I’ve just read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus, for the first time (published 1818 - and acknowledging its debt to Greek mythology in the title). It is of course the original mad scientist scenario that has since become a stalwart of just about every form of popular culture. The story, then not a hundred years old, first made it to the cinema screens as far back as 1910 - we just love to be horrified! The book might be loosely classified as science fiction too, and its influence on art and literature has been incredibly far-reaching. As a novel it most certainly deserves its classic status. The book’s basic premise of man taking on the role of God has cross-bred with other genres: combine a mad scientist and lost world theme and you get Jurassic Park, mix mad science that creates computers who themselves create horrific human-like machines and you have the Terminator series, perhaps even Tolkien had something of the book in mind when he has Saruman create the Uruk-Hai.
Mary Shelley was born Mary Godwin in 1797, the daughter of the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and writer and journalist William Godwin. Her mother died soon after she was born, and Mary received no formal education and doesn’t seem to have taken very well to her step-mother. She began an affair with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when still a teenager and eloped with him to the (then war-torn) Continent. She began writing Frankenstein in 1816 whilst holidaying on Lake Geneva ; by this time she had lost her first baby and had given birth to a son (sadly not to survive either). They were assailed by weeks of rain, and their chum Lord Byron suggested to the group of friends present, that they each compose a horror story to pass the time. The rest is, as they say, history.
The story is well written and has withstood the test of time. The monster of her tale undertakes to do many cruel and vindictive acts in revenge upon his creator Frankenstein; yet it is the monster who is given the last word in the novel by Shelley, and it is for him that we feel the deepest sympathy. Frankenstein never acknowledges his responsibility as creator, and simply abandons his creation which he finds too abhorrent to even gaze upon. The monster subsequently wanders the world like a lost child receiving only cruelty, unkindness and hatred from mankind who he yearns in his heart to join. Is the monster in this story the creature, or the human ego?
We stand at a point in time where such matters are no longer far-fetched. Whilst our governments can attempt to reassure us that any genetic experiments are only carried out with the utmost care and with every attention paid to what is both morally and ethically right ... we know too that once the genie is out of the bottle ...
I wrote a blog some time back that was based on the National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein.
And on a lighter note - one of my favourite comedy films, Young Frankenstein.