Length: 8 hrs and 35 mins
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Narrator Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) presents an uncanny performance of Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel, an epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.
The summer of 1816 was named the “Year Without a Summer” after the eruption of Mount Tambora caused a long and dreary Volcanic Winter. With everyone keeping to the indoors, Mary, her future husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori all entertained themselves by telling ghost stories and then inevitably it was suggested they each come up with their own type of horror story. It was during this very summer that Mary Shelley, at the age of eighteen, came up with the initial concept of Frankenstein.
‘After days and night of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.’
Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a man that through experiementation in both science and alchemy devised a way to combine pieces of human corpses and give them new life. Frankenstein is a legendary story and has become a pivotal part of our cultural understanding of the supernatural world, however, the novel is actually nothing like the classic movies involving lightning, screaming and Frankenstein actually being excited at his accomplishments.
His shock and awe quickly transforms into a horrific realization at what he was capable of and he ran away in terror, leaving the monster alone. We’re told Frankenstein’s story first and the steps that led to the monsters creation and the subsequent events as well. Frankenstein depicts him as a monster, thus the reason he is never given an actual name, but when we are finally given the story via the monsters point of view we realize this ‘monster’ is quite possibly anything but. His is a story of complete despondency that easily garners your compassion regardless of the pain and suffering he has wreaked. He may be a creation but is he still not a person? Is his creators ensuing abandonment to blame for his conduct because Frankenstein had a duty beyond just his creation? I believe it is. Without his creator there to teach him the ways of the world, he was forced to observe, learn and interpret on his own. So then it was his observances of society what transformed him into who he came to be? A matter of circumstance? He became an outcast of society because of his appearance and after a time became lonely and craved a companion. He sought out his creator so as to force him to duplicate his work.
This is my first read of the classic and I must say it’s nothing like I was expecting. It ended up being a strange and eclectic blend of genres. It was science fiction, with the creation of a man from pieces of corpses, and it was gothic and horror, the dead coming back to life and wreaking havoc on the world. Neither of those were the sole purpose or point of this story; it only set the scene. At the heart of this story are the revolutionary and intellectual questions about life, death and existence. About scientific possibilities and how far is too far. And it’s about compassion and lack of it in this world. Was Frankenstein’s monster truly an outcast only because of his appearance, because initially he showed the utmost caring towards individuals and even saved a drowning girl at one point. Society saw the monster and judged him harshly based off that alone, never giving him the benefit of the doubt. It’s a fictional accounting of a harsh world but it’s a rather truthful and distressing accounting. This is Gothic literature at its very finest and I’m so glad I finally conquered this incredible piece of work.
‘Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness.’