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In her revised edition of 1831, she emphasized the Faustian aspect of the tale, writing in her introduction that she wanted to show how “supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” In other words, it was preordained that the creature would be hideous, and inevitable that its creator would recoil “horror-stricken.” That wasn’t then a character failing of Victor’s.This idea invites the interpretation that Mellor offers in the new edition: “Nature prevents Victor from constructing a normal human being: His unnatural method of reproduction spawns an unnatural being, a freak.”She sees this as a feminist interpretation (Nature being, in her view, feminine and inviolable), I feel that to the extent that Shelley’s book supports a feminist reading, it is not this, and to the extent that one might draw this interpretation, it is not a feminist one.
To Mary Shelley’s biographer Anne Mellor, the novel “portrays the penalties of violating Nature.” This makes it sound as though the attempt to create an “artificial person” from scavenged body parts was always going to end badly: that it was a crazy, doomed project from the start.
But Mary Shelley takes some pains to show that the real problem is not what Victor Frankenstein made, but how he reacted to it.
This is one of those stories everyone knows even without having read the original: Man makes monster; monster runs amok; monster kills man.
It may come as a surprise to discover that the creator, not the creature, is called Frankenstein, and that the original creature was not the shambling, grunting, green-faced lunk played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 movie but an articulate soul who meditates on John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
One might answer that the result would have been a pretty dull and short novel. Imagine the story of Victor struggling to have the creature accepted by a society that shunned it as vile and unnatural.
We would then be reading a book about social prejudice and our preconceptions of nature—indeed, about the kind of prospect one can easily imagine for a human born by cloning today (if such as thing were scientifically possible and ethically permissible).
Is it the case for so-called “three-parent babies” made by mitochondrial transplantation, a misleading term apparently invented for the very purpose of insisting on its unnaturalness?
Would the first human clone be the next “unnatural freak,” if ever that technology becomes possible and desirable?
Let’s be in no doubt: Frankenstein is one of the most extraordinary achievements in English literature.
It’s not flawlessly written, the construction is sometimes awkward—yet it is a profound and unsettling vision, deeply informed about the science and philosophy of its day.