Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)

“Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated;…perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.”
Mary Shelley

“Alas! I had turned loose into the world a depraved wretch, whose delight was in carnage and misery…”
Victor Frankenstein

 

frankensteinThe catalyst for Frankenstein Mary Shelley explains, is that she and her husband Percy were visiting the home of Lord Byron one dark and stormy night, when Byron laid down the challenge that each must tell a ghost story. Byron and Percy were able to create a story on the spot, but it took Mary a few days. In fact, she dreamed it. The result is one of the world’s most well-known classic tales of necromancy and Gothic story-telling.

As often happens when I read a classic novel that has seen countless film adaptations, I was very surprised that the book tackles far more than just the ‘monster parts.’  Shelley proposes thoughtful and deep topics and asks questions about personal responsibility, the quest for life’s purpose and leaves me wondering whether a monster has a soul?

Frankenstein is told as a story within a story by Robert Walton who is at sea and is corresponding with his sister, Margaret. But when the ship gets stuck in the ice floes of the Arctic, in the span of a few hours two very odd things happen. First, the crew spots a huge human-like creature driving a sledge with a pack of dogs passing at a distance. The next morning, they find another man, but more normal-looking, who is also driving a sledge, floating near them on the ice. He is near dead. The crew rescues him, revives him and while recuperating tells Walton how he came to be floundering on an ice floe in the middle of the Arctic. Walton records the tale for his sister in a journal. Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, youthful scientist and budding necromancer whose interest in natural philosophy takes a turn from the traditional path of changing lead into gold to the perilous route toward creating life from death.

At university, Victor studies physiology, anatomy, the life process and the progression of death; he visits charnel houses and sees how the body corrupts and wastes away after the bloom of life.

After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter….It was already one in the morning….I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

After two years of working toward this goal of animating life from death Frankenstein succeeds. But instead of celebrating the work, he is horrified. He has created a creature, a monster. He cannot sleep for the nightmares that consume his waking and sleeping hours and falls into a many-month illness. From the very beginning that sparked the life of the monster, Victor is unable to accept responsibility for what he has created or the repercussions of the monster’s actions. This weakness in character will hound him for the rest of this life.

Meanwhile, the monster flees the town. He is a fully formed human-like man and as he roams the countryside coming into contact with people he not only sees, but feels their fear and disgust. He shows up near Victor’s home and kills his younger brother. Victor is still at university when he hears William has been murdered; he knows it is the monster. Unable to confess to the authorities what he knows for fear of being branded insane, he keeps quiet. An investigation and trial is held for the murder and through circumstantial evidence Justine, a trusted family servant of the Frankenstein’s is convicted of the crime and hanged. “The first hapless victims of my unhallowed arts.”

The monster is desperate for a place of refuge and finds it in an abandoned hovel near a cottage. The cottage is occupied by a brother, sister and their father. Through watching the interactions of the siblings as they care for their blind father he learns how they take care of one another, how they speak in kindness toward each other and what it means to be part of a family. Aware of his physical deformities he knows to keep out of sight, but he takes a chance on the father when the children are away during the day and forms a friendship with him. But the day comes when the children see him and the family flees the cottage. Brokenhearted, the monster understands his kindness or concern for others will always be outweighed by his physical appearance. There is no place on earth for him.

Where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses;…From my earliest remembrance I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yet seen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I?

The monster finally confronts Frankenstein and describes his life, how he came to speak, to think, to understand society by watching this family. And now, by bitter experience he will never be able to live as they do, in a family or as a common man.

Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably  excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.

He pleads with Frankenstein to make him a companion like himself, so he can live as he sees others doing.

You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being….I now indulge in dreams of bliss that cannot be realized

What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate; I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself….we shall be monsters…Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless, and free from the misery I now feel.

The monster compels Frankenstein to this task and promises to live in secret, perpetrating no violence to any animal and away from any human contact.

Victor Frankenstein indeed created a monster, but what is amazing about this one is his heart, soul and intelligence. He has the potential to be every bit as kind and compassionate, moral and honest as any other man, yet he will never be accepted because of his physical appearance. No matter his good works or heroic deeds, his physical presentation will always negate his integrity.

My Thoughts

Victor Frankenstein turns his back on what he created. He abandons him on the first night, but once he hears his story, it is obvious this is a feeling, thinking human-type being, deserving of assistance, mercy and companionship. Would someone who created life really reject it like he did? The monster may be hideous to look at, but inside he is made like any other human being with the full capacity of feelings and outlook on life.

Would you reject a “nonperfect” child and would you expect it to fend for itself? Or is this something entirely different? Because the monster is not a helpless baby, but came into the world fully formed, who learned to speak, to cultivate his intelligence, to live in the world through observation, because he was made with wisdom already intact. Does he have a soul? He acts like it. He quickly becomes Victor’s intellectual equal. And Victor is given ample opportunity to make things right for him, instead he gives into fear.

Hounded for years by the being he created, Victor dies on the ship still unrepentant and without accepting any responsibility toward the monster; even as he lay dying he just wants the wretch dead.

The fate of the monster is sealed at Frankenstein’s death. Walton hears noises coming from the room where Frankenstein has died. He sees that it is the monster lamenting his existence that there will now never be redress against the man who created him.

Frankenstein forced him to a life of misery and neglect and now he will end his own on a “funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames….my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace….”Frankenstein1818.jepg

Shelley goes through such pains to tell the monster’s story and she imbues the creature with humanity and sympathy as with any other human being. She shows his compassion, his intelligence; he is creative, hard-working and capable of contributing positively to society. He develops the full capacity of feelings, agency and responsibility for others and this is to me the tragedy of Frankenstein and his monster.

Because the monster is a victim. And it is easy to interpret Frankenstein as a warning for these modern times as science advances toward cloning and other forms of creating genetically modified life. Can we use Frankenstein as a forewarning to illustrate imagination gone wrong, to get us to think about the results of such experimentation and to ask how and what we are responsible for when we take these steps? Is creation and human life about outward appearances as we go about creating perfect people? What do we owe to them when they turn out to be not so perfect?

Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings, who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion….When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.

___________________

 

Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1818
Pages: 185

Challenges: RIPXIV, Classics Club, Roof Beam Reader’s TBR Pile Challenge

RIP XIV Part 1 & Witch Week 2019

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RIP XIV

Autumn in Southern California does not bring with it any kind of turning inward, cool temperatures or spooky feelings. In September, the sun is still high and we have some of the hottest temperatures of the summer in September and into October. The necessary ‘woowoo’ caused by darker evenings, the robust wind and cool nights doesn’t start until October, which is when I usually begin this challenge. But I was anxious to read some of my choices this year, so I went ahead anyway and surprisingly, it was a success.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson is considered a classic in both literature and film. And while I had a difficult time with the writing in most of the book, the later quarter was worth the time. I liked being asked to think about the dual nature of good and evil as it exists in a human soul.

The next book I read, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde thoroughly surpriseddoriangray.jpeg me. I knew the basics of the story: an artist paints a portrait of a man called Dorian Gray and it is somehow possessed so that it ages, while he stays youthful. What I didn’t know about the book is how much Wilde talks about love and beauty and what is our obligation to them? It is almost a plea to consider these concepts. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there are two parts of the story, the horror part and in this case, the philosophy of aesthetics part of the story.

Lord Henry: “People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Dorian Gray: “I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. If it were only the other way.”

H.P. Lovecraft is a wonderful story teller of the macabre. He uses history, legend and popular culture to give his stories a weird and sometimes awful twist. I always thought I hated horror, but once I read his novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I realized that a good story is what matters. This month I am reading several short stories in his Cthulhu Mythos. Last month I read, “The Cats of Ulthar.”

It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

The moral of this short story? Don’t mess with the village cats, or the consequences are deadly….

For October I am also reading The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, regardless of how embarrassingly I created the last Classics Club Spin. Which just goes to show you, don’t try to stack the deck, the Spin Gods have other plans!

Witch Week 2019!

Finally, a note about this year’s Witch Week, a week-long celebration of magic and fantasy in memory of Diana Wynne Jones. Commencing as usual on October 31st and going through November 5th. This year’s theme is Villians!

cartcwidderCreated by Lory Hess at The Emerald City Book Review it is now co-hosted by Chris of Calmgrove, whose blog this year will be the center focus and Lizzie Ross at Lizzie Ross Writer. Guest posts on a variety of fantastic villains will celebrate the week as will a discussion on this year’s chosen community read, Diana Wynne Jones Cart and Cwidder. It’s not too late to pick up a copy and join the discussion. I read it for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I won’t give away any plot points, but I can promise you will never look at a stringed instrument in the same way again…..

Happy season of the turning year to All, whether you are beginning Fall or Spring!

 

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R.I.P. XIV-Readers Imbibing Peril for the Fourteenth Year!

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Probably one of the most fun challenges of the year, R.I.P. reminds me that I really do like horror. After reading HP Lovecraft’s, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward this year I plan to read two of his short stories, “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Dunwich Horror.”

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I have high hopes for Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray and am curious about Daphne Du Maurier’s, The House on the Strand. I assume I will like James’s, The Turn of the Screw and it’s hard to believe I have never read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Silver Bullet is a vintage detective/mystery novel, whose main character Craig Kennedy is billed as the American Sherlock Holmes….we’ll see 🙂

RIP is described not as a challenge, but a community coming together and “embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.” There are, however, two goals:

1. Have fun reading.

2. Share that fun with others.

Easy enough!

There are several “Perils” one can choose. From the website

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.

Peril the Second:

Read two books of any length that you believe fit within the challenge categories.

Peril the Third:

We all want you to participate. This Peril involves reading one book that fits within the R.I.P. definition.

Peril of the Short Story:

We are fans of short stories and our desire for them is perhaps no greater than in autumn. We see Jackson in our future for sure! You can read short stories any time during the challenge. We sometimes like to read short stories over the weekend and post about them around that time. Feel free to do this however you want, but if you review short stories on your site, please link to those reviews on our RIPXIV Book Review pages.

Peril on the Screen:

This is for those of us who like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large. It might be a television show, like Dark Shadows, or your favorite film. If you are so inclined, please post links to any R.I.P.-related viewing you do on our book review pages as well.

Peril of the Review:

Submit a short review of any book you read and you may see it here on the blog! Again, you may participate in one or all of the various Perils. Our one demand: enjoy yourself!

 

Along with books, and short stories, I will watch some films to be determined. Hmm, I wonder if Los Espookys counts?
Are you participating this year? Find others on social media with the hashtag #ripxiv.