Exactly 200 years ago, on January 1, 1818, the story of Victor Frankenstein had been published anonymously. Critics didn’t take it well and condemned it as devil’s work. A creature of parts of corpses, excavated at the cemetery, Frankenstein was successful in scooping a creature, but could not accept her as she was. Only the rejection made Frankenstein’s creature a vicious monster because it was not rotten from the core. A rogue who says we did not learn anything from this novel.
Frankenstein is not just a comment about the excesses of modern science and curiosity, as so often claimed. At its core, it also thematizes (parental) rejection. Therefore, the work has not only scientific but also political implications.
Is it the fault of the parents, when the child rebels and becomes a murderer? Is it the fault of God, if he creates the world with its injustice and then leaves people alone in their suffering without revealing themselves? And is it the fault of the government, when the people revolt? Is it the fault of the elite, if the working class rebels?
The public wondered who could be the anonymous creator of this shocking novel. The grim story of violence and misery, the scientific experiments, the atheistic philosophy, along with the dedication of the book to William Godwin, one of the most radical social philosophers of the time, who advocated the French Revolution and Anarchism, all seemed to point to the same man: the young poet and philosopher Percy Shelley.
But the shocking truth was: The story has been written by an 18-year-old girl, Mary Shelley (Percy’s wife). This made the discussion also a feministic one, a fact that sadly got lost in the time and movies. Because the “monster” in the novel was, in fact, herself, rejected by her father for not living inside the social conventions.
In contrast to many theater versions and the innumerable films, notably the 1931 classic with Boris Karloff, the monster in the novel learns to babble and proves himself as the most gifted speaker, poetically expressing his suffering. The reader is torn between disgust and compassion, sometimes deterred by the monster’s anger and thirst for revenge, then again touched by his desperation, vulnerability and the beauty of his language. Mary Shelley’s contemporaries must have felt the same way about the young poet.
A lesson that we also learn in the true story of Joseph Merrick, filmed by David Lynch in The Elephant Man, who shoes a lot of parallels to Shelley’s novel.
Concluding, my wish for 2018 would be, that we learn from a monster and stop thinking in categories – black and white, left and right, good and bad -, but are open to discover the core and welcome it just as it is.