I read this book with the intention of featuring it for our steampunk reading theme a few months ago. However, as I read Mary Shelley’s classic, I realized that it fits our paranormal theme better.
Admittedly, I took a liking to this novel more than Steampunk H. G. Wells. There is something about Mary Shelley’s writing that glistens – despite the unremitting and damnable darkness that almost seems agonizing and never-ending in nature, and frankly became quite exhausting somewhere in the end.
Popular media has provided different kinds of versions and permutations of Frankenstein that even primary school kids may be aware of this horror story of scientific arrogance gone wrong and that one’s creations may eventually prove to be one’s undoing. In fact, I do recognize traces of my favourite TV series, Fringe, in Victor Frankenstein’s feelings of superiority, his certainty about his brilliance and his single-mindedness in his pursuit of scientific truth.
What I did not know prior to reading this unblemished original version of Shelley’s monstrous creation is that the narrative is packaged like a story within a story within a story within a letter – very inception-like again in the narrative. One has to be able to discern where one thread ends and the other begins lest one becomes lost in the telling.
I think what made me gravitate towards the story is that it unflinchingly sifts through the layers of misery and explores the caverns of fury, providing mitigating circumstances for atrocities committed in the guise of isolation and loneliness. I have taken a picture of the page where Frankenstein’s child explained his hateful actions (I edited the photo of the page using an iPhone app):
I have just finished watching the TV series Penny Dreadful. I decided to stop mid-way in August as it was Ghost Month here in Singapore and I find that I sometimes have nightmares brought about by watching an episode. Frankenstein is part of that tv adaptation and the creature has similar ruminations as the one in Shelley’s original story.
Frankenstein’s child is portrayed as hideous in appearance and is quite the quick study in terms of learning people’s language, habits, and reading skills. What struck me most was the creature’s yearning – for intimacy, understanding, the slightest gesture of compassion and kindness:
He longs for nothing but a companion; someone like him with whom he can spend his days. After awhile, however, I felt quite impatient with the creature although I know that the correct attitude would be one of pity and understanding. I also felt the same way with Victor who described his monstrous folly in this fashion:
It may be because of the length of the book that made me hunger for some kind of resolution as there is nothing but dull pain and guilt and remonstrations that seemed to go nowhere.
I also felt that there was an enormous amount of self-loathing in the part of the creature – and Victor Frankenstein as well, come to think of it. Even as the creature struggles to justify the horrific end-product of his ghastly nature, he whines like a child and he berates himself for being vengeful even as he rationalizes and refuses to take responsibility for his actions.
There are moments of beauty in the story – made even more striking by its fleeting nature. There is a foreshadowing that every beautiful thing in this narrative would be torn in half, broken into pieces, and end up fragmented just like Frankenstein’s child. The story is successful in eliciting questions about human nature: the predisposition to cower in fear and react violently against unfamiliar things, particularly if they are hideous; the longing for company that it may even transform itself into obsession; and how both arrogance and loneliness can result in murder, blind fury, and darkness that seems to know no bounds. Frankly, I felt a certain kind of relief when the novel ended. The steampunk art of Basic and Sumberac, however, provided a much-welcome respite across several pages of text – and once again managed to illuminate pain and horror in such gloriously-graphic format. I now cannot imagine reading Mary Shelley without the accompanying beautiful illustrations – they seem to have been made for each other.
Steampunk Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrated by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac. Published by Running Press Classics, 2012. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.