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Frankenstein

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Helena Gookey

on 5 June 2014

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Transcript of Frankenstein

Frankenstein
Mary Shelley
Horror
Victor sees himself as guilty:
"I bore a hell within me"
. This will later be echoed by the monster when we burns down the De Lacey home. Both echo Satan in Milton's Paradise lost, a work that plays a significant role in the story and has a great influence over the way both Victor and the monster view and represent themselves.
Eve Sedgewick discusses the Gothic emphasis on the 'unspeakable', not only in the sense of nameless horrors, the creature for example, but also in the narrative structure, with its often illegible or incomplete manuscripts and its tendency to place stories within stories. this can be clearly seen in Frankenstein, with the structure of the narratives, distancing the reader and throwing doubt on the accuracy of what is said.
The Horror Within: In earlier Gothic fictions, evil is generally located in an external source, in, for example, horrifying figures such as ghosts and demons. In Frankenstein, rather than locating evil within an external source, Shelley suggests that true horror often lies within, in the mental agonies and torments we inflict upon ourselves or in those darker desires that we repress.
Victor's dream would be considered a clear example of horror with its graphic descriptions of decay.
Ann Radcliffe, distinguishes between horror and terror in her essay 'On the Supernatural in Poetry' (1826). Terror, she argues is characterised by obscurity and uncertainty in it's treatment of the dreaded evil. Horror, on the other hand, is characterised by clear and direct displays of that same dreaded evil. In terms of Frankenstein, horror clearly characterises Victor's descriptions of his secret workshop and the dream that follows the creation of the being. Descriptions of landscapes however, emphasise obscurity and uncertainty, and in a way that prepare us for the imminent arrival of the monster.
Narratives
The narrative style invites us to look for echoes and parallels which link the stories together and simultaneously to identify differences between the three characters. Walton's ambitions, for example, make him a potential Frankenstein, and he is too isolated and alienated from the domestic world. However, Walton truly seems to long for the affection and companionship that Victor spurns, and in this sense he is more closely linked to the monster. In addition, no matter how alienated Walton may feel in the icy waters of the Arctic, he has his crew, a community of sorts who prevent him from indulging in the kind of rampant individualism that destroys Victor.
We might also consider how unreliable the narrators are, both in their assessment of themselves and in their interpretation of other characters and situations. When Victor compares his feelings to those of Justine, condemned to be executed, and assures us that the "tortures of the accused did not equal mine", it may be that he is a little too self-absorbed to be the best interpreter of other people's feelings.
Finally, we need to consider whether there is narrative closure or if the novel remains open-ended. As it is so difficult to fix one meaning or message to Shelley's Frankenstein, then on the level of interpretation there is no closure. Although we seem to come to a decisive end with the death of Victor and Walton's decision to return home, there is actually no real closure on the plot either. The monster vows to destroy himself; as Fred Botting points out however, in 'Making Monstrous', from the textual evidence the reader can never know what happens to the monster. the ending is forever deferred, something projected in the future, and Shelley leaves the readers, like the monster,
"lost in darkness and distance."
Doppelganger
After Victor discovers the murder of William, we directly encounter for the first time the idea that the monster may be Victor's double, an externalisation of the darker side of his self or a repressed part of his psyche.
