Friday Reads: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is a remarkably modern book that’s just shy of its bicentennial birthday. Often called the first science fiction novel, it’s a parable for how mastering technology (and the pursuit of knowledge and success that comes along with that) can ruin us if we don’t keep our goals in perspective. Mary Shelley manages to warn us to remember to keep things in balance—without ever coming across as anti-modern or anti-technology. (And she wrote this when she was a teenager—there’s your real Halloween scare.)

Sure, you may have been required to read Frankenstein in high school. You’ll get a lot more out of it when you read it as an adult, trust me. First of all, the structure of the narrative is totally bonkers—it should not work, but it does. I can tell you this without giving away any spoilers: One character is telling his story and another character’s story (and that second character is telling the story of some other characters) and it’s all wrapped up in the narration of yet another character, who is in the middle of writing letters about the whole story he’s hearing—along with his own story. It’s a nesting doll structure that any writer would be wary to imitate. The heavily mediated structure helps illustrate the isolation being experienced by most of the main characters, and at the same time, lends the story an authenticity—a feeling that this may really have happened.

Reading Frankenstein as an adult also allows the reader a lot more insight into what motivates the characters… as well as some skepticism about whether they’re really coming clean with each other. You’ll enjoy giving it a second (or a first) chance.

Frankenstein is available to you in many editions and from many avenues. (Here at the Nebraska Library Commission we even have it as one of our book club kits.) Two common editions are from 1818 and 1831—I’d recommend the 1818 edition myself. Because of the age of the text, it’s available in the public domain, and the Internet Archive has a few editions to choose from. You can also listen to a free audiobook from Librivox here and here, and those are only a couple of the audio versions they have available.

Happy Halloween… and remember, don’t go out there and create your own worst nightmare!

Shelley, Mary W, and Marilyn Butler. Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

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