A Modern Prometheus Revisited

I’ve just finished reading the novel Frankenstein, having felt compelled to do so after seeing the amazing National Theatre production in March this year. I want to, not so much review it, but share some of my thoughts and draw comparisons between the original text and the play.

To use a cliché, this book blew me away and would say that it is a strong contender for my top 10 books of all time. There is so much to take from it and the BBC article I linked to in my original post lists 10 possible meanings. It is not difficult to see why each of these interpretations are applied but personally, I still favour the abdication of personal responsibility.

This is very much a character piece which centres around Doctor Frankenstein and the creature; all other characters are very much incidental – and very much victims of their destructive vendetta. We are hearing the story from the point of view of Doctor Frankenstein and the novel opens with him being rescued in the arctic before giving his lengthy tale to the ship’s Captain.

What is clear is that though the creature is the perpetrator of so much death, it is Doctor Frankenstein himself through his actions and reactions that is responsible for the chaos. Like the play, it is easy to feel sympathy for the creature and equally easy to feel increasing contempt for Doctor Frankenstein. And when through his pride he sabotages his only chance to be free of the creature, any chance that the reader will still be cheering Frankenstein is vanquished.

As for the play there are several differences to note; these are mostly focussed on giving other characters larger parts, making each tragedy seem even more horrific as we get to know them a little better and consequently, feel their loss. On the flip side, to emphasise the interplay between the man and the creature, several elements were sacrificed. In the play we do not see Frankenstein’s learning of alchemy or his experiments. Instead we cut straight to (a rather lengthy) “birth” scene for the creature. In the novel, Frankenstein was arrested for the death of his friend Clerval (who was not in the play) upon his arrival in Ireland, we do not see the death of Elizabeth and he is not rescued by the ship and consequently, neither of them died on board.

Danny Boyle’s production restored the most important elements of the creature: his voice and his intelligence with which he realises and expresses the disappointment with his creator. However, where the play really emphasises how the creature has become engulfed by the message of Milton’s Paradise Lost, this is not as central a focus in the original text though the theme and the creature’s sympathies are quite clear.

I suspect that this will not be my last post on Frankenstein.

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