“…the supreme and magnificent Mont Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and its tremendous dome overlooked the valley.” –from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
I’m excitedly preparing for a return to the French Alps, and in the process, I’m reading and rereading some of the literature that pertains to this area. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one story that I reread last week. Frankenstein seems to be one of those stories that we learn as children. Its characters show up in Saturday morning cartoons, and references to Frankenstein surface in our adult conversations about science and politics. But as I reread the book, I was struck by its intellectual and spiritual depth…depth that is astounding when one considers that Mary Shelley was only nineteen when she wrote it. Sadness pervades the book, a sentiment that Shelley knew all too well in her own life. The story of ambitious Victor Frankenstein and his creation—the “monster” or “demon” as he is called—seems particularly relevant to today’s discussions of genetic engineering and stem cell research, to larger questions about science and ambition and the quality of life. In the process of exploring these larger issues, Shelley turns a keen eye towards natural landscapes. Frankenstein’s monster retreats high into the mountains above Chamonix, France and Frankenstein pursues him to the icy ends of the earth. The plot unfolds in places of singular beauty, contrasting with the story’s themes of spiritual and physical ugliness. I thought I knew Frankenstein until I reread it…and found it to be an old story that contains timeless truths about moral responsibility and the value of life.