Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley
narrated by Simon Vance
Ⓟ 2008, Tantor Audio
For those who have not read the novel and only been subjected to film versions, it’s “nothing” like the movies. The doctor, not the monster, is named Frankenstein and, the monster fully develops as a sentient being, not as a green, square-headed zombie with bolts stuck in the side of his head! The story is heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost and some radical social theory at the time, something along the lines that a man’s nature is most profoundly influenced in reaction to his societal upbringing, an earlier version of “it takes a village.”
Many, many years ago, a friend in college, for whom this was his favorite book, lent me his copy. I read it and was moved to tears by the monster’s plight and could not help but feel that my friend identified with the monster. By extension, I felt that I understood my friend better. I returned the book; but always meant to come back to it. Flash forward many, many years later and I’ve settled down to re-read this Classic. I was absolutely bemused that I did not recognize the story at all! Not only was the story coming across as completely new-to-me, I had no sympathy for the monster whatsoever! I have to admit I didn’t like the novel as much this time around, but that may be my inner existentialist reacting against the moral equivocation about responsibility for one’s own actions. I’ve come back to Frankenstein again in hopes of rediscovering what its was that appealed to me the first time I experienced it.
Frankenstein is a book that definitely bears rereading. There are multiple layers and approaches to take to the story: literally, emotionally, philosophically and metaphorically. On the basic linear narrative level, it is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young ambitious man who leaves home and pursues his studies in Ingolstadt, Germany. His interests lie in the life sciences and his passion leads him to the secret of reanimating dead flesh into a living, sentient being. Mary Shelley, pulls the reader into the sympathies of both Frankenstein and his unnamed creature by creating pathos- and angst-ridden first person narratives into the story for both characters. Philosophically, there’s plenty of material to vet: theism, existentialism, free will, fate vs destiny, Nature vs Nurture… The author makes several allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost; but comparisons to Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy are equally obvious and relevant. Milton’s and Dante’s works deal with the fall from divine grace and the soul’s state of disgrace and, like Milton’s and Dante’s works, the listener cannot help but wonder if the story of Frankenstein is also a reflection of an interior journey.
Simon Vance narrates the Tantor edition of Frankenstein. His consummate skill with character-work comes to the fore and, bears an uncanny resemblance to his voices for The Millennium Trilogy 🙂
Other Stuff: I do not recall what edition or publisher produced the copy that my friend lent me. I only recall that it was a mass market paperback with a black cover and a small rectangular picture inset on the front. I want to say it was a Signet Classic; but I’m not sure.
I purchased a Barnes & Noble Classics edition copy from the Barnes & Noble store in Medford, OR in 2009.
I dnloaded a copy of Frankenstein (narrated by Simon Vance) from the Audiobook Community’s SYNC YA program in 2010.
The Nightmare (by Henry Fuseli)