Even the landscape expresses a sense of duality in this chapter and reflects the emergence of a darker side. At Lausanne, Victor is restored by the
"calm and heavenly scene"
of streams, mountains and lake. As he nears home, however, all becomes obscure: night closes in and he can hardly see the mountains. Now the picture
"appeared a vast and dim scene of evil"
and Victor feels a sense of gloom.
While this may be seen as pathetic fallacy, it is also much more than this; in Gothic terms it anticipates the emergence of the monster and therefore of Victor's other self. Literally, the lightning reveals the figure of the monster; metaphorically it illuminates the darker side of Victor Frankenstein himself.
Responding to the execution of Justine, Elizabeth says
"men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other's blood."
This statement echoes the suggestion of the double in Victor and the monster, further obscuring the boundaries between the human and the monstrous. In this respect, Victor's comment that he was
"the only unquiet thing that wandered restless in a scene so beautiful"
makes a similar point. describing himself with language usually associated with supernatural beings - 'unquiet', 'restless' - and dehumanising himself as a 'thing', Victor's statement similarly implies that the human here is monstrous.
The idea of the double can also be seen in both character's use of revenge. Dancing in fury around the burning De Lacey cottage, the monster becomes a savage, irrational force -
"I bent my mind towards injury and death."
As soon as he becomes consumed by revenge, he begins to become truly monstrous. In this way, both Victor and the monster are driven and consumed by revenge; both become monstrous in their obsessions.
It is of some importance that the monster does not attack Victor; he takes his revenge by attacking family and friends. Most importantly, the victims of the attacks are all innocents: his point is that surely so was he. The monster's framing of Justine is, though particularly disturbing, making an important point by enacting precisely the kind of arbitrary injustice to which he is subject when society repulses and demonises him purely on the basis of appearance.
In terms of Gothic horror, the moon might immediately bring to mind the werewolf, and this is the clearest example of how the moon is connected to change, to the emergence of another self, more bestial, more primitive perhaps. This may be linked to the idea that Victor and the monster as doubles: that is, when the moon reveals the monster, it is also illuminating something within Victor.
Both Victor and the monster consistently represent themselves as victims, as Victor's account of his time in prison is, like the monster's account of his experiences with society, a narrative of persecution:
"I am the most miserable of mortals."
At times, it almost appears to be a competition to see who can claim to suffer the most. For example, Victor's comment on the night before Justine's execution: the poor victim, he explains,
"felt not, as I did, such deep and bitter agony."
The monster's later claim mirrors this as he hangs over Victor's corpse:
"My agony was still superior to thine."
This may be a part of Shelley's critique of Romanticism. The language of persecution is often found within Romantic poetry, suggesting the sensitive soul is buffeted by the unfeeling world or even by fate itself.
As the novel progresses, the boundary between Victor and the monster is completely broken down. This is initially suggested by the way Victor confesses fault for the murders. Literally, he may mean these murders are the result of him creating the monster, but the language suggests something much more than this. And in the nightmare that closes the chapter the monster even appears to be a part of his body:
"I felt the fiend's grasp in my neck; and could not free myself from it; groans and cries rang in my ears."

