley's original intentions, though it too, unfortunately, was filtered through the sensibilities of her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, who took many of his wife's rather straightforward passages and rendered them into his own more ornate and Ciceronian style. Still, the 1818 version remains more vital, more original, and less constrained by what the author believed would be acceptable to readers in 1830s England.
on December 31, 2004
Much like Bram Stoker's "Dracula", Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is a story we all think we know, but really don't. Very few films have consciously attempted to follow the novel too closely (which shouldn't detract from the excellent James Whale/Boris Karloff film, or its masterpiece-sequel, "The Bride of Frankenstein). Thus, everything popular culture "knows" about "Frankenstein" does not originate from literature, but from films. This is a shame, in a way, because the novel itself is, if not the progenitor, an early vessel of so many archetypes found science fiction and horror.
The basic plot remained intact when transferred to other media. Swiss medical student Victor Frankenstein discovers the secret of life (which he never reveals, lest someone repeat the mistake). He then puts together a body, essentially a man, from various corpses. He then becomes horrified by the creature he has built, and abandons. The creature, suffering a great deal of neglect and abuse, still manages to get a thorough education, and learns of his lineage. After murdering Victor's younger brother, and framing the family maid, the creature tells his (admittedly) sad tale to his "father", and then demands a mate. Victor, in a panic, agrees, then thinks better of it at the last moment, destroying the new bride. In retaliation, the creature murders all of Victor's loved ones (including his wife), and leads Victor on a merry chase across the world.
Most probably know that Mary Shelley wrote this book in response to a challenge issued by Lord Byron, during a vacation at Lake Geneva. (Along with this story came John Polidori's "The Vampyre", the first English vampire novel.) Most probably also know that Shelley went on to write other works of imaginative gothic fiction. Still, her modern reputation rests with this book.
As stated, numerous archetypes (themes, plot lines, characters) are present here. The basic fear of what evil technology may bring along with the good is a central theme, as is the warning against playing God. So is the implicit admonition to be responsible in all things, be it during innovation or being a parent. The creature is, for all intents and purposes, an android-everyone from Gort to C-3PO owe their existence to the Frankenstein monster. And the monster that slays all but one protagonist is a staple of horror, be it traditional monster movies, like "Alien", or more realistic slasher movies like "Halloween".
But, as I noted at the beginning of this review, certain of these elements have been lost in most interpretations. The creature is actually intelligent, and well-spoken, quite different from the inarticulate grunts or slow, half-sentences of the movies. Further, while the films have made lightening a staple of the creatures creation, Shelley never really explains the process. Finally, one of the staples of the films is the explanation for the creatures "evil" nature. Often, the problem lies with the brain used, which almost invariably is a criminal brain, or is damaged before implantation. In the book, the creature is really a child that's horribly neglected, but with the strength and intelligence to strike back: id without superego, and without restraints.
Thus, "Frankenstein" will be a new experience for readers who know the source exclusively from the films. Unlike "Dracula", there aren't any moments where a reader might look up and suddenly realize how quiet it is in the house, or how dark it's gotten outside. In that regard, "Frankenstein" has not aged particularly well. Throughout, however, it is a moving, disturbing, depressing, but also a touching and beautiful tale. Those qualities have withstood the test of time. While it is not always a rollicking adventure, it is a rewarding read.
on February 2, 2014
It's surprising how many times this novel has been edited and re-created. Or not surprising, since it is so unsettling one wants to rewrite the key scenes and ending to suit modern emotional sensibilities. We had a great book club reading of it where everyone read a different version and we all got different impressions. But the eloquence and genius of Mary Shelley was evident and strong in this version and I find her original impulses (even marrying Victor to his first cousin) pure and quite defensible. This is an enduring masterpiece because we continue to make monsters with technology (and as parents) when we are blinded by our own lust to create, and when we do not take responsibility or show love for the created thing.
on February 21, 2011
I got the free Kindle edition from the link on the page for the Norton Critical Edition of the 1818 text. Mary Shelley made many significant edits to the book for the 1831 edition. I assumed it was the same edition because the link was from the same page. I didn't realize it was different until I went to write my assigned essay and went online to search for page numbers for the passages I wanted to quote. Many of the quotes I wanted to use don't even appear in the original version. This is a very important distinction, and I wish it had been labeled correctly so I would not have had to waste so much time looking for online versions of the correct text in order to replace the quotes I could not use from the later version. This edition is fine if you just want to read the book, but if you're reading it for school, you have more than likely been assigned the 1818 version, which is very different. The Kindle edition is also lacking in any kind of Kindle formatting, making it a hassle to find locations in the book.
on January 31, 2007
This "enriched classics" is a bowdlerized version of Mary Shelley's original text. It eliminates passages, changes the diction, abridges the chapters, and changes the entire structure of the novel. Our school bought this edition thinking that the additional notes would be helpful to students studying the text, but there was no indication at all on Amazon's website that this version had been substantially altered by the editors. The book is so bowdlerized that our school bought an entire new set of texts for the students at a considerable finanacial loss for the school. WHATEVER YOU DO, BUY SOME OTHER VERSION OF FRANKENSTEIN. THIS ONE IS A MONSTER CREATED BY SOMEONE WHO HAS NO RESPECT FOR THE AUTHOR. BANTAM, PUFFIN, OXFORD -- THEY ARE ALL FINE. Irene Nicastro, English teacher, The American School of The Hague.
on April 7, 2009
Frankenstein is by far one of the greatest books ever written. Few other novels measure up to it. I did not realize this the first time I read it, when it was required reading for high school. At that time, I hated it. But, as was usual in my high school experience, the life was sucked out of it and it was greatly misinterpreted by the teacher. So, if you have had such a reading experience with this book, please do not judge it based on that.
