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Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Phoenix Science Fiction Classics, 175 pages

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (30 August 1797 1 February 1851) was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumour that was to kill her at the age of 53.

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A review by Sandra Scholes

When Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley first wrote Frankenstein she never thought it would come under such acclaim or controversy. As the wife of one of the most famous poets in English history, when staying at a retreat of Lord Byron's where he and Percy Bysshe, her husband and Byron's physician, Dr. Polidori were thinking up ideas for poems and novels, she did not want to feel outdone.

Her story tells the tale of a young man, Robert Walton who writes letters to his sister, Mrs. Saville, over in England about a sea voyage he undertakes alone. Feeling somewhat depressed and bored, the voyage is disrupted by another man's dire health and has to save him from freezing to death. Trying to keep him in good spirits, Robert converses with him and he becomes the companion and friend he wanted all along, yet the other man thinks he will be seen differently when he tells his own tale of woe.

This book comes across as extremely helpful to a modern readership, especially students as there are various ways this book can be read. Series editor, Paul Cook, has made it easier for the student to read through the chapters by having helpful notes about places, names and the meanings of words which provide further aid as well as side margins where the student can pencil in any notes on the thoughts of the novel a page at a time. The notes make it much easier for the student to read and, in many ways, more understand the story.

This classic novel version is packed with details on the creator and comes with a chronology of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's life from birth to eventual death. The reader will realize how eventful and surprising it is and almost shocking for the time, her life with Percy Bysshe Shelley and what misfortune met them in their lives. With an introduction by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself and an intriguing preface by Percy Bysshe Shelley, it lets the readers into the minds of the famous writers from seventeenth century England, their predisposition for scandal and free living in a mainly prudish country that made them the hell-raisers of their era.

In Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, the characters have a certain melancholy to them which is a normal occurrence in Gothic novels of this type. There is also a sense of despair in it that the writer conveys perfectly to her readers. Victor Frankenstein, a learned man, scholar of medicine hears what Professor M. Waldman says to him, and it sparks certain creativity in him:

  "The ancient teachers of this science," said he, "promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles."  

Victor is so sure of his purpose after having learned all he could about science and the human body he pursues a different career path that he never believed possible before. He realizes more can be done for mankind, and without the previously thought mad scientist approach. Victor truly believes in his need to create life, playing God.

  "Such were the professor's words -- rather let me say such the words of the fate -- enounced to destroy me. As he went on I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being; chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much as been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein - more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation."  

Despite his enthusiasm for creating new life, the one he does create is a man comprised of jumbled limbs who, once brought to life, is filled with resentment at being created at all when others see him for the first time are filled with a mix of fear and dread. Frankenstein's creation can only dream of a time when others would talk to him as though he were a normal human being. But the reality dawns on him that others only fear him and it only fuels his resentment for Victor. It is in his loneliness when he sees a young boy he wishes to befriend that he mistakes the kindness of people and kills him out of rage and bitterness.

As in many Gothic novels of this time, it does not end well for the characters, and ranks high as a classic alongside Bram Stoker's vampire epic Dracula as being one of the most inspirational sci-fi and horror novels of its time.

Copyright © 2010 Sandra Scholes

Sandra writes for Active Anime, The Chronicle magazine, and FantasyBookReview and might at some point finish writing that fairy story she started a year ago.

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