The monster convinces Victor that he should have a companion, arguing that
"I am malicious because I am miserable."
he turns on Victor's family and friends because they represent to Victor what Victor has denied to him: the comforts of domestic affection. But in so far as the monster is Victor's double, the expression of a split within his psyche, the monster is murdering all those whom Victor has already attempted to cut off in his obsessive search for the secret of life. In this respect, he may represent Victor's own aggressive instincts, his fears of the family and of women.

Domesticity
Walton's complaints to his sister:
"I bitterly feel the want of a friend"

suggest that isolation is a theme from the very opening. The sufferings of both Victor and the monster are primarily caused by their alienation from others. The monster's isolation is imposed upon him by the creator who abandons him and the people who shun him. He longs for companionship and affection, and his unhappiness and subsequent violence result from his awareness that he will never experience love. Victor insists that his isolation is imposed because of the monster's crimes: he must be an outcast. Nevertheless, he chooses to isolate himself from family and friends to carry out his

"secret toil."

The treatment of the monster by the De Lacey household points to another defect in the domestic world: its insularity. Ideal though this family may seem, it functions only by excluding anything that appears as a threat to its security. The monster devotes himself to the destruction of ideal domesticity once he recognises he is doomed to be excluded from it, and in this he may be acting as Victor's double.
The double or doppelganger is a particularly common idea in the Gothic genre. It is often used to demonstrate the tension between the laws of society and the desires of the individual, and to give voice to that which has been silenced by rational discourse. The tendency to refer to the monster as Frankenstein's double is appropriate considering Shelley's use of the motif of the double. When he refers to the monster as
"my own spirit,"
Victor provides the clearest expression of the notion that he and the monster may be doubles, with the monster acting out Victor's own aggressions.
Romanticism
The notion of the double again aids in interpretation. It's possible to see the ugliness of the monster as an externalisation of Victor's destructive sexual impulses. The monster assures Victor that "I will be with you on your wedding night," the time when Victor can no longer avoid confronting his own sexuality. He leaves Elizabeth alone, but the part of himself he rejects, his sexuality, does not disappear. Instead, it turns destructive and he unleashes upon her this ugly violent thing: the embodiment of his twisted sexual impulses.
"Alas! to me the idea of an immediate union with my Elizabeth was one of horror and dismay."
Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?"
In his character and his ambitions, Walton anticipates or foreshadows Victor Frankenstein. As Walton hopes to penetrate the mysteries of the Arctic, so Victor Frankenstein will want to penetrate the secrets of life. Like Victor, Walton rejects a life of domestic ease for a life of adventure and a quest for knowledge. Walton alternates between expressing a desire for personal

"glory"

and a desire to confer some
"inestimable benefit... on all mankind."
Victor will later speak in much the same way of his quest to discover the secret of life.
Walton rebels against his father's dying instruction not to go to sea in much the same way that Victor rebels against Alphonse Frankenstein's dismissal of his readings: each son subsequently pursues the forbidden.
On meeting Victor, Walton almost immediately begins to see him as
"the brother of my heart"
; Victor is his 'brother in the sense that Walton recognises himself in Victor.
The natural world is often shown as inspiring as well as threatening, as Shelley alternates between a Romantic sublime and a Gothic sublime, demonstrated by the contrast in the way the Alps are represented before and after Victor sees the monster or the contrast between Lake Leman in Switzerland and the North Sea off the Orkney islands. The Romantic sublime landscape is awe inspiring and overwhelming in its grandeur, and the observing self is ultimately uplifted and healed. The Gothic sublime landscape, on the other hand, leads to a sickening sense of decline and decay: the observing self experiences only a terrifying sense of disintegration.
Clerval serves as Victor's opposite. He is a balanced character, an idealised form of a Romantic poet, and combines masculine ambition and independence with feminine gentleness, affection and sensitivity. He prefers the softer landscapes, unlike Victor, who is linked with the grandeur and isolation mountain peaks. As much as anyone can, he calls forth the better feelings of Victor's heart.
Settings
In the Arctic, there is constant threat from the ice and the obscurity produced by the fog, creating a new kind og Gothic space: inhuman, cold, isolated. In the Orkneys and on the glacier, environmental conditions repeatedly anticipate the appearance of the monster: thunderstorms and lightening always signify more than themselves. In one sense they come to function in terms of pathetic fallacy, with the weather reflecting on Victor's internal state and the emergence of the monstrous within.
The idea of nature as restorative is an important feature of Romantic poetry, and this same idea is used when Victor turns to nature and becomes
"restored."
Victor's happiness in nature is later echoed by the monster.
There could be some irony in the fact that Victor turns to nature for restoration when his actions have been so eminently unnatural, yet it is specifically

"inanimate nature"

