Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous."
I don't think the chances are great.
A glorious, cloth-bound hardcover, white and silver on black, with crisp reproduction values so superior to its original printings that it's barely recognisable, we thought we'd seen the last of this but I've salvaged some more from abroad.
We'll come to Wrightson's outstanding illustrations anon, but between them sits Mary Shelley's original 19th Century prose, intact, reeking of self-obsessed arrogance, decrying social injustice and delivered in the form of ambulatory, Godwinian chit-chat.
William Godwin was Mary Shelley's father, author of 'Political Justice' then the novel 'Things As They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams' whose protagonist isn't half such an ugly-head but still feels the stick of social stigmatisation after asking too many questions of his landed employer which he really didn't want to know the answers to. He then promises to keep his boss' secret but Good Intentions Alley inevitably leads to Destination Hell:
"Here I am, an outcast, destined to perish with hunger and cold. All men desert me. All men hate me... Accursed world! that hates without a cause."
I'd remind you that's Godwin's Caleb Williams, but the similarities are striking.
Subtitled, 'The Modern Prometheus', 'Frankenstein's protagonist is - unlike the original Prometheus - no benefactor of mankind, but a vainglorious git who gives not one whit for this fellow man nor for his immediate loved ones. Instead he creates a creature from disinterred human body parts and imbues it with life without any consideration for the quality of it. So repulsive is this cruelly self-aware, intelligent individual to its fellow human beings that he is universally shunned by the very society he craves. Added blows upon this bruise come, for example, when he saves a girl from drowning only to be shot at by a local.
"This then was the reward for my benevolence! ...The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave way to a hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance on all mankind."
Frankenstein is, in fact, the first scientist for whom the question "Just because I can" was in serious need of an Ethical Standards Committee musing on whether he should. Accepting no responsibility for his actions - a huge theme of Godwin's - Frankenstein refuses to right his wrongs or even mitigate them, failing his creation whose endurance goes beyond stoical and whose sincerity in determining to change is genuine even after repeated rejection.
"How can I move thee? Will no entreaties cause thee to turn a favourable eyes upon thy creature, who implores they goodness and compassion? Believe me, Frankenstein, I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone?"
This isolation and sense of self-imposed exile is felt keenly throughout Wrightson's illustrations, whether the creature is crouched cramped in his "kennel" (Shelley's own words), filling that solitary space and watching the world turn without him or in the multiple, magnificent landscapes which rarely depict more than one rambler. The weather plays its own substantial part in the emotional charge, and even inside Wrightson brings it to bear along with the further seclusion of Frankenstein himself for whom connection is an anathema and moping about with quill and paper is a default setting.
It's all ever so Byronic with its rain-streaked windows, high collars and neck-length, wavy hair. The drapery isn't just decadent but decayed and appealed to my post-punk teenage angst enormously. If you've ever been inside my study you'll have seen a full-colour, signed and lovingly framed print as the centre-piece above my open fireplace. Pass me the absinthe, why don't you?
Astonishingly for such dark, brooding pieces there are very few solid blacks. Instead the art is composed of an eye-frazzling array of intricate, layered lines and subtle feathering, which screams of Gustave Doré via American illustrator Franklin Booth. The compositions are markedly different to Sir Bazza Windsor-Smythe's, but you won't be disappointed when it comes to the thousands of individually drawn blades of grass. The figure work is equally phenomenal and when there are two protagonists in a single shot their antagonism is projected by both their posture and lines of sight.
The novel's more heart-breaking than horrific, but therein lies a horror of its own.
"I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? ...I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear."
Man's inhumanity to man, with more than a dollop of hubris.