For November’s meeting, the Sotonettes book club read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. We found Frankenstein was not a horror story as we might have expected, but more or a morality tale, which brought together key issues of the time. The book has some very interesting and topical themes which generated lots of discussion! Below is a summary of the key themes of our discussion:
Warning, spoilers follow if you haven’t yet read the book…
The pursuit of knowledge and power
The scientist Victor Frankenstein is driven and obsessed with his experiments to create the spark of life, to create a living being. His tunnel vision pursuit of science reveals a lack of compassion and causes the destruction of the people around him. The creatures are formed from body parts collected by grave robbers, which at the time this book was written, was a controversial issue – experiments were carried out on stolen corpses to advance medical science. Frankenstein immediately rejects the Creature, his creation, based on his appearance, because he isn’t perfect. The Creature requests a female partner. When the Creature negotiates for a female companion, Frankenstein agrees and becomes obsessed with the physical perfection of his new creation. Frankenstein, with no regard to the value of life and fuelled by his feeling of power, destroys the female creature which instigates the spiralling acts of revenge in the book. The North Pole (another scientific theme is the public consciousness at the time of writing) sets the stage for Frankenstein’s final days where he recounts the story to his companion Walton. The character of Walton has a specific purpose in the book- can society learn from its mistakes? After hearing Frankenstein’s story, Walton has the choice to continue his pursuit of the North Pole, or turn back.
Who was the real monster? Victor vs. the Creature
The character of Victor is selfish with no care and compassion and rejects his creation based on appearance. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, for his creation, he rejects it and pushes it away. In contrast the Creature is at first innocent and abandoned, attempting to survive in a hostile world. The creature learns of cruelty through these experiences. We found the Creature to be more of an emotional and complex character and the behaviours of these characters raised the issue of nature vs. nurture – are we born with certain behavioural tendencies, or are they learned? We also saw moments where Frankenstein may have said opportunity to make different choices to attempt to recover the situations, but these weren’t taken.
Role of women
The female characters of the book are presented as passive victims. Overall, men are presented as bad and women as good or innocent. At the time the book was written the majority of women had limited power and control over their own lives- they suffered with the consequences of the actions of men. With this context, the presentation of women in this book is a clever tool to highlight this social issue. The female characters of this book can be seen to represent the defenceless.
The author – Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley, the well-educated daughter of a feminist, write the first interation of Frankenstein at just 19 years old in 1816 whilst on a trip with fellow writers to the Swiss Alps. The concept was drawn up as part of a competition among the writers to come up with the best ‘ghost story’. We were all impressed that the story was written by Shelley at such a young age! The story, a moral tale, reflects Shelley’s observations of the world and society and the concerns of the time.
The film versions of Frankenstein have become visually iconic and influenced our expectations of the book. The appearance of the Creature described in the book – the Creature isn’t green with bolts through his neck! The National Theatre adaptation again presents a different interpretation – very intense and more graphic/extreme than the book.
Overall, we had mixed feelings about the book- some thought it was good and others found it had some interesting themes, but didn’t find it as an enjoyable read. We all agreed that it excellently raised issues relating to science and progress which are relevant to today’s society. An interesting read!