Classics: “Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus”


“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The eruption of the volcano Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815, in which tens of thousands of people died, caused the emission of enormous quantities of ash. According to climatologists, that eruption may also have played a role in making the summer of 1816 particularly cold and rainy throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It was in that year defined as “without summer” that, during a vacation in Switzerland, Mary Wollstonecraft in the company of her friends, writers and poets, Lord Byron and Shelley (who later became Mary’s husband) had (from a dream, as she recounts) the inspiration for Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley wrote this extraordinary Gothic work at the age of 19, but not everyone knows that the young woman continued to write even after the death of her husband; Unfortunately, none of her other novels (including The Last Man, another science fiction novel in which only one person on the whole Earth has survived a plague epidemic) became as famous as her first and they are almost impossible to find; and that the critics rejected it completely, and it is only thanks to the great success it had among the readers of the time that it has come down to us!

“How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Many of you will know the plot thanks to the numerous film versions (the first film arrangement of Frankenstein was a short film from 1910, produced by Edison Studios in New York, and since then it can be said that they have never stopped, from the very famous “Frankenstein junior ”, up to the most recent interpretation in“ Penny Dreadful ”), but the particularity of the novel cannot be translated. The point of view of the story, in fact, is neither that of the doctor nor that of the Monster, but that of Captain Robert Walton, who writes letters about his mission to the North Pole and reports pages from the diary of the (mad) scientist Victor Frankenstein .

“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Frankenstein is in fact the name of the creator not of the creature, even if we often get confused! Throughout the novel the monster is called precisely Monster, Creature, Thing. And it is this impersonality that unleashes the anger of the poor protagonist, who feels rejected by the world and by his creator himself, so much so as to commit a terrible murder! In the gothic atmosphere that permeates much of the book, Victor’s aspiration to give rise to an accomplished being and the latter’s dream of being identified as a human being in spite of his deformed and monstrous appearance are faced. Mirror scenes are the scenes in which the inventor and monster reverse their roles: in the first Victor, terrified by what he is creating, gets rid of the woman he is creating for his “creature” while the latter spies on him from the window; in the second, the monster kills Elizabeth while the protagonist watches helplessly through the glass.

Having read it as a school assignment, the first time I must admit that I was not so impressed, too careful to draw a convincing summary to get a good grade.

But, years and years later, thanks to a film adaptation, my curiosity returned and I reread it. It was then that I understood its social importance, how current it is despite the past 199 years. Our need to defeat death is potentially more lethal than death itself.

Science is making great strides, and I am grateful to it, but how many times have I heard news that made my skin crawl? Too many. It is one thing to try to improve the quality of life, lengthen it, defeat diseases, another is to replace the gods and live at any cost.

The Monster is alive, yet it does not live, it cannot, stuck in a shadowy dimension, defeated by feelings that it cannot reveal.

“Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I think it should be read more than watched, for this power of the message that for technical reasons is less and less in the mediated versions.

Like any epistolary novel, it is not easy, but once you enter in it, it will be impossible to get out of it.

Frankenstein and his Creature are both inside each of us, for this reason this novel will remain immortal.

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