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Sit back with a cup of coffee (or tea!), and enjoy my classical sci-fi crib notes…
I finished Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (published in 1818) a few weeks ago, and as you can gather from my previous comments, I have some criticisms, but overall I would still say it’s still a must read for anyone interested in the origins of science fiction, as well as Gothic novel lovers everywhere.
Here is my (as brief as possible) Synopsis…
1) Captain Robert Walton tells the story in the form of letters to his sister Margaret Walton Saville.
a) He is seeking fame and fortune by attempting to explore the North Pole.
b) He and his crew see a giant, freaky, sasquatch-looking humanoid on a dogsled off in the distance, and then the next day fine a dying man floating on an ice floe, whom they bring on board.
c) Said dying man tells his tale. He is Viktor Frankenstein.
2) Viktor Frankenstein: rich kid from Geneva, gone wild.
a) He had a lovely, happy life with his family, including his mother (who dies of scarlet fever before the monster shenanigans begin), his father, their ward Elizabeth, his brothers Ernest and William and William’s nanny Justine.
b) He goes about 410 miles away to school in Ingolstadt, Germany. He has become obsessed with science and re-animating life since his mother died, and sets out to learn how to do this. He’s obviously a genius since he figures out re-animation without ever having even completed his university courses.
c) He discovers said secret to reanimating life, and by this we’re not exactly sure if he used any cadaver parts or shaped them out of primordial goo because he never actually says, and tells Walton that he refuses to divulge his reanimation secret so it will not ruin the lives of others.
Note: this bothers the heck out of me as it seems to be not only a cop out of having to describe the magical process of reanimation, but we are not even told WHAT the creature is made of – we know it’s something foul, but I find this to be way too vague. In this way I will agree with Hollywood for giving the story more credibility in films by at least trying to explain both these issues (usually by saying the monster is made of salvaged cadaver parts and animated by electricity).
d) After creating the monster and seeing it come to life — EW BUGS! — Frankenstein is horrified by it and hides from it in another room, and I believe passes out. Seriously? You spend months lovingly crafting a giant putrid-looking (so the story describes) humanoid on a table and only realize it could possibly be creepy AFTER it wakes up and looks at you? Really?
e) The monster comes into the room where Frankenstein is hiding and upon seeing it again I think Frankenstein screams and passes out again (I could go check my Kindle to be sure, but you get the drift) and upon waking, he is immensely relieved that the monster has fled the premises.
Note: Um. Again, Frankenstein has just made a giant, gruesome-looking freak of a humanoid being, and it is now, running around town, naked for all he knows, doing God knows what, to God knows whom. FWEW! Success! Dodged that bullet! o.O
f) Frankenstein, who seems partial to fits, tremors and nervous episodes in general, becomes very (yet vaguely) ill and his friend (cousin?) Henry Clerval comes from Geneva to nurse him back to health.
g) Frankenstein receives word that his youngest brother has been murdered and returns to Geneva with Clerval. About a year has passed at this point since the creation of the monster.
h) Upon arriving in Geneva, Frankenstein finds out that Justine (the nanny) is in custody for the murder. He also sees the monster when he is out near the scene of the crime and watches it vanish into the mountains. Frankenstein assumes correctly that the monster actually killed his brother and hopes to exonerate Justine but fails without being able to divulge his secret: “No really guys, I made a giant scary man-devil and THAT is what killed my brother, I swear!”
i) Afterwards, Frankenstein takes the mother of all solo hiking trips and we are treated to many chapters of description of glaciers, trees, mountains, and suicidal angst.
j) Here the monster finds him and (and I have mentioned before) in impeccable, sophisticated French (which is the common tongue there), admits to killing William and framing Justine, and implores Frankenstein to come to his ice cave and listen to the story of what happened to him since his creation.
Note: At this point the reader is thinking maybe, just maybe, Frankenstein is hoping the monster just kills him, because honestly, he’s like 8 feet tall, travels 410 miles like he’s out for a jog, and is canny enough to find out where people live, kill kids, and frames ladies like he’s the villain on CSI. It’s looking pretty bleak, so hey, why not stroll off with the devil and hear his tale, right?
