Compare your own prior reading of Frankenstein to the Critical History. How have you interpreted the novel? Where might you position yourself within the critical history? Do you seem to follow one perspective or to work among many critical approaches? Is there anything in the history that surprises you?
The last time I read Frankenstein (or rather, the last time I read the Sparknotes from Frankenstein) was my senior year of high school. I don’t remember much of the class discussion, other than to say it mostly revolved around the fault of the monster’s actions and other aspects of the work itself. It wasn’t until I started reading the book again, and subsequently the Critical History, that I began to view Shelley’s work through a broader lens, paying more attention to cultural context. I’ve realized that the question shouldn’t merely be about which character or force is responsible for the death and despair that plagues the novel, but rather what Shelley was trying to accomplish by writing and publishing a volume to be consumed by the general public. Who is her intended audience? Does the interpretation of the text change based on the fact that it was written in the early 19th century, or that Shelley is a female?
One approach in the Critical History that I find really interesting is the question of whether Frankenstein belonged (or belongs) in the realm of low-culture or high-culture; that is to say, I believe, whether it is meant to be a popular horror story or a serious work addressing real moral dilemmas. On page 271, it is noted that some critics attempt to “rescue” Frankenstein by “taking her philosophical and political ideas seriously”. I don’t feel as though I’m in a place yet where I can decide whether her ideas should be taken seriously in a manner that distinguishes her work as either a fun and scary story or a philosophical masterpiece; my first gut reaction upon reading this, though, was to be almost offended at the fact that the deep moral messages in Frankenstein were questioned at all. Is she not taken seriously because she is a woman? Am I thinking about this completely wrong? Do I even understand what I’m trying to say right now??
Overall, I think I’d put myself in the post-1970 category of criticism that focuses on several aspects of Shelley and her work at once. It seems as though there are more questions than answers.