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Read of the Week: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Written by The Reader, 15th February 2017

There's been a lot of romance in the air of late, but now for something completely different. Our Read of the Week is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, discussed by Practice Mentor, Clare.

'I no longer see the world and its works as they before appeared to me. Before, I looked upon accounts of vice and injustice, that I read in books or heard from others, as tales of ancient days, or imaginary evils; at least they were remote, and more familiar to reason than to imagination; but now misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other's blood.'

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I would say that reading Frankenstein is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

It is a novel that forces you in many ways to confront your deepest nightmares, and neither does it give the comfort of a resolved hopeful ending. But if you do feel brave enough for reading something that tests the limits of what it is to be human, then Frankenstein is a pretty good place to start!

When the young, talented, ambitious Victor Frankenstein decides to outstrip the confines of human mortality by the creation of a superior being, which he believes will be for the good of mankind rather than its destruction, he unwittingly unleashes a force that will destabilize all that he holds true and good in the world, and more terrifyingly, all that he holds true and good about himself, right down to the very core of his being.

Both beings frequently cry how they 'bore a hell' within themselves, both desperately cry out that desperate question of 'What am I?' - Victor, because he feels he has created a monster, the creature, because he finds himself abandoned by his creator and labelled a monster by mankind. New forms of self-knowledge have opened up, and the lid cannot be put back on; or, as the creature says, 'Of what a strange nature if knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock.'

Having read this book in a Shared Reading group, I have been struck by how surprised people are at the novel's beginning. Through popular culture, for many of us Frankenstein has become synonymous with 'the monster', and people expect to meet this creature from the outset. But we must first spend time getting to know the creature's creator, the father if you like, Victor Frankenstein, before we can meet the child.

The second thing that seems to take people by surprise is the way in which their own feelings towards the creature constantly change. Even before the novel begins, people are expecting to be frightened of the creature, are primed to shiver at the opening of its 'dull yellow eye'. However, once we also have the creature's story and get an insight into his world from his perspective, our sense of distinguishing between good and evil, right and wrong, human and non-human, becomes much more complicated.

People soon realise that they are treading many shades of grey with this story rather than the more secure terrain of black and white. 'What makes us human?' is just one of the questions that the book has often compelled our reading group to ask. 'How do we judge between what is good and what is evil?' 'Are outward appearances really important in how we respond to others and how in turn people respond to us?' 'How responsible can we be for our own creations - how responsible can a parent be for their offspring?'

These are just some of the questions that our reading group have pondered during this book. There are many more to ask, and many possible answers to consider.

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