that he claims fills him with delightful

"sensations".
Margaret Saville provides the first and final image of domesticity. She seems to represent in Percy Shelley's terms, the "
amiableness of domestic affection
". But Margaret, along with her husband and children, is given no voice. In this respect she is much like the DeLaceys, the family tht the monster envies for their closeness. They may also represent domestic bliss, and yet they have no voice of their own: their experiences are represented to us only through the monster.
The devotion that family members show to each other can only function to make him aware of his isolation, and, for the reader, their affectionate natures contrast strikingly with Victor's abandonment of his 'child'. The mother is again absent from the DeLacey household. We learn nothing about her. And, indeed, once the Arabian Safia arrives, we will find that her mother is dead too.
When the DeLaceys reject the monster with horror, Shelley suggests how appearance is privileged in this society. Their domestic world survives only because of its insularity: that is, the DeLaceys function only by excluding anything that appears a potential threat to their security and are quite unable to cope with the intrusion of the monster into their world. They are no more capable than anyone else of seeing past his appearance and their treatment of him is what ultimately turns him towards evil.
The monster's monstrosity is something emphatically visual from the start, and here it becomes clear that, in this society, only a blind man could acct him. Perhaps DeLacey's blindness represents the blindness of the reader. We too do not see the monster and so we are more concerned with what he says than how he looks.
This perhaps allows us to feel sympathy for him.
Even the landscape expresses a sense of duality in this chapter and reflects the emergence of a darker side. At Lausanne, Victor is restored by the
"calm and heavenly scene"
of streams, mountains and lake. As he nears home, however, all becomes obscure: night closes in and he can hardly see the mountains. Now the picture
"appeared a vast and dim scene of evil"
and Victor feels a sense of gloom.
While this may be seen as pathetic fallacy, it is also much more than this; in Gothic terms it anticipates the emergence of the monster and therefore of Victor's other self. Literally, the lightning reveals the figure of the monster; metaphorically it illuminates the darker side of Victor Frankenstein himself.
In terms of Gothic horror, the moon might immediately bring to mind the werewolf, and this is the clearest example of how the moon is connected to change, to the emergence of another self, more bestial, more primitive perhaps. This may be linked to the idea that Victor and the monster as doubles: that is, when the moon reveals the monster, it is also illuminating something within Victor.
Whilst observing the DeLacey family, the monster responds in a childlike manner to the natural world, rejoicing in the coming of spring. In his responses to nature, he can be compared to Victor. Nature here again takes on a healing function and in spite of all he has learned about his own isolation and difference, as the birds sing and the plants grow, the monster is filled with
"anticipations of joy."
When the monster becomes filled with revenge and hatred,
"I bent my mind towards injury and death"
and the weather reflects the monster's feelings, with the fierce winds producing a kind of insanity.
It may be significant that Victor creates the male monster in the university town of Ingolstadt, connected to intellectual pursuits, whereas for the female he leases a squalid hut barren island little more than a rock: a
"desolate and appalling landscape."
This, he says, is
"a place fitted for such work.
" This calls the reader to compare Victor's present reluctance for his 'labours' with his enthusiasm for his previous "midnight labours". This time he is sickened by what he does; perhaps his view of the landscape is a reflection of his state of mind. he has significantly described himself during his travels with Clerval in terms of a devastated nature, "
a blasted tree."
Many of Victor's descriptions of the landscape reflect the ideals of Romanticism. These include the trip down the Rhine with Clerval and Victor's journey through the valley of Chamounix. This presents a huge contrast with the far more Gothic landscapes of the Orkneys. There is nothing uplifting or restorative here. Rather there is a sense of dread and entrapment, combined with a brooding sense of paranoia and a threat of violence. landscape combines with weather to produce a raw and primitive world.
In Frankenstein, the healing Romantic landscapes seems to act upon the observer; the Gothic landscapes more frequently suggest that the observer is acting upon them: that is, the landscape becomes a reflection of an internal state of mind.
Like the monster, Elizabeth is set apart, and viewed as a being of a

"distinct species."
Religious imagery colours descriptions of the
"heaven-sent"

Elizabeth, whose name means 'gift of God', With her
"celestial eyes"
and
"saintly soul"

she is highly spiritualised, and, less a creature of flesh and blood than a

"living spirit of love."

She is generally characterised in terms of her effects on others. Her ability to
"soften and attract"

is seen as woman's most treasured gift. Self-effacing and passive, her concerns are limited to the domestic circle and to caring for others, the opposite of the egotistical Victor.
The independent woman is displayed in Safie, through which Shelley critiques the idealisation and spiritualisation of women. While Safie possesses feminine qualities of gentleness and affection, unlike Elizabeth she combines these with masculine qualities of independence and action. Not content to wait for rescue, she defies parental and social tyranny and makes the trip to Germany on her own.
The crime upon which Shelley focuses is not so much what Victor does, but what he fails to do: nurture his creation. Victor's ambition and achievement may well be heroic; chaos ensues because he is incapable of bearing responsibility for what he produces

-
"filthy creation."

