|You know I'll pick the pulp cover!
Can you believe I've never read Frankenstein? It's only been on my bookshelf for 20 years. It was on the syllabus for a class I took, I diligently pre-bought all the books, and then it was removed for time when the class actually started. I see that this book cost me $2.60 and had been owned by some guy named Jason at the University of Tennessee, so how it got to me at Berkeley is a bit of a mystery. Who would bother transporting it? Did they really truck piles of used Penguins and Oxfords around the country for impoverished lit majors?
Well, we all know the story. Dr. Victor Frankenstein becomes fascinated with the origins of life and is finally able to create it himself! He fashions a creature from bits and bobs, animates it, and is horrified by what he's done. Repudiating his own creation, he leaves the poor creature to fend for itself, with terrible consequences. Finally, the creature heads off to the Arctic, never to be seen by man again...
What I didn't realize before I read the novel for myself was what a doof Victor Frankenstein is. Sure, he's a mad scientist, but who expected him to be such a dummy? He creates this creature and is so horrified that he runs away immediately, and then spends months hoping that the creature will just disappear into the void and never bother him again. When he does meet it again, he's shocked and offended that he's expected to do something about the situation he has created.
The creature, who has educated himself, wants to be a good person but is embittered by the treatment he inevitably receives from everyone who sees him. He quite reasonably asks for a companion, a girl, so that they can go off and live on their own. Frankenstein naturally doesn't want to, but promises to deliver, then changes his mind by reasoning that they might have children. (This seems like a fairly simple thing to prevent, actually, if you're the one stitching the body together. Just make sure she doesn't have the equipment.) Anyway, the creature promises a very specific revenge, but Frankenstein assumes it will take one form and--incredibly dopily--is surprised when the obvious happens.
Aside from Frankenstein's constant self-delusions, it's a great read, full of interesting themes to think about. Shelley was living right in the middle of an amazing time in science, and she was able to hear more about what was going on than many women would. The questions of what constitutes life, how far can we or should we go in discovering new knowledge, and what the dangers of all this might be were current issues, constantly discussed in her circle, and she turned them into the novel that launched a thousand questions and a million science fiction movies.