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[Watershed Online: Literature]

[A Review of Readings on Frankenstein]
by Lyle Penner

[Readings on Frankenstein book]
"ALL MEN HATE the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life?”

The Monster to Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein, one of our most familiar cultural icons, is synonymous with the misuse of science, the mad scientist stereotype and, of course, the hideous and evil Creature. Scholar Christopher Small has said that the Frankenstein “mythos” is so indelibly imprinted on our imaginations that on the one hand it is “uniquely new to every fresh generation of readers”, and on the other “familiar to them before they begin to read”. For many readers what’s “uniquely new” is that Frankenstein is much more than a story about a melodramatic, crazed scientist and a grunting, bolt-headed ogr0e popularized by so many film adaptations of the early to mid-20th century.

At a time when perplexing cultural issues such as human cloning, artificial intelligence and “Frankenfood” are increasingly taking center stage, it seems timely that the deeper meanings of this classic tale be discussed. On a closer reading, the author Mary Shelley was not only foreshadowing the moral dilemmas of science on the edge. She was also shedding light on how we all can relate to each other and to our creative projects. (Whether she was conscious or unconscious about these rich underlying themes seems really beside the point.)

Enter the engaging, introductory anthology, Readings in Frankenstein (2000), edited by Don Narco. Although billed as an accessible collection of critical resources for the "young adult", any interested student of the story and its varied implications would benefit from its reading.

Readings in Frankenstein contains 14 excerpted essays from various writers that comment on three main categories: the essential storyline and background; the social and psychological themes; and the numerous stage and film adaptations.

[quote]Particularly attractive are the writings in the social and psychological themes category. Anne K. Mellor writes in the essay “Abandonment and Lack of Proper Nurture Shape the Monster’s Nature” about the close identification that the teenage author Mary Shelley must have felt with the troubled Creature character that Victor Frankenstein brought to life and then rejected. As a motherless child with a distant father in a world with few role models for a literate young woman, Shelley would have empathized deeply with the Monster left to fend for himself. Mellor notes that both read the same books and thus had the same educative influences such as Rousseau and Kant. Deprived of basic parental and companionship needs, the Monster as well as Mary Shelley developed a scathing critique of their contemporary world. Can we expect to live humanly when raised in a harsh and unloving environment?

William Patrick Day in “Victor and His Creation Struggle with Gender Identity” analyzes the story from the Jungian perspective that assumes we individually contain both masculine and feminine “selves”. He shows how Victor Frankenstein, unwilling to acknowledge his seemingly powerless feminine side, projects his Promethean desire to be a strong masculine figure onto his Creature. Although the unnamed Creature is grotesquely masculine in body, he has strong feminine characteristics. He loves music and is affected deeply by the affection he sees within the DeLacey family. By abandoning him, however, Frankenstein has forced the Creature to be strongly independent in the extreme, which he doesn’t want to be. When the Creature retaliates and seeks revenge on his “father”, Victor retreats and becomes the swooning, irresponsible and imprisoned person he feared he was in the beginning. Sadly, despair and death were his only perceived escapes, rather than attempting to reconcile his impaired feminine and out-of-control masculine selves. If he had his wits about him, Victor might have realized that taking manly responsibility for his actions, even if it meant a death blow to his egoic self-image, would have been a far better option.

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