Frankenstein: Flirting with the Gods
Application. That’s a common buzz word I neglected to mention from my reading of the earlier chapters. I mention it now because the very word appears not only as a noun but as a matter of method that defines Victor’s sense of destiny. In chapter one he narrates to Robert Walton:
“Our studies were never forced; and by some means we always had an end placed in view, which excited us to ardor in the prosecution of them. It was by this method, and not by emulation, that we were urged to application… We learned Latin and English, that we might read the writings of those languages; and so far from study being made odious to us by punishment, we loved application, and our amusements have been the labors of other children.”
Allow me to translate: ‘if you are well-read, what’s the point of that if you don’t do a little mythbusting’, if you know what I mean.
You don’t know what I mean? Well, by all means dive on in with me to chapter 3.
“…the more fully I entered into the science, the more exclusively I pursued it for its own sake. That application which at first had been a matter of duty and resolution, now became so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the light of morning while I was yet engaged in my laboratory… Two years passed in this manner, during which I paid no visit to Geneva, but was engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries which I hoped to make.”
Through application of the acquired knowledge Victor develops a (is lust too strong a word?) fascination “for the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life”. For the budding scientist, Victor’s quest commences with the question: “[from] whence…did the principle of life proceed?” A fair but goose-pimple inducing query.
To find the meaning of life, or more accurately, to understand how it physically hums along, Victor concludes that only the study of death and decay can contribute to comprehending the life process (reverse engineering?). Thus, our future monster-maker visits some rather nasty places like vaults (catacombs) and charnel-houses, all of which leaves him hardly spooked. Victor was not raised in a superstitious house, but such dwellings would certainly leave the average dinner guest in a Jane Austin novel pale and fainting from an issue in their humours. (I don’t know what that means either.) Nonetheless, Victor describes his ghoulish studies:
“I paused, examining and analyzing all the minutia: of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me,―a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius, who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.”
A secret? What has our dear Victor discovered?
“…I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable difficulty and labor…”
Bestowing animation? Does he mean reanimation?
“I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared adequate to so arduous an undertaking; but I doubted not that I should ultimately succeed… As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large.”
I appreciate how Mary Shelley in her day and era grasps known science, which wasn’t the dark ages but certainly was nominal, and she extrapolates this towards a monster tale, deducing a methodology for the creation of a giant personage that would prove most vexing to her main character. Now of course, this venture is all in the name of science. As for his sense of perspective and ego, he confides in Robert:
“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if, I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time…renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”
Well now. That’s some heady aspirations, bringing the dead back to life. If I believed for a moment that I could restore life, like say to my guinea pig Tigger who died when I was five or to Donald Trump’s credibility, I suppose I’d take a crack at it. Victor quickly sets to work and finds his restorative pursuit an all consuming task that devours his time, and his sense of it.
“I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit… I collected bones from charnel-houses, and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting-room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, while, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.”
Regarding what Victor specifically does in the lab to reanimate the dead tissue, those details are kept to a nill. I suppose, as I have not read further, the reason for this dearth is two-fold: one, to keep the lack of scientific supposition to a dull roar, as Shelley can only speculate on current processes; two, she uses this as characterization for Victor, as he cautions Robert that he does not wish the world to know the process to the secrets he has unlocked. Apparently things have not gone according to his design. The genie is out of the bottle and now running amok across the globe.
On to chapter four.