Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

by Julie Keith

Not What You Think

This story is one of such an epic nature, it is hard to summarize effectively and correctly without losing some of the gruesome and terrible emotions present in its writing.  As readers, we are brought into the story by a Captain Walton.  Walton, while exploring the North Pole, spotted a gigantic figure crossing the ice with a dog sled.  Walton then rescues a frail scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who claims to have created the monster and who relates the entire tale of the creation and subsequent events.

Frankenstein led a fairly charmed existence in a wealthy family as a boy.  Despite the sudden death of his mother from scarlet fever before his departure, he succeeded in attending a college in Germany where he studied the sciences.  We are given hints early on that Frankenstein has a rather macabre fascination with the more bizarre aspects of the sciences, particularly with the creation of life and how this fascination will ultimately lead to destruction,

  • “It was a strong effort of the spirit of good, but it was ineffectual.  Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction.”

Upon hearing a powerful speech by a professor about the amazing things discovered by scientists,

  • “They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding places… they have discovered how blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe,”

Frankenstein’s true passion is ignited and he vows to achieve even greater things,

  • “…more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”

Frankenstein achieves his vision and discovers, through most despicable means, the method of creating life.  He decides to create a creature which at first is to be like him but one which ends up being much larger.  Upon beginning he realizes he cannot recreate the minute details of the human body so he must make the creature “at least eight feet in height, and proportionably large.”  His efforts at this creation are frantic and borne onwards with great intensity, as he compares his passion to a hurricane. 

Although there are no specific listed instructions on his creation of the monster, several passages seem to indicate darker, unwholesome methods and acquisitions:

  • “Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?”

  • “In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation… The dissecting room and slaughter house furnished many of my materials; and often d my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation…”

Despite his loathing of the methods, Frankenstein imagines his creation will be beautiful and a benefit to humanity.  Upon bestowing life to his creature, Frankenstein is horrified at its hideous appearance and flees.  The newly brought to life monster also flees.  Victor is now gravely ill and is nursed back to health over the course of a few months by his beloved childhood friend Henry Clerval.

The monster, which has no specific name, encounters people but becomes afraid and retreats to a cottage.  Observing a neighboring family, it becomes aware and informed of human nature.  The creature learns to read and how to act and desires contact with the family.  Unfortunately, the monster is hideous and frightens the family and they leave the area.  Enraged at the desertion, the creature destroys the cottage and leaves.  The monster encounters people again when rescuing a young girl from drowning but is again feared, is shot and wounded. 

Finally the story comes full circle through the monster’s encounter with Victor’s younger brother William.  He encounters the young boy in the woods and again desires friendship and hopes the boy will not fear him.  Unfortunately, William is scared, threatens the beast and begins calling out.  In an attempt to silence the boy and perhaps out of anger as well, the monster strangles the boy.  To cover his tracks, he takes William’s locket and places it in the folds of the nanny’s dress (who is sleeping in a nearby barn).  It is William’s murder that brings Victor home to the family.

Victor suspects the monster is responsible for the murder but does nothing to save the nanny from execution for the crime.  She is hanged for the murder.  In his grief and self loathing for having created the monster, Victor once again leaves.  The monster finds him and demands a mate.  Being self aware and understanding of human nature, the monster insists he has just as much right to happiness as everyone else.  A mate, he says, someone like him, will bring happiness and he and his mate will leave the rest of the world alone.

Victor struggles with the idea.  He is a slave to his own creation or more appropriately, he is now forced to face the consequences of his impetuous prior obsession.  He feels that although the creature is a hideous abomination, it deserves happiness as all who live do.  As the creator of this abomination, it is his duty to provide an equal mate.  On the other hand, Victor believes the creating of the first monster was wrong and creating a second would be wrong as well.  Two wrongs don’t make a right. 

At first agreeing to create the mate, Victor ultimately, upon seeing his progress and the monster watching, destroys her.  The monster is furious and vows revenge.  First murdering Victor’s childhood friend, Clerval, he also frames him for the murder.  Frankenstein spends time in prison and suffers a mental breakdown but is acquitted and returns home with his father to marry his cousin Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is the love of Frankenstein’s life, has been since childhood.  Upon their marriage, Victor believes the monster will attempt to kill him so he locks Elizabeth in the room and leaves to find the creature.  The monster attacks and kills Elizabeth instead of Victor, sticking around to ensure Victor knows it was him.  Shortly after, Victor’s father also dies due to the stress of all which has happened.  Victor, who has now lost everything, vows to destroy the monster.

This leads back to the Arctic Circle where Victor Frankenstein was found by Captain Walton.  Still pursuing the monster, Victor is rescued but dies aboard the ship after pleading with the Captain to take up his quest for vengeance.  The Captain, after Victor’s death, finds the creature with Victor’s body, mourning the loss.  

The Captain is surprised to hear the monster speak of remorse for all he has done to the innocent and to his own creator.  In a moving speech, the creature speaks of his own agony and misery at simply being a hideous monster feared by humanity.  The creature relates that the Captain will be the last human to see him and he will drift on an ice raft to the northernmost region and there ascend his own funeral pyre,

  • “But it is true that I am a wretch.  I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing.  I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin… 

  • Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold.  Farewell, Frankenstein!  If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction…

  • I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames.”

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