Frankenstein: The Creature
“Like one who, on a lonely road/Doth walk in fear and dread/And, having once turned round, walks on/And turns no more his head/Because he knows a frightful fiend/Doth close behind him tread. —Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner
No. I would never think on my own to quote from Coleridge. Only once have I read that poem, back when I helped my daughter slog through it as part of a college English assignment. But in Victor Frankenstein’s tiny abode he awakens to the creature standing over him, now loose in his home (yes, his so-called lab is a tiny room in his apartment and not a cavernous place, as depicted in the movies). Like a shot he flees into the night and nervously paces about, engulfed in the apprehension that he is being stalked by the creature. He realizes that he has no Plan B for dealing with the life he has created. (Perhaps he didn’t think it would actually work?) Herein he senses the creature nearby, lurking about and quotes this passage by Coleridge as it reflects his mounting terror.
I’ll come back to this point of the story in a moment. For now, back to the creature’s ‘birth’. To Robert Walton, Victor describes the great and dreadful moment when it came to life:
“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. …by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. …His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness…his shrivelled complexion, and straight black lips. …For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
How the creature is technically brought to life is conveyed only in the line:
“I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.”
Naturally a modern sci-fi writer with quintuple the medical knowledge and detailed descriptions of modern medical appliances and procedures, would engulf their tech-savy CSI-draunched audiences with said realism. Unbeknownst to Ms. Shelly, she is forging a new literary genre. While she understands that her story is unique to the audiences of her time, she keeps a literary aim on the human drama, simple and focused straightforward on the agony of the doctor, who leaves the room where the creature lies struggling to live. Next, Victor falls asleep in the next room and has a terrifying nightmare:
“I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.”
From here Victor awakes in a sweat and sees–
“…the wretch, the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down stairs.”
Congratulations Mr. Frankenstein, it’s a hulking eight-foot…monster.
“I took refuge in the court-yard belonging to the house which I inhabited; where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corse to which I had so miserably given life…a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.”
I’ve read Dante’s The Inferno and have taught it to high school seniors. Dante could easily conceive of such a monstrosity, but I understand Shelley’s point (and given her background the author’s proclivity to quote Coleridge and reference Dante). Allow me to quote from Richard Rhodes, author of Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, who quoted one of the Los Alamos scientists following the atomic bombing of Japan:
“Our beautiful physics, which had seemed like such a almost religious science commitment before the war, should have been put into the deepest and darkest part of human existence.”
This aptly describes Victor’s vacillating emotions, from his dedication to the science and now to his reversal of disgust and horror, at what the science had wrought in his hands.
At the height of his mounting disgust, his fear of its discovery by the public, and his terror in returning home to face his creation, lo and behold in the distance a coach arrives and out steps his friend Henry Clerval who has arrived for a visit. Henry easily sees that his friend is pale, thin and emotionally agitated. Forced to return to his house to give lodging to his friend, Victor happily discovers the creature missing. However, his mental state proceeds to collapse into a full-blown nervous breakdown, which leaves Victor debilitated for months and the ignorant Henry staying by his side to serve as Victor’s caretaker.