Frankenstein (1818 edition) by Mary Shelley – Classic Gothic Romanticism at its Finest

“After days and nights 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 by Mary Shelley is a Gothic romance literary classic that is told via a series of letters and other textual materials to express a tale obsession, of science as well as death and morality. The story revolves around a man who believes that he can bring a human back to life after their demise, and when he accomplishes this task, the consequences leave him writhing with disbelief and absolute fear.

This novel is a supreme example of the classical notion of romanticism. It’s an artistic and intellectual device that initially arose in Europe during the 1800s and it draws on the aestheticism of feelings, particularly as they co-relate to science and/or nature. When that is combined with its extremely dark and detailed essence, along with the examination of what it truly means to be human, then the brew that results is one of utter brilliance.

A favourite element of mine from Frankenstein is the focus on the emotional and psychological costs of our actions and what happens when we abandon responsibility to what we’ve created. It’s an allegory for moral abortion. Shown in morsels where Victor rants about how wishes he never accomplished the goals of his obsession, as well as from the Monster’s perspective as he is overwhelmed with self-loathing due to his hideous nature, the theme of abortion is extremely strong and visceral; the removal of what has been created or birthed from our very being (please note, I mean this metaphorically here as it’s represented in the book; my personal take is very PRO-CHOICE with respect to the literal subject matter). It’s such a powerful concept because in today’s society especially running away from responsibility of our actions has become the autopilot response. Rarely do we stick around to see the chaos and the shattered pieces of the destruction we have caused and it’s almost always due to some treacherous form of fear. Who is really to blame here? Is the Created or the Creator? (An argument that is also very common in religious circles.)

The book shows us how Shelley felt about being a woman in that time period, trapped in her gender in a life full of misery and loneliness. She was a hostage to her own intelligence and imagination because the mere concept of being born a woman in a world where they were perceived as nothing more than devices for procreation was psychologically excruciating. Which shines a light on my second favourite theme: abnormality.

Being different is something everyone battles to various degrees. We either try to fit into a mould of perfection for the superficial popularity contests that leech the soul right out of us, or we feel entirely subdued by our strangeness because it’s constantly othered by folx that fear what is different. The concept of being separate from the norm is one that leads to maddening levels of alienation and ostracization. This kind of trauma can drive a person into extreme acts that we didn’t realise we were capable of, as we witness with Shelley’s Monster, and that’s where the black lines of horror spill out of the pages. It’s astoundingly beautiful and mind-blowingly contemplative.

If one has ever felt different or separated, bullied or abused, then there will be certainly an intimate connection to the narrative that comes through here. It’s so intensely evocative, driving us forward with morbid empathy and curiosity as Victor is lost to his obsessions while his creation lost to his very existence. It is terrifying, tragic, and incredibly riveting. The book made me re-connect with parts of myself that I had thought were long-forgotten, which I appreciated because it helps to keep me humbled as a survivor of trauma.

With that being said, it’s not a story for everyone. It has dark themes of mental illness, death, grief, obsession, self-hate and suicide ideation, as well as classist content that was common in the time period. It doesn’t shy away from grotesque descriptions of mutilation and observation of a human body as nothing more than pieces to a puzzle. It can be quite discomforting, so if you’re a queasy bibliophile, I’d definitely proceed cautiously. Aside from that, I’d HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to people that like Gothic romantic fiction and folx that are interested in seeing the birth of a trope that is still quite remarkable and pivotal in Gothic and horror genres today.

Publication Date: January 2018 (January 1818)
Publisher: Penguin Classics (978-0143131847)
Genre: Gothic Horror, Literary Fiction
Page Count: 288
Content Warnings: Dark and disturbing imagery. Descriptions of body mutilation, surgery, and anatomical dissection, as well as blood. Suicide ideation. Death. Murder. Child death. Anti-Islamic hate. Depression. Parental abandonment. Xenophobia. Classism.
GoodReads: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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11 thoughts on “Frankenstein (1818 edition) by Mary Shelley – Classic Gothic Romanticism at its Finest

  1. I am actually thrilled that people are still reading the classic version. It’s a classic for a reason, and no you won’t get it if you “watch the movie”. I really hope this current cancel culture doesn’t gut our literary history, because above all things what it tells us is that books written in the `1800s are relevant today – that we, as human beings, at our core – we don’t change all that much. It shows us the problems we are dealing with today, are the same problems we have always had to deal with – in one form or another.

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