I was in 10th grade, happy to have the house to myself and spend the day reading Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Frankenstein was first on a reading list I’d been given by my English teacher, Miss Goff. I adored her and how she made old novels come alive and be relevant.
I had no idea who Prometheus was and hadn’t taken the time to look it up in one of the “1950s must haves” Britannica volumes gathering dust down the hall.
My parents had driven to Columbia, MO, that morning to visit my brother in college. I began reading as soon as they left, only stopped for a sandwich and an apple. I continued into the late afternoon when I heard a fierce ice storm in the making outside.
Focused on Victor Frankenstein, I was beginning to have misgivings about how his experiment would go; by dusk he was already fleeing the monster he’d made.
After a quick dinner of a PB & J sandwich (my culinary talent), I resettled in the only cozy chair in the house (my father’s, of course), a lap quilt wrapped around my legs, hot chocolate steaming in a mug, and our dog, Sybil, lying at my feet. And then my father called.
“We’re driving through an ice storm and will be home very late. Keep the doors locked. Have a flashlight handy if the lights go out. Don’t worry.”
It was a dark and stormy night!
My world then was relatively safe and small and left the larger issues of good and evil and challenging God to the adults. I was mostly saddened and sympathetic by how the monster only wanted to be accepted. Didn’t we all at that age?
I remember wondering how a woman could write such a story and as the hours passed I fell deeper into the book when things got really scary. Just as the creature was walking the earth and killing nice people, I heard the icy forsythia bush branches scrape against the living room windows. Or were those footsteps? I turned off the table lamp and sat in the dark until my racing heart slowed down. Telling myself it was just a story didn’t help. I felt like that little kid afraid of the dark again and couldn’t get out of the chair. I may have dozed off a time or two since it was long past midnight.
Just as I finished the sad, sad ending I heard my parent’s car pulling into the garage, sprung from the chair, and met them in the kitchen.
My faint “Hi – glad you’re home – so late – off to bed,” didn’t fool my discerning mother who put her hand on my forehead.
“Honey. You’re white as a ghost. I don’t care if it is almost two in the morning, let’s have a drink.” She put a drop or two of whiskey in my mug of hot cocoa and two fingers of whiskey over ice for them. “What a long scary day.”
I nodded in agreement, finished my drink, and ditching my cool teenage act, hugged them both goodnight.
I have just finished rereading Frankenstein; Or The Modern Prometheus. This time I know who Prometheus is— famous for defying the Olympian gods by stealing fire and subsequently giving it to humanity in the form of technology and knowledge.
Prometheus – learning his lesson – don’t piss off the gods.
The book is just as powerful as before, but in ways I completely missed in my teens. This time I could savor the fine writing, intense descriptions, and how Shelley could keep readers on edge early on—and never let up.
The story begins in light and innocence as we meet Victor Frankenstein and see how impelled he is to surpass the limits of his era’s science. But once the monster was afoot in the world, the story took on a meaning I didn’t understand in high school. I began to consider Frankenstein as a metaphor for our time – Frankenstein 2.0.
It’s a dark and stormy world!
We are inundated with the latest technology, including AI, a powerful tool with the potential for both good and ruin. The problem is not with the technology but with how people choose to use it and rarely decide not to. And I wonder, are these advances really what they claim to be—making human life better for everyone? It’s hard to find where humans fit into a world of binaries zero and one.
There are “scientists” unseen in various sites around the world mucking about in gain-of-function research, manufacturing super viruses, and bio-weaponry in leaky labs. Is there no limit to their curiosity that ignores their human conscience, no matter how compromised by funding, to stop? Who will make them stop?
The result has been untold, unimaginable grief and death on a global scale. If not yet capable of destroying life as we know it, these various Frankensteins have launched dangerous projects simply because they have the tools, the money, power, and the capacity to do so. At least Victor stopped with one monster.
Here are the words of Mary Shelley in the 1831 Introduction to her book: “Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
I’m glad I reread Frankenstein even though I had to stop a few times for a little Mark Twain to get my sense of humor back and find a skosh of faith in the goodness and good sense of humanity.
I think Caitlin Johnstone writing in 2023 for “Consortium News” sums up my ongoing experience: “It’s hard to think about the end of the world. It’s hard to even wrap your mind around it and easier to shift one’s attention to something easier to chew on [name your distraction—politics, sports, texting, X] because the people steering our world today appear to be driving blind.” And yet—I want to keep reading, hoping, learning, thinking for myself, and treasuring as much of the natural world and as many of the people in it as I can.
Photo credits: Dark and Stormy Night – john-fowler, books – laura chouette, ice branches – jody-confer, the world in hand – noemi-macavei-katocz.