Frankenstein (the book) and why I’m willing to duel any and all lit bros in her honor

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

What started out as a random book thrift in Vancouver, Canada turned into one of my favorite reads of the year.

Over the weekend I stopped by Dotters Books, a women-led independent bookstore in town, in search of “Last Summer On State Street” by Toya Wolfe. Naturally, I left with more than I’d intended — as is my nature as a bookish person, what can I say?

The second title I snagged was one I’ve already read and own multiple copies of and it was “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. 

As I perused the quaint bookstore, I stumbled upon their collection of classics — there she stood in all her simple white canvas binding and serif lettering glory. I tried my best not to drool on its fine pages. 

I read “Frankenstein” for the first time during my senior year of high school for my advanced placement literature class. But it wasn’t as simple as cracking her open and zooming through the thing — no, that’s impossible for a work like this. 

Instead, we dedicated weeks to researching Mary Shelley — her complicated relationship with her parents and poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley — and reading the texts that influenced her, like “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coolridge and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. 

We dug deep into classic Greek and Roman mythology; we read excerpts from the Bible; movies on Shelley’s life were watched and analyzed all to prepare us for the masterpiece before us. 

I will admit, when I learned we’d be reading “Frankenstein,” I felt impartial. It seemed like yet another classic to cross off the bucket list (my relationship with the Western Canon is an admittedly shallow one).

For the longest time, I didn’t understand how a person could say their favorite book was “Of Mice and Men” or “Lord of the Flies.” Is “The Great Gatsby” really your favorite, or are you just saying that for street cred? 

To me, reading these “classics” was challenging and required much more effort and energy, at great odds compared to what I read for fun. It felt like homework and I stopped seeking out big-name titles like “Pride and Prejudice” and “A Tale of Two Cities” early on. 

They took so long to read; the language was funny; all the historical references and allusions went over my head; I was physically winded after reading a single chapter.

But then I read “Frankenstein.”

I have never respected a book more. 

The vast majority of my appreciation for the text is due to our extensive research: throughout my annotations, excited scribbles can be found connecting ice, albatrosses, and glittering eyes to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” 

Had we not struggled line-by-line through “Paradise Lost” the way we did, my understanding of the Monster would be fundamentally different. (I swear, to this day, that was the hardest text I’ve ever read — and I’ve tried reading “Frankenstein” in Spanish). 

“Frankenstein” is a culturally-rich book — a treasure chest of allusions and double meanings that make the process of reading become more like a game. I felt like a swanky pirate scholar on the hunt for more literary gold. 

Not only is the text impressive, but Shelley herself was a riot. Her life on its own is worthy of documentaries and films, biographies and early 2010s Tumblr posts inspired by her edgy graveyard lounging

Shelley was a sensation, and went so far as to introduce the world to both the gothic and science fiction genres. 

So, no, I don’t feel bad about buying yet another beautiful edition of “The Modern Prometheus.” This text changed the way I read and analyze texts, it trained me to be diligent and open-minded. If you’re looking for a classic to try, I cannot recommend this one enough. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected].