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These will probably vary in length and detail. They will all have spoilers, behind a cut. Why didn't you just read them when they were new, like everyone else?

Book: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Originally Published: 1818
Amusing/disturbing things about the 1961 edition: Both new introduction and blurb are shocked, shocked, that a woman with so "delicate an imagination" could have written this. The intro goes so far as to say that she could only have done so because of the influence of her husband's genius.
Things left out of 1961 introduction: Drugs, threesomes with George Byron and Percy Bysshe.
No-Spoilers Review: This is absolutely brilliant. If you haven't read it, you should. Assuming, that is, that you can deal with the title character fainting every time he's scared.
Also Cool: Much of this book takes place in the Lake Region of northern Italy and southern Switzerland, where Nameseeker and I went on our honeymoon. The narrative spends a great deal of time waxing poetic about the area's beauty, and it deserves every bit of it.


Whoever thought that turning the monster into a lurching mute was a good idea needs to be hit over the head. I knew, before reading this, that the original was different, but damn. The monster is wonderful. He's lucid, philosophical, and deeply in need of a world containing the Internet and/or anti-discrimination laws. Limited to face-to-face confrontations with superstitious 19th-century Europeans, he's in trouble. On the outside looking in, he's driven to revenge against the people who won't accept him for the beauty of his mind and soul.

Frankenstein, meanwhile, is a whiny, spoiled brat, who turns his back on his creation out of fear, neglecting his basic duty as a creator. One of the brilliant things that Shelley does is to contrast his treatment of the monster with his own idyllic childhood (by modern standards, idyllic to the point of absurdity). His parents dote on him; his mother gives her life for her kids, but dear Victor can't be bothered to give a civil word to the life he creates. The book often gets cited as talking about the hubris of science--in fact, Frankenstein himself claims that as his error. But it's obviously not, and Shelley knows it. His sin wasn't making life. His sin was abandoning it.

The monster, meanwhile, turns out to be a Lucifer figure, virtuous by nature but cast out and fallen into sin. Better yet, part of the reason he follows this pattern is that reading Milton was one of his formative experiences. Paradise Lost is his only model for how people deal with rejection.

The parallels between Frankenstein and his creation underline all of this. They describe each other in similar ways, describe the world and their conflict using the same terms even when they haven't been anywhere near each other.

On a snarkier note, it's apparent that the title character was in part based on Percy. Specifically, the fainting mentioned above--stress inevitably causes him to fall into a sickness lasting weeks or months. He swoons, he moans, he whines. I expect that sort of thing in portrayals of women from this period, but you'd have to be married to a romantic poet to think this was a normal way for a man to respond. I can only assume that the rewards of being married to a genius must have been very great.

Speaking of the women, it's a little disturbing, with a female author, to find the female characters so idealized and one-dimensional. They're all angels; they never so much as raise their voices. We know Shelley herself wasn't like this, so it's doubly odd. This is the only major flaw in what is otherwise a remarkable read.

In spite of the imperfections, this is one of the most perfect tragedies I've ever read. Shakespeare can usually get away with it, barely. Even then, one person's fatal flaw generally drags everyone else down, and there's a certain amount of stupidity and willful blindness involved. Few other authors can even come that close. It's too easy to make the ending not actually inevitable, at which point you just want to smack the characters. A really good tragedy isn't depressing, only because you're blown away by how perfectly it's structured. In Frankenstein, the title character has his fatal flaw, and the monster has his fatal flaw, but the real flaw, the one that the plot hinges on, belongs to all of humanity. If even one person is willing and able to overlook the monster's appearance, you get a happy ending--and it's entirely believable that no one does.

It's going to be hard for the rest of the list to measure up to this.
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