For this assignment I chose a piece of literature which I had not read until very recently. When reading this book, I was rather bored and, my impression upon completing the reading was very much, so to speak, mixed.
The choice I made was “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (1818). This book has got a full name “Frankenstein or modern Prometheus”. The author suggests a story of a student, who develops a monster as a result of his scientific experiment. It certainly made an impression upon me as one of the earliest pieces of science fiction. But it was the realization, that it was actually one of the first if not the very first piece in this genre, which caught my attention. In general, however, I was not impressed with the creativity of writing or freshness or novelty of ideas, which I oftentimes seek in books. However I comforted myself by reasoning, that it was certainly a great book for its time, and as the book of its time it needs to be comprehended, and a lot can be forgiven to the author by us, the readers, who live two centuries after the book was written. Basically, this was the first thing I got to know about the book and its author after reading it. A lot can be excused considering the time in which the author lived.
But there were other realities, which had to do with the process of writing the book and its publication. And I got to know them after I wrote the previous passage in this paper. This knowledge, the data I managed to find out about the book as a result of my research, changed my attitude to the book quite drastically. And here I ought to begin with mentioning, that the book was written by a woman, moreover, quite a young woman, which was very unusual for the time. The author was only eighteen years old when she began writing. And she was only twenty when the book was published for the first time. It was so unusual for a woman to be an author of a book, that the book was published anonymously. The name of the author appears on the cover of the book only in its second edition, which is published three years later, when the book is already famous. And even that takes place not in the native country of the author, but abroad, in Fence, to be more precise.
After I got to know about it, my first thought was that it is a very bad idea to read the book without having this essential knowledge about its author. By reading a book without paying proper attention to the social and historic context, within which it was written, stands for something like taking a word or a phrase out of its context and trying to interpret it. It may be an engaging activity, but hardly fruitful. It is important to learn more about the time and the context within which the book emerged prior to reading it, this is the lesson I learnt from participating in this exercise, and thus I found it necessary to return to certain aspects of the book being quipped with the knowledge I possessed about the author and the circumstances, in which it was published.
I particularly paid attention to the form, in which the narration is being held. The epistolary style, the fictional correspondence being chosen as a form for the narrative caught my eye. I thought that this was quite a natural choice for a woman of the beginning of XIX century, and particularly for a young woman of the time.
But then I got to know more about the process of the book’s composition. It was a dull summer, when Mary and her future husband were visiting Lord Byron in his castle. And as an entertainment they were first reading ghost stories from a book, and then, as a matter of competition, they were suggested to write a ghost story each. And Mary tried hard, but was not able to at first. Being heavily occupied with her thoughts about the story she was meant to write, she finally one night got a “stream” of ideas on the story she could write. It was a sort of improvisation, but improvisation, inspired by her constant attempts to develop a story. Thus, there were many factors, which brought the story to life. The lucky coincidence of staying at a great poet’s, of being challenged with an idea of writing a mystery story, availability of free time and so on. This was what by far not every lady in her time was lucky to have. And this was what made her capable of writing the great piece. The piece, which, however, could not have been written without the obvious presence of a talent. The more I researched on the book and its author, the more aspects I was able to understand. I had to return to certain aspects of the book in order to obtain a better understanding of them with the new knowledge which I had received as a result of my research. And, as a result of the entire exercise, I came to believe: it is pointless reading a book f fiction prior to reading on it and its author. At least this is certainly true for the meaningful books, classical books, the books, which can be considered pieces of art.
- Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. (1818). Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus. Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41445