Saturday, March 3, 2018
In his study on the Gothic wanderer, Tyler Tichelaar comments that one reason Frankenstein is an unusual masculine Gothic novel, is that it was written by a woman, the most unusual Mary Shelley. “Masculine Gothics,” he says, “are usually written by men and contain male main characters who fail as heroes” (35). Certainly Victor Frankenstein, that figure who searches for forbidden knowledge, rails against the limitations of natural philosophy, and defies his scientific colleagues by subscribing to the derided lessons of the past is a failed hero, but who is his Adam, he who is “irrevocably excluded” from “everywhere [he] sees bliss” (ch. 10 Shelly)?
When they meet at the Alpine glacier, Dr. Frankenstein labels his creature “Devil” and “Abhorred Monster” (ch. 10 Shelly), but it is Victor Frankenstein’s unfettered obsession and casual disregard for the sanctity and mystery of life that both created and doomed the monster “to a perpetual life of horror and glum.” In his victory over the genesis of life, Victor has failed to achieve “aspirations of humanity towards perfect” and the “consequence of such defiance” is his creature (Hasanat Lecture 2).
Set adrift by its maker, the monster in its infancy marvels at the natural world, its moonlight and berries. It longs for the