If you are not familiar with the actual tale presented in this work of literary brilliance, please pay NO attention to Hollywood's portrayal of the story. This is not a tale about a scary, soulless, killing machine that goes on a rampage whilst the poor, defenseless creator sits back helplessly and innocently. It is a sad, touching tale about abandonment, prejudice, acceptance, and much more. In reading it, you will discover who the true monster of the tale is - and it isn't the poor creature.
As for this edition of the novel, I think that it is fantastic. I love this books so much that I really felt that I needed to have a hardcover edition. I'm very happy that I selected this one. The illustrations are excellent and plentiful. I am easily amused, so I was delighted to discover that the book has a ribbon attached to the spine so you can easily mark your pages. This is by far one of the most unique books in my collection. I love it. Buy it!
Modern readers must jump through a number of hoops to enjoy this legendary novel. Written between 1816 and 1818, this is very much a novel of its era, and both language and ideas about plot are quite different from those of today. That aside, and unlike such contemporaries as Jane Austen, author Mary Shelly has never been greatly admired for her literary style, which is often awkward. But perhaps the biggest hurdle is that of our own expectations: while it certainly sent icy chills down the spines of 19th Century readers, FRANKENSTEIN is not a horror novel per se.
While Mary Shelly might have been stylistically weak, her story was not. Nothing like it had been written before, and the concept of a student endowing life upon a humanoid creature cobbled together from charnel house parts was unexpectedly shocking to the reading public. But even more shocking were the ideas that Shelly brought to the story. Having created this thing in his own image, what--if anything--does the creator owe it? And in posing this question, Shelly very deliberately raises her novel to an even more complex level: this is not merely the conflict of man and his creation, but also a questioning of God and his responsibility toward his creation.
In some respects, the book is written like the famous philosophical "dialogues" of the ancient world: a counterpoint of questions and arguments that do battle for the reader's acceptance. More than anything else, FRANKENSTEIN is a novel of ethics and of ideas about ideas, with Mary Shelly's themes arrayed in multiple layers throughout: God, self, society, science; responsibility to self, to society, to the things we bring to society, to the truth; life, integrity, and death--these are the ideas and issues that predominate the book, and any one expecting a horror novel pure and simple is out of luck.
Mary Shelly is a rare example of a writer whose ideas clearly outstrip her literary skill--but whose ideas are so powerful that they transcend her literary limitations and continue to resonate today. And indeed, as science continues to advance, it could not be otherwise so. Mary Shelly could not see into the future of DNA research, laboratory-grown tissues, test-tube babies and the like--but between 1816 and 1818 she wrote a book about the ethical dilemmas that swirl around them. And for all its flaws, FRANKENSTEIN is perhaps even more relevant today than it was over a hundred and fifty years ago.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on June 6, 2012
I am thoroughly impressed with this edition of Frankenstein. Not only does it include the 1818 edition of Frankenstein, it contains the original 1818 introduction by Percy Bysshe Shelley and the 1831 introduction by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. This edition contains a very nice collection of critical essays. Many of the critical essays focus on feminist readings of Frankenstein, but other readings are represented as well (New Historicism, Intertextual Criticism, Media & Cultural Studies, etc.). This is a fine volume for students looking to delve a little deeper into Frankenstein and the imaginative forces behind it.
The 19th Century bequeathed us four immediately recognizable, vibrant & enduring fictional icons: Shelley's Frankenstein; Stoker's Dracula; Melville's Moby Dick (& Ahab); and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Each of them has, I fear, suffered a horrible fate: they are so familiar to us, in their many modern incarnations & imitations, that too few people return to the original texts. This may be particularly true of Frankenstein, whose portrayals have been so frivolous and distorted. In fact, in addition to being written in luxuriant gothic prose, the original novel is one of the most profound meditations on Man and his purpose and relation to God that has exists in our literature.
Victor Frankenstein is a young man of Geneva who is fascinated by the sciences and the secrets of life and death:
My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.
While at University in Ingolstadt, his life course is set when he hears a professor lecture on modern chemistry:
'The ancient teachers of this science,'said he, 'promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heavens, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.'
Such were the professor's words--rather let me say such were the words of the fate--enounced to destroy me.
Victor goes on to discover, through the study of chemistry, the secret of bringing dead flesh to life. Inevitably he tests his discovery and of viewing his creation cries:
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
And so, repelled by the mere appearance, the inevitable imperfection, of his work, Frankenstein rejects the creature utterly. However, unlike the mute stupid monster of the movies, Shelley's monster is articulate and sensitive and longs for companionship, but all of humankind reacts to him with horror. And so he demands that Frankenstein build him a mate. When Frankenstein refuses to provide him with a companion, the creature resolves to destroy those who Frankenstein loves.
Finally, Frankenstein determines that he must destroy the creature and pursues him into the frozen wastes of the North.
It all makes for a rousing adventure, but there is much more here. Frankenstein, through his work, has attempted to become a god, but his creation is a horrible disappointment & so, is banished from him. Meanwhile, his flawed creation, filled with ineffable longing and confusion, wanders in exile seeking the meaning of his existence. And what is the impulse that he settles upon, but another act of creation; a mate must be created for him. The Biblical parallels are obvious, but they work on us subtly as we read the novel. In the end, the uncontrollable urge to create, to imitate God, stands revealed as Man's driving force. And the inevitable disappointment of the creator in his creation, is revealed as the serpent in the garden.
If you've never read this book, read it now. If you've read it before, read it again.
on January 24, 2016
This is a wonderful book and it is quite different from the movies! The intro is great and there are foot notes thru it. It's the original 1818 text and that is one of the things that make it so great.