3) The Monster’s Story
a) After being created, and rudely rejected by his maker, the Monster, who cannot speak and doesn’t understand even the concept of night and day yet, has the presence of mind to grab some clothes and papers before he flees. (I’m giving you my “that’s bullshit” look, can you feel it?).
b) He heads straight for the woods and wanders around for months learning about life through observation until he sees a village and is promptly chased out of. (Hence the inspiration for the nighttime pitchfork scene from the movies, except it happens in the middle here and is very brief).
c) He proceeds on to a little farmhouse with a (completely, never, ever used or looked inside of for months at a time) shed up against one of it’s outer walls and decides to hide in it. I am not sure on the timeline here, but it is the better part of a year that he eavesdrops on the family in the farmhouse during the day through a crack in the wall, and scavenges for wood and food at night. The wood he sets out for the family as a friendly, but anonymous gesture.
d) By eavesdropping on them he does several things: learns his amazing and perfect French, learns about politics/geography/ways of man through the inhabitants’ studies, and falls in love with entire family of good-hearted souls who have no idea a big freaky dude is constantly watching them and eavesdropping on them. He hopes to be friends with them. It escapes his self-taught, but near-genius reason that friends don’t peep and eavesdrop on their friends through a crack in the wall, but whatever.
e) One day when everyone else is out he decides to go chat with the blind, elderly father in the house — trying to figure out a way to express his mysterious love for the whole family, when the rest of the family comes back and tries to kill him/scare him off, and then promptly moves away.
f) The monster burns down the house and leaves. He then rescues a girl from a river and her dad tries to shoot him. And that’s IT — he’s had it with the world! It’s time to kill a kid — woohoo! I mean, he decides to find the Frankenstein family, by means of their ADDRESS, which he has on a letter in the papers he stole the night he was “born” — which in no way got lost or damaged this year he’s been out and about. No sir. Still with him, and still super legible. Ahem.
g) So he gets there, somehow locates the little brother, who at first he wants to kind of kidnap/adopt, but instead kills and removes a locket off his neck. Then, ever so luckily, he stumbles upon the nanny asleep in a nearby barn (I think) and puts the locket in her pocket, thereby framing her.
h) Then he lies in wait for Frankenstein, obviously finds him, and lures him out to his ice cave to plead with him to make him a girlfriend because he doesn’t want to be a lonely freak anymore, he wants a freaky mate, and will move with her to relatively uninhabited South America and learn capoeira with her or whatever. (Not only can he jog for miles unflaggingly, apparently he may also be an excellent swimmer?)
i) After a lot of internal deliberation, Frankenstein is like, “OK, fine.” OK, not really, but he does agree. The monster says he will keep an eye on him.
4) The sh!t hits the fan. (Which is a super-gross saying, right? The mess! But I digress…)
a) So Frankenstein wants to go to England to acquire some more scientific information before he creates his new female she-devil monster freak. Clerval insists on coming along. Also note they do a LOT of sightseeing on the way to England, although Frankenstein is all angsty about it.
b) Frankenstein ditches Clerval in London for the Orkney islands in Scotland so he can be alone and create his she-monster. He’s about 99% done with the body when he’s like “What am I doing???” and squishes the body up (ew!). Monster (who has probably been peeping in wall cracks, as usual) comes in and is like It’s ON, bitch! Your whole family is screwed now, you angsty douchbag! “I will see you on your wedding night!” — and takes off. Because Frankenstein is hoping to soon marry his sort-of adopted sister, which is not at all creepy and weird in this book.
c) Then while Frankenstein is disposing of the she-devil goo in the sea, the monster magically finds Clerval (who is supposed to be in London!), kills him, and dumps him on the beach that Frankenstein ACCIDENTALLY washed up on in a storm, which is in IRELAND. Uuuuuuh. (Cue bullshit look!).
d) Then Frankenstein gets married and the night of the wedding, tells wife to go to bed while he nervously paces hallways with guns and, oh no! Monster climbs through window and kills her — whoops! Botched it again, Franky. Then his dad dies of broken heart. Then Frankenstein follows monster to ends of the earth and dies on the boat after telling his tale. Definitely a feel-good ending. By the way — there is NO mention of middle brother Ernest. He’s completely forgotten half way through the book. I hate that. He’s like 16 maybe. Poor orphaned Ernest.
e) There is just a bit more — I have to mention that once Frankenstein dies, good old peeping-monster knows the instant the body is left alone and jumps through a porthole to see the body and then deliver a speech to Walton about how he was going to go light himself on fire on a funeral pyre now. He is just as angsty as Frankenstein, but clearly more dramatic (and agile!).
Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed my synopsis. After reliving the story, I change my mind — this is not a must-read. Go read some Jane Austen, she doesn’t have any major plot flaws or loose ends — you’ll feel better for it — unless you read Mansfield Park, which kind of sucked.
Til next time — Time for a Coffee,