2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, started during a story contest between Shelley and several other writers staying by Lake Geneva.
To celebrate this book, I’m doing a series of posts about Frankenstein and two other stories that came from this contest. Here’s where you can read the previous post.
It’s hard to know what to write about this book.
Of the three stories I’m discussing, Frankenstein is without question the most famous. It also happens to be the most realized of these three stories.
Byron’s “Fragment of a Novel” is fascinating but ultimately it’s exactly what the title says, it’s a piece of a story that never got finished.
Polidori’s “The Vampyre” is a completed story but it’s very short and gives very few details about the character.
Frankenstein is at least twice the size of “The Vampyre” and gives you plenty of details about the characters. So, there’s a lot to analyze. For the purposes of this discussion, what’s important is the extent to which it’s similar to the other two stories.
While it has many differences, Frankenstein ultimately covers a theme that’s central to “The Vampyre” and “A Fragment of a Novel”: the danger of curiosity.
In all three of these stories, the main character suffers because he becomes interested in a person or subject that turns out to be dangerous. The heroes in “The Vampyre” and “A Fragment of a Novel” befriend dark, eccentric nobleman. In the “Vampyre” the nobleman turns out to be a supernatural predator, and if Polidori’s correct, “A Fragment of a Novel” would have taken a similar direction. The heroes fail because they try to understand something dark and mysterious.
More specifically, they try to understand something that is dark because it defies God. Vampires (at least in Western traditions) are usually described as beings who’ve allied themselves with Satan, become demonic entities. Demons are angels who rebel against God, so vampires represent a kind of blasphemy, rebellion against God.
In Frankenstein, the hero doesn’t try to understand a person, but he investigates a subject that is potentially dark and certainly mysterious: alchemy and its promise to find the secret of life. Although alchemy’s not paramount to Satanism or witchcraft, the search to find the secret of life is another kind of blasphemy. Finding the spark of life means having the ability to bypass God and create beings without his help.
So, Frankenstein brings readers back to the same conclusion as “The Vampire” and what might have been the conclusion of “A Fragment of a Novel”: there are things humans should never get involved things, things which defy God himself.
The consequences of trying to find out these things can have terrible consequences.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the Lake Geneva stories. Let me know what you think about them in the comments!