As part of this year’s quest to better acquaint myself with classic literature, I recently finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I chose to read Frank because several years ago I picked up a hardbound copy at WalMart for $3. I’m a book hound, and personally own several hundred books that I haven’t yet read, so it’s always nice to knock one off the list. Honestly, I wasn’t enthralled when I set out to read Frankenstein, but having now finished the book, I can safely say that I think it was worth my time. Shelly’s writing can be convincingly emotional and Frankenstein brought to mind several Biblical illusions as I read the story. Arguably, this is also an important read because it is one of the earliest horror novels, and is considered by many to be a Gothic masterpiece. These two genres: Gothic and horror have proved to be highly influential within popular culture, and this book – perhaps in some way – allows me a deeper understanding of both the Gothic and horror appeal that is still very much alive within our culture.
Two images were especially alive to me as I read Frankenstein. The first is that Victor Frankenstein (the creator of the monster) presents a striking picture of how Adam (the first human) must have felt after eating the forbidden fruit and single-handedly introducing sin into the entire human race. After creating his monster, Frankenstein is appalled and finds himself riddled with guilt. He sinks deeper and deeper into despair as the daemon (as he calls his creation) wreaks more and more havoc. He might obtain freedom from the daemon and from constant fear if he would confess his “sin” to others and gain help in defeating the monster, but he refuses to tell his secret until it is too late. Now this doesn’t mimic the Biblical story in its entirety because God provided forgiveness to Adam and Eve and they did own up to their sin and move on, where as Frankenstein is not forgiven and does not move on. But the emotions that he displays throughout the book make me wonder how Adam must have felt after he sinned. He experienced joy in his life as a result of God’s grace, but his joy must of been mixed with melancholy because of his past sinful actions.
The second image presented in this book that made me think was the immediate horror that Frankenstein felt after bringing his creation to life. In the process of working on his creation he was obsessed with one singular desire: bringing his “man” to life. But immediately upon completing this task, he is disgusted with himself and fearful of what he has done. This is similar to a story in the Bible in which a man named Amnon is lovesick for his half-sister Tamar. He concocts a plan to get her alone and then rapes her. Immediately after violating her the Bible says, “Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2 Sam 13:15 ESV). In fact this whole story is descriptive of sin in general. It can take us captive and set us on a journey to fulfill its desire, but immediately after we give into the sin, and the desire that seemed so appealing is fulfilled, we are miserable. We are the opposite of relieved. Listen to Shelly as she describes Victor Frankenstein’s horror when he brings his monster to life:
“I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sold purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep” (48-49).
The similarity between the Bible passage and Shelley’s writing is striking.
Shelly is a pretty good writer, but in my opinion her skill is not “other worldly.” She did however – at least in the case of Frankenstein – write a pretty thought-provoking novel. I hope to use some of these images in a sermon one day, and hopefully that will prove a worthwhile endeavor.
Are there any novels or movies you’ve read or watched lately that have really moved you emotionally?