Fiction Daily.
A blog on writing, writers and why we read. Posted most mornings by Marion Blackburn.
Who's the monster
Today I'd like to share a few thoughts about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

If you haven't yet gotten around to reading it, please do ... it's a masterpiece, really, a novel that reads with the intensity and single-pointed focus of a short story, with incredibly fully developed characters. Shelley manages to give everyone complexity and realism, even characters who are mentioned only briefly.

Why a masterpiece?

You may be thinking, Isn't she exaggerating a bit? If you've seen the movie, you probably thought it was pretty good for the times, but would you call it an artful commentary on mankind?

After reading the novel, I say definitely. The novel ... and later, the film, capture something deep and true about us on so many levels.

First, there is the created man, who in the novel has no name. He was put together by Victor Frankenstein, who discovered how to animate the unliving.

Yet once alive, the monster is shunned. His appearance is repulsive and gives rise to violent rejection. He is hated.

Why is he loathed? Because he is ugly. And yet, in the novel, he is self-taught, well read and articulate. He is sensitive, a philosopher, a poet, who wants so badly to connect with mankind.

At every turn, he is despised.

It's clear Shelley is capturing something basic about us -- that we judge on appearance far more than we should, and that it creates hurt and isolation. The monster is all of us who aren't "the beautiful people" -- those of us who've been cast off, uninvited or unpopular because our noses are a little too pointed, our torsos a little unshapely, our eyes and foreheads not perfect somehow.

We do it to others, as well.

At a poetry reading once, I saw a young man who had lost his hand somehow. I felt frightened and hoped he wouldn't try to talk to me.

At the end of the evening, he read two of the most moving pieces I'd ever heard, and afterward, I approached him and talked for some time. He was a warm, gentle soul and as we parted, I took his arm and embraced it in my hands, hoping to somehow make up for my earlier fears and repulsion.

And so we reject the "monsters" around us, causing them pain and what's worse, making monsters of ourselves.

AHEAD: When we hate what we create
2008-05-07 13:34:43 GMT
Comments (4 total)
An insightful endorsement of Mary Shelley's masterpiece. The fact that the novel makes the monster so learned and erudite may point up the fact that we equate a lack of physical attractiveness with a lack of other positive characteristics, such as knowledge. (For a modern twist on this, see the stereotypical "dumb blonde.") We could extend the argument to other congenital attributes -- including gender. Let's not forget that the author's mother was an early advocate for women's rights, arguing that the "weaker sex" had more valuable gifts to offer than simply modesty, charm and a pretty smile. It would be interesting to know if Mary Shelley was considered beautiful or, like George Eliot (euphemistically), plain.
2008-05-08 12:27:01 GMT
These are great thoughts. I imagine Ms. Shelley was "comely" as they said, and from portraits she seemed quite stunning. She was involved with this dashing mad poet, his day's rock star, at only 18, so she must have been pretty desirable. She could have seen her own appearance -- her beauty -- the "curse" that prevented the so-called "serious" male writers (Byron? Her husband?) from accepting her writing brilliance. -- MB
2008-05-08 14:14:29 GMT
Makes me think of Vivien Leigh, who felt that her great beauty was, in some ways, an impediment to career: people assumed that beauty was all she had to offer when, in fact, she was an outstanding actress. (Her Blanche is the greatest performance by an actress in the history of film!)

Interesting that you bring up Byron, who was famously handsome yet had the withered leg ... a desirable "monster"?
2008-05-09 11:53:48 GMT
I did not know about Byron's leg ... yes, human deformity ... who knows how that could have affected Mary Shelley ... Lord Byron indeed was something of a monster, himself, a creative monster. -- MB
2008-05-09 13:48:59 GMT
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