Mary Shelley“Man,” I cried, “how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!”

[Right: I couldn’t find an image of the edition I actually read, so thought a portrait of the remarkable Mary Shelley would make a suitable alternative.]

Frankenstein is a driven young scientist whose thirst for knowledge useful to his fellow man, whose brilliance and whose absorbing fascination for a great mystery – the mystery of life – leads him to an astonishing discovery. He discovers how to create life.

Ambitious to carry out the most dramatic experiment that he can conceive, he attempts to make a man. The experiment is a success, and he creates a man-like creature and gives it life. But, frightened and disgusted by the creature’s gigantic size and inhuman features, he abandons it, and it must run away to fend for itself.

At first yearning for society, and for virtue and goodness, the creature learns to survive, to speak and then even to read and write – but must do all this by observation for he realises early on that his great size and hideous face make him an object of fear and disgust to the humans that he wishes to befriend. At last, the creature realises that he cannot by any means enter human society of any kind and – in rage and despair – hunts down his creator to demand a mate.

Made fiendish in his looks, and more so in his desperation and misery, he leaves Frankenstein horrorstruck, even as he manages to arouse his creator’s pity. And, if Frankenstein will not create a new creature to serve the first as a mate, perhaps an Eve to this monstrous new Adam, then the fiend will exact a terrible revenge.

This classic horror story is remarkable not so much for its writing – which is if anything a little pedestrian to the modern reader – but for the fact that a plot constructed by a young woman in the early nineteenth century could resonate so strongly even today. It is a creeping plot that gets under your skin and sets your mind onto all sorts of possibilities.

It is a message to all scientists and discoverers to think carefully and responsibly about letting genies out of bottles. The unknown is just that, unknown, and unpredictable: and when the consequences are unpredictable, it is wise to be cautious about unleashing new creations upon the world. This warning resonates particularly when we think of the phenomenal and terrible power of modern weapons technology. It strikes a clear note of caution to those who work with or make rules to govern the emerging sciences of cloning, genetic modification and the like, on the verges of creation.

These creations, these inventions, are not without risk: they might, even with the best of intentions, turn out to be a new Frankenstein’s monster. And, this time, will we have the option to deny Adam his Eve?

Here is an Amazon link.
I got my copy in a pound shop!

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