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Archive for the category “Frankenstein”

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

Lynn Ward

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.”

Theodore Van Holst

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.

Next…chapter five.


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.

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Frankenstein: “Destiny! Destiny!”

Perhaps I should give this more thought, but I found chapter two straightforward: Victor’s cousin, Elizabeth, is stricken with scarlet fever but her symptoms are mild and she recovers. However, on the eve of his departure for university in Ingolstadt, Victor’s mother–Elizabeth’s aunt–contracts the disease while tending to her niece, suffers for it and then dies. Reflecting on her death, Victor tells Robert Walton:

“…When the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection; and why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished.”

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Frankenstein: The Letters

I’m in the midst of reading Frankenstein, which begins on a rather, uh…

Look, I don’t want to call it a boring start, but the book kicks off with an overture of rather uneventful first-person letters from a Robert Walton to his sister. (At first I thought his name was Watson, and I have Watsons in my family. Then I double-checked the spelling and found I was wrong. Perhaps you have Waltons in your– Hey. Waltons, as in John-boy and Mary Ellen. Hm. Hillbilly relations from across the pond maybe? No.)

Any-hoo. This Robert Walton is a bit of a self-made adventurer, and as far as I can make out is captaining a ship through the ice floes of the arctic, where he happens upon a gigantic figure on a sled team of dogs, of whom the crew quickly loses sight. The next day the crew happens upon a smaller more weather-beaten traveler with a sled and only one dog. (They were delicious.) This emaciated figure is of ill health and is taken in by the captain, who personally nurses him back to some moderate level of comfort. After a time, this man, name of Victor, last name Frankenstein (did you feel that cold breeze?), begins to tell his tale in a series of first-person chapters to Robert…

In the first chapter I learned that Victor was in pursuit of this gigantic figure, whom he refers to as a demon. (I assume a demon in the sense of being rotten and evil, like the Grinch, but not quite so much fun as the Gingrich.) Victor later elaborates on his life’s story–his family, his friends Henry Clerval and his first-cousin Elizabeth, and his intense fascination with the latest of philosophical and scientific discoveries of the day and age: steam, air-pumps and electricity–all to bring Robert Walton and the audience up to speed.

“My dreams were therefore undisturbed by reality; and I entered with the greatest diligence into the search for the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. But the latter obtained my most undivided attention: wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!” –Victor to Robert

Hm… Banishing disease, eh? Invulnerability, eh? Uh…

(Psst. Hey. Run for your lives…)

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