Frankenstein: Or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Published by Oxford University Press

AS March, or UK women’s history month, draws to a close, it’s the perfect time to look at a woman writer of the past who wrote a work widely seen as a literary classic.

While now beloved by many, it was not at all seen as such when Shelley first penned the tale. Due to the misogyny she faced in 19th-century England, the novel was published anonymously, so for a few years, she lacked all recognition.

Frankenstein is not only relevant to young people in the obvious ways – or its brilliant intrigue and exploration of humanity and philosophy – but also for its context.

Written when Shelley was only 18, there is a connection through time to young people.

The story opens with a series of letters that, while directed to the narrator’s sister, make the reader feel like they are being communicated with directly and personally. The author of these letters, Robert Walton, is an adventurer of sorts in the 1700s, securing his own ship and crew and speaking through the uncertainties and emotions he feels in regard to leaving home and loved ones in hope of exploration and glory.

While at first optimistic, he laments the lack of a friend to understand him. When Walton finally finds this, however, it reveals more than he ever could have predicted.

When Walton’s crew helps a mysterious and distressed man, allowing him to rest on their ship, he discovers the friendship he has been longing for. The more they get to know each other however, the more it seems this man is no symbol of hope for their voyage, but representative of a fantastical tale of an adventure gone wrong.

Soon the story becomes far more than the sentimental letters of a man far from home to his beloved sister and morphs into something far more sinister as the stranded man they have taken on, Victor Frankenstein, recounts the tale of his life.

A talented scientist from youth, his curiosity about the secrets of nature and the undiscovered possibilities of life fascinated him and led him to attempt to read and experiment beyond the bounds of what is already known.

It is in his recounting this drive to push limits and explore to Walton that parallels between their characters arise and the suspense of the knowledge that Victor’s experiments have ended in some way disastrously which builds fear for them both.

As the story of Frankenstein’s creation of an almost human-like being of great strength – which at first instance he refers to as “the demon” and never gives a true name – unfolds, the reader is exposed to far more than the surface knowledge of the story in pop culture.

While elements of this horror of creation are recognisable from movies and Halloween costumes alike, the ways in which this monster has gone from the equivalent of a child to a monster of malice for the neglectful father Victor elicit the sense of hopelessness which runs through every page.