The original Frankenstein is a far cry from the sensational horror movies that have borrowed from its elements. It is a large-scale drama about a being who is judged as a monster because of his appearance, and who then spurns the society-and the maker-that rejects him. The story begins with Dr. Frankenstein's rescue from an iceberg. As he relives his past in conversation with the ship's captain, he bitterly regrets the blind ambition that led him neglect everything he held dear, in his zeal to create a living creature. When he succeeds in his experiment, he regrets his accomplishment, and abandons the monster. In heartrending terms, the monster describes the rejection and hostility he endures. In the midst of his loneliness and pain he finds love, only to be misunderstood and spurned once more. Society teaches him to hate. Mary Shelley wrote the manuscript when she was still in her teenage years, and in doing so defined the gothic romance genre. She wrestled with many moral questions in the text: What responsibilities do we have toward the things we create? When does technology stop helping and start hurting people? What harm can society do when it judges merely by outer appearance? These moral ambiguities leave us wondering who the real monster is in the beautiful story of the original Frankenstein.
Frankenstein, loved by many decades of readers and praised by such eminent literary critics as Harold Bloom, seems hardly to need a recommendation. If you haven't read it recently, though, you may not remember the sweeping force of the prose, the grotesque, surreal imagery, and the multilayered doppelgänger themes of Mary Shelley's masterpiece. As fantasy writer Jane Yolen writes of this (the reviewer's favorite) edition, "The strong black and whites of the main text [illustrations] are dark and brooding, with unremitting shadows and stark contrasts. But the central conversation with the monster--who owes nothing to the overused movie image … but is rather the novel's charnel-house composite--is where [Barry] Moser's illustrations show their greatest power ... The viewer can all but smell the powerful stench of the monster's breath as its words spill out across the page. Strong book-making for one of the world's strongest and most remarkable books." Includes an illuminating afterword by Joyce Carol Oates.