A Review of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)
"You throw a torch into a pile of buildings; and when they are consumed you sit among the ruins and lament the fall. Hypocritical fiend!" - Captain Robert Walton, to Frankenstein's Monster, Volume III, Chapter VII
The conflict within young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin's mind is readily apparent throughout her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Here at once was a highly educated and privileged eighteen-year-old woman; a passionate Romantic; a British conservative; a liberal feminist; a lover of Percy Bysshe Shelley; a daughter of two famous (or infamous, to many) public intellectuals; and a mother who suffered the death of a child. All of these identities intertwined to produce a very human writer and her equally human novel, about the very human Victor Frankenstein and his equally human Monster, in what most observers rightfully identify as a classic Gothic novel and founding text of modern imaginative fiction. It's odd to feel this way, but I really don't think Mary intended a clear, cogent message with her "ghost story." If there is an ultimate theme, it's the assertion of humanity amid the ambiguity of modern (here, early industrial) life. But I see this message in pretty much everything, so like all good art, maybe Frankenstein simply reflects back a thoughtfully distorted image of our own current selves. At any rate, it deserves a place among the best of fiction--literary, genre, or otherwise.