By Ahmed Latif
The first time I read Mary Shelley's gothic masterpiece I was on Winter Break in my second year at university. I was familiar with the story - everyone is - and thought it would behove me to get some readings done for my English Literature Survey course while on Christmas Holiday.
It just so happened that year that for the Holidays we spent them in a tropical paradise swimming, eating fresh fish, and watching the blue waters caress the white sand. Meanwhile I was knee deep in a cold sweat, depressed and reading Frankenstein. I was gloriously shocked by how fresh and different it was from the popular legend and I was shocked by the glorified violence and gore - it was entrancing. I remember my family wanted to go down to the beach and I wanted to bury my head in the pillow and scream; the characters had captured me. Their infamous horror was mine as well; their unimaginable pain I imagined and their bleak lives I lived. In the midst of paradise, in the middle of the 'season of giving' I was horrified, cold, and shaken to my very core. For a while I hated Mary Shelley for this feeling. Then I was able to see the sheer genius of her writing. The work conveys such emotion, so powerful and raw, that none can escape regardless of their blissful or distracting circumstances.
Now I fortunately make a tradition to reacquaint myself with Mary Shelley's finest work every Christmas. Why you might wonder would I subject myself to reading the dreariest of literary works during the most festive of seasons. Contrast is my answer to the question you might ask. Contrast; because without ugliness how do we know what is beautiful. How can we relish flowers and waterfalls if not for insects and excrement? How are we to know the light without the existence of the darkness? And how are we to treasure people and places if not for pain and heartache? Mary Shelley may leave you in a heaping mess of tears and screams but that only makes hugs more meaningful and the festivities more festive. And ever since I never shy away from dark literature because I remember the perspective and understanding it may offer me.
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