Now that I’m finished I don’t know what to make of Frankenstein. Parts of it were compelling while others were needlessly prolonged and while its language and purpose were interesting it still had some major flaws. In the novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses a tedious writing style and a mixed feminist voice in her creation of an influential novel that is showing its age.
First of all is Shelley’s multi-layered writing style and varying narrative. In Frankenstein, the story is divided up into narrations told by the stories’ main characters: Walton, an Arctic explorer, who records the narration of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist, who recounts the narration of his creation, who narrates the story of a cabin dwelling family he secretly observes. While I don’t dislike the style in itself, Shelley’s execution is sometimes contrived. In a scene where the narrator switches from Frankenstein to the monster, Frankenstein decides to curl up around a fire with the monster to hear its side of the story (Shelley 98). It was transitions like these, coupled with the drawn out passages, which made the novel rather boring. The only escape from these long narratives was the inclusion of letters from other characters- a technique that quickly became repetitive. Still, even though this technique may seem redundant, Shelley manages to somewhat make up for it. Throughout the novel, an idiosyncratic writing style is used in the narration. Each of the novel’s raconteurs has a distinct voice heard through their stories. Walton’s epistolary section has a sense of isolation attached to it; Frankenstein’s section is highly descriptive and emotional and the monster’s section contrasts between anger and innocence. When Frankenstein is in the mountains before he meets the monster, he describes the landscape as “congregat[ing] round [him]; the unstained snowy mountain-top, the glittering pinnacle, the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine” (92). I found that whenever the characters were surrounded by nature, the idiosyncratic style showed the differences between the characters and gave them depth. Each character’s reaction to nature provides more insight than most of the dull narration. Despite having some structural flaws, Shelley’s descriptive talent and imagination is to be commended in Frankenstein.
In addition to its monotonous structure the role of feminism is somewhat inconsistent in the novel. Undoubtedly, Shelley criticizes the scientific pursuit in Frankenstein. It is the men in the novel, both Frankenstein and Walton, who are always seeking to expand human knowledge. Frankenstein is punished for his creation and Walton learns from this punishment. Near the end of the novel Walton and his crew are stuck in ice and near death, but instead of continuing on he concedes to his crew’s demand that they return to England (223). Walton now recognizes the dangers of knowledge as Shelley interprets it through her feminist perspective. It was through her depiction of a man in love with his scientific pursuit that Shelley critiqued such an obsession. While the novel’s criticism of science is rooted in male obsession, it fails to produce a strong female character. The novel is filled with passive women who do very little and die: Justine is executed for murder, despite her innocence and Elizabeth waits helplessly and is eventually murdered by the monster. None of the female characters would leave a mark on the story if it wasn’t for their relationship with one of the males. Elizabeth in particular was annoyingly useless and only served as a plot device. In the end all she can do for Victor is “observ[e] [his] agitation for some time in timid and fearful silence” before she goes to bed and is killed (200). It is strange that Shelley would create such women, interchangeable and uninspiring as they are, as a feminist author. Instead of creating powerful female characters, it seems that Shelley’s focus is disapproving man’s thirst for knowledge.
Due to her unappealing structure and confusing motifs, Shelley’s Frankenstein didn’t end up being very engaging. However, it wasn’t a waste of time as its strengths made up for most of its shortcomings. While she’s not the best storyteller, Shelley effectively created one of literature’s greatest stories.