Frankenstein: the Memorable Monster

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Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

The Memorable Monster

In 1818, The British Critic, a British literary magazine, assessed Mary Shelley's new novel, Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus. The reviewer wrote:

"We need scarcely say, that these volumes have neither principle, object, nor moral; the horror which abounds in them is too grotesque and bizarre ever to approach near the sublime, and when we did not hurry over the pages in disgust, we sometimes paused to laugh outright; and yet we suspect, that the diseased and wandering imagination, which has stepped out of all legitimate bounds, to frame these disjointed combinations and unnatural adventures, might be disciplined into something better. We heartily wish it were so, for there are occasional symptoms of no common powers of mind, struggling through a mass of absurdity, which well nigh overwhelms them; but it is a sort of absurdity that approaches so often the confines of what is wicked and immoral, that we dare hardly trust ourselves to bestow even this qualified praise. The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment."

Dismiss the novel? How silly this person would feel now. Today, with our hindsight, it is easy to see why this assessment is so ridiculous. Indeed, the image of the lonely wretch and the misdirected Victor Frankenstein are two of literature's most lasting images. But, upon reading this commentary and realizing how wrong it was, I asked myself one question, "why"? Why is it that the wretch and its creator have remained so indelibly imprinted on our imaginations?

"We need scarcely say, that these volumes have neither principle, object, nor moral..."

Frankenstein was nothing if it wasn't moral. The novel poses numerous...
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