Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a review

Frankenstein is one of those stories that anyone has heard about but that only a few have actually read. The imaginary of the book has become so much powerful to influence the later literary tradition; some of its narrative elements can be found among the most famous sci-fi authors ever like H. G. Wells and I. Asimov (who actually coined the trope Frankenstein complex). It is also one of the main fictional reference on Philosophy of Science and Bioethics debates and it concurs to shape the popular perception of technological progress. However its original meaning has been distorted by following theatre and film adaptations. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, is a strong humanistic sci-fi novel and it is not at all a lesson about the dangers of science.

Mary Shelley published her story in 1818 when she was still twenty one. Her life was at the center of the Romantic culture of the early nineteenth century: daughter of the philosopher William Godwin and the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft she was a close friend of Percy Shelly (who will become her husband), Lord Byron and John PolidoriFrankenstein’s story is the result of a literary challenge between the four friends. It is an epistolary novel – with an introductory frame – narrated by Robert Walton, captain of an expedition to discover the North Pole, who happens to save a man from ice. His name is Victor Frankenstein, a scientist pursuing a “monster” that he has created, who begin to tell the story of his life. Grew up in Geneva, a strong scientific passion combined with an egotistic nature led him to the idea of bringing back life from death. However, once its creature woke up in the laboratory, he felt frightened and abandoned it. It is the beginning of a series of tragedies in his life.

Frankenstein is an horror story about one of the most scary nightmare ever, the awakening of the dead, that modern science seemed to make possible. The galvanism is one of the element that inspired the fantasy of Mary Shelley but no moral warning on the role of modern science emerges from the narration. The Rousseau’s is the only significant philosophy but it is always forgotten by critics. Like Emile – the character of the pedagogical treatise of the french philosopher – the creature is born innocent, it grows up with strong and pure values but it turns evil because of society that excludes it for it is frightened by its physical appearance. The real monster of the novel it seems to be Victor, the egotistical and immature father, who never faces the responsibility of its own creation and who condemns his wretched son to an eternal and anonymous solitude.

Frankenstein is an archetypal novel which has raised problem that, after two centuries, we are still far to solve. A more than good reason to read or re-read it again.

This is an English abstract of a review first published in Italian on the Filosofi Precari website


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