Victor's 'horror' and 'dismay' seem rather excessive, and indeed more connected to the idea of the 'immediate union' than anything else. This forms a striking contrast with the monster's expression of desire for a mate. Further, Victor refers to the prospect of 'union' five times, and never uses the word marriage. On one hand,, 'union' might suggest a more formal social or legal contract; on the other hand, it is more indicative of a physical joining, of sexual union. It may well be that Victor, who prefers to do his creating on his own, fears a physical relationship with Elizabeth. We might recall, too, the dream of Elizabeth changing into the corpse of his mother in his arms. The idea that on one level it is Victor's sexuality that is monstrous becomes clearer as the wedding night draws near.
The idea that knowledge is dangerous is something quite deeply embedded in western culture, and stems from the moment in the Bible when Adam and Eve disobey God's commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and were consequently evicted from Paradise. Knowledge is also often specifically connected with science: the serpent in Milton's Paradise Lost addresses the tree as the "Mother of Science".
When Walton confides in Frankenstein regarding his ambitions, Victor dramatically responds,
"Hear me - let me reveal my tale and you will dash the cup from your lips."
While this sets the stage for Frankenstein to tell his own story, it also suggests ambition or the desire for knowledge is a poison.
Victor aspires to usurp the roles of both God and women: he imagines producing a
"new species"
that would "bless me as its creator and source." Many
"happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me"
, he adds, something of an ironic statement given the misery he will produce for his monster. There are many images of birth in this chapter. His
"workshop of filthy creation"
for example, has been read as suggestive of the womb, and he speaks twice of his
"midnight labours"
. Victor thinks in terms of paternity, however, of being a father claiming the gratitude of his child. This too assumes ironic overtones since his obsessions isolates him from his family and friends: significantly, he makes no response to the letters he receives from his own father.
Victor's
"secret toil"
comes to seem a shameful and unnatural activity, and by the end of this chapter he is anxious, oppressed and nervous. He shuns the company of others as though he were
"guilty of a crime"
- and of course he is: a crime against God and against nature.
The monster develops an education of understanding of just how alien he is, and his refrain comes to be
"What was I?"
followed by
"of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant."
This shows how the question of identity becomes central to the creature, and the language of 'creation and creator' anticipates his reading of Paradise Lost and his view of his self as an 'Adam'.
At times the creature wishes he had stayed in his natural state, and known nothing beyond the basic sensations. Knowledge comes to seem dangerous as it makes him aware of his difference. He learns that the only way out of the pain of consciousness is death, and in this way foreshadows the climax of the novel when he anticipates burning on his funeral pyre and, as ashes, finally returning to nature.
Shelley chooses for her epigraph a qoutation from paradise lost, one of the books in the monster's library and this, along with many other references to Milton's poem throughout the novel, suggests the need to keep this story in mind when reading Frankenstein. The epigraph immediately encourages us to associate Victor with God and the monster with Adam, and this seems appropriate since, as creator, Victor assumes the role of God, and the man he creates is the monster. However, while the monster certainly fits the role of Adam, he also becomes the demon., assuming the role of Satan, the fallen angel. The monster declares that he has been changed by his exclusion from paradise:
"I am thy creature; I ught to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel."
The monster even echoes Satan's words in Paradise Lost at such moments as when he declares to Walton that, after his potential companion had been destroyed,
"Evil thenceforth became my good."
Victor similarly links himself with Satan, the fallen angel. In attempting to displace God, he demonstrates the same pride as Satan, who had similar aspirations. Commenting upon his torment of guilt, Victor draws upon the following simile:
"Like the archangel... I am chained in an eternal hell."
Victor's hell is within him, it is a hell as a psychological state, but this is also true of the hell so powerfully described by Satan in Paradise Lost.
Fair, beautiful and ethereal, Elizabeth forms a significant contrast with the dark, ugly and emphatically material nature of the monster.
Religion & Science
For readers of Frankenstein, the monster's eloquence is a surprise. We are confronted with, as
