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The Classics: Frankenstein

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

Mary Shelley's classic novel remains powerful today, even 200 years later. We took a look inside this perennial awe-inspiring Victorian blockbuster to find out why.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Still Has The Power To Frighten

by Mark W. Curran

Few classic horror novels have had the impact and lasting power of Mary Wallstonecraft Shelley's 'Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus'. The novel was published in 1818 by the small London publishing house Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones. It was not only a shocking tale for its time, it was surprisingly well-received.

Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. At the time of its writing, England was in the grip of great scientific discovery in the fields of galvanism and biology.

Shelley's novel, though written in the Victorian prose of the time, touched on class distinctions, challenging the treatment of the less fortunate and creating awareness of social justice, empathy and moral responsibility.

The beauty of the novel's construction lies in the balance it creates within the opposites of guilt vs. scientific progress, personal ambition vs. the greater good; but the real power lies in the monster as a projection of our innermost fears and thoughts.

While we root for the townspeople to torch the windmill and destroy the monster, we feel a simultaneous empathy for a creature who was created as an experiment in immortality and ends up becoming a victim of the very forces that created it.

Much of our memory and awareness of Frankenstein has been formed from the movies made from the novel, thus the actual reading lacks the visceral punch of the more Aristotelean structured Universal pictures; but the horror the novel stirs still delivers an effective sense of dread:

“It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” [continued]

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