In today’s pre-Halloween post, I’ll be talking about the terrifying, horrifying, nerve-wracking, stomach-clenching novel Frankenstein. Not.
Mary Shelley’s classic novel is actually none of these things – it’s barely a horror novel, in my opinion, and as for it being a work of science-fiction…not very much actual science is described in the course of the novel. I’m not sure how filmmakers have determined that Victor Frankenstein created his monster with an electrical shock, but I don’t actually recall him ever explicitly stating this in his time as narrator of the story…I could just be a lazy, poor reader, but something tells me that isn’t the case.
Much of the story of Dr. Frankenstein has been poorly interpreted – anyone who’s read the novel can attest to that. Take for example that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, not the monster – I’m embarrassed to admit that this was news to me and that I only discovered this fact two years ago in a British literature class. Oopsie! The point is that people have been misconstruing the story of Creator Victor Frankenstein and his creature for centuries. Having now, finally, read the novel, I can say that this has to stop! The story is too good and poignant in itself to be bastardized like that!
Now, you might be wondering, what would compel me to pick up Frankenstein all of a sudden, particularly after my diatribe about how happy I was to be finished my MA and reading scholarly texts. Obviously, it’s almost Halloween and what better way to get in the mood than to read one of the most widely known “horror” stories of all time (Sidenote: I still prefer Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but then I have always fancied vampires!). Similarly, I recently finished watching the new HBO TV series “Penny Dreadful” and it is absolutely beyond fabulous! It’s basically an homage to all the Victorian, supernatural literature I love, and when I found that Dr. Frankenstein and his monster were characters, I knew I had to read the original text before the second season began. It was a shock to see the monster portrayed in such an intelligent, profound way – he speaks like a British gentleman, he reads the Romantic poets (What a surprise since Mary Shelley was married to Percy Shelley, Romantic poet extraordinaire!) and Milton, and he professes his unhappiness and depression with eloquence and dignity. I remember thinking, “What in the world is going on?! The monster can speak?! They must be doing something wrong in this show!” But no, this representation of Frankenstein’s creature is accurate…in Shelley’s novel the monster is the object of the reader’s true sympathy. He is highly intellectual, he is driven to learn language and to become as human as possible, and at his very core he is nothing more than a lonely, solitary figure that longs for love and compassion. What human can’t understand that?
If I only discovered that the monster is not really an object of fear and disgust from reading the novel, obviously it would’ve been a worthwhile enterprise. But I also learned so much more about the truly despicable character, Victor Frankenstein. We all know he has a massive God-complex; a rudimentary study of literature and film is enough to figure that one out. More than that, he is one of the most selfish, self-centered, egotistical characters I have ever encountered in literature. I could think of a couple swear words to describe him, but as in many of my other posts, I’ll try to keep things appropriate!
Why is Victor Frankenstein so selfish? Well, obviously he created a being and then abandoned him out of fear and anxiety. Okay, so if God did that to Adam, I doubt there would be so many religious people out there nowadays. Victor Frankenstein is only human though, so maybe we forgive him that one moment of panic. Okay, fine. But then, he selfishly allows innocent people to take the blame for the crimes his creature commits. He is too reluctant to reveal his secret to anyone, and so he allows a young girl to be convicted of murder, he allows many of his loved ones to die, just because he doesn’t want to appear insane or delusional by admitting to his creation. So he’s not only selfish when it comes to his “monster”…he’s unwilling to do justice to his fellow human beings either. He’s all about saving face and protecting himself.
What’s probably most annoying about Victor Frankenstein, though, is how oblivious he is… to absolutely EVERYTHING! For example, when his creature vows to be with Frankenstein on his wedding night, Victor automatically assumes that the creature wishes to kill him after his nuptial ceremony, but he does not think to watch over his wife, Elizabeth, who is in fact the real target of the monster’s wrath. Come on, Victor, any reader could’ve told you that would happen…the monster wants revenge on you, not to give you the peace of death! Then there are the incredibly frustrating moments when Victor fails to realize that the creation of his monster is in fact a crime against humanity:
“‘I felt as if I had committed some great crime, the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed drawn down a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime.’”
“‘The remains of the half-finished creature, whom I had destroyed, lay scattered on the floor, and I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being.’”
If taking bits and pieces of cadavers, putting them together, and making them into a new being is not the very definition of “mangl[ing] the living flesh of a human being’”, I don’t know what is.
So, Victor’s a moron of epic proportions (in my opinion anyway)…and this is what makes the novel that much more profound. On two specific occasions, Victor discusses how he is obsessed with finding his monster and enacting his own revenge:
“‘Cursed, cursed be the fiend that brought misery on his grey hairs, and doomed him to waste in wretchedness!’”
“‘to pursue the daemon, who caused this misery, until he or I shall perish in mortal conflict.’”
What Victor fails to realize, unfortunately, is that he is “‘the fiend’”, he is the monster, and the true evil that he hopes to extinguish rests within himself. I never studied Frankenstein in class, and I’m sure this analysis is pretty basic, but I found the novel so much more interesting because of the complexity of the doctor’s character.
Anyway, that post was much longer than I expected…but then again, this tale deserves a more detailed treatment than I think it’s received in a lot of pop culture representations in the past!
Girl with a Green Heart