Peter Brooks
notes, a
'supreme rhetorician of his own situation.'
For example, the impressive use of balance and opposition in his injunction to Victor might be considered:
"Everywhere I see bliss, from which alone I am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend."
Victor is eventually persuaded to make him a mate. Language, initially, seems to have power in this novel.
Nevertheless, language simultaneously seems inadequate and weak. Characters repeatedly assert their inability to express their feelings in language, falling back on such phrases as
"no one can conceive"
or
"I cannot describe."
This is a traditional feature of the Gothic and suggests the inadequacy of language to capture and account for inner experience. Experience, in Gothic, is more precisely captured symbolically in dreams. For example, the nightmare Victor experiences after bringing the monster to life, when Elizabeth is transformed into the corpse of his mother, tells us about Victor's true feelings for his mother and for Elizabeth, and about his attitude towards human sexuality.
Language
In her 1831 introduction, Shelley declares her desire to
"curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart".
This is the first of many signals to the reader that Frankenstein should be placed in the Gothic genre. However, there is nothing supernatural here; it is an emphatically secular and material world that she creates. All the conventional trappings of the Gothic have disappeared.
Reading Frankenstein as a Gothic novel, we might suggest that what Victor does and what Victor creates are unnatural. He goes too far, breaks the laws of nature, crosses forbidden boundaries and unleashes, within himself and in society, disruption and destruction. Frankenstein quite clearly fits within modern conceptions of Gothic: with its suggestions of incest in Victor's love for
"more than his sister"
Elizabeth; with the focus on a creative act that usurps the natural functions of both God and women anda creation that blurs the boundaries between life and death; and with the allowance for the possibility that the creature is Victor's doppelganger, acting out his forbidden desires and expressing the darker side of his psyche.
Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale may be a story about death but, emerging from a world in which the Black Death, the plague, was a constant fear, it is very different in its approach to Frankestein, which reacts to the grim materiality of death with frightful visions of rotting shrouds and grave worms.
Victor is quick to name the
"filthy daemon"
, the
"devil"
, the
"animal"
and to decide that the monster's
"delight was in carnage and misery."
Here we see in action the way humans create monsters. What Victor is doing is using language to define the monster as 'other', t fix a boundary between the human and the demonic or animalistic. There is no evidence for what Victor assumes - the monster is the murderer - but
"the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact."
There are many references to the monster's appearance. Victor calling the monster the
"filthy mass that moved and talked"
, for example, reduces it to a thing and denies any resemblance to the human. Similarly, Victor describes the monster's face as
"wrinkled into contortions too horrible for the human eyes to behold."
The monster has by now learned that he is condemned to isolation precisely because of his appearance:
"the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union."
While the family is the institution most thoroughly examined and analysed, throughout Frankenstein there is a more general challenge to and criticism of the established social order and it institutions. In the story of the DeLaceys, and in the treatment of the monster, and in the trial of Justine, human injustice is emphasised and the idea that society itself is monstrous is one of the key themes of the novel. Shelley frequently uses the monster as her mouthpiece in her critique of oppression and inequality in society. From his own experiences and those of the DeLacey family, the monster learns about social injustice -

"Am I thought to be the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?"
Social Injustice
In most Gothic fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the monster is admitted to the text only to be ultimately expelled or repudiated. Limits and boundaries are reinstated as the monster is dispatched, good is distinguished from evil and self from other. In more recent Gothic fiction, however, monstrous figures are increasingly those with which we identify, and it is the systems that persecute these figures that come to be seen as monstrous. This is something frequently found, for example, in the stories of Angela Carter. Frankenstein provides a very early example of this tendency, by inviting some sympathy for the monster, allowing him to speak and explaining the origins of his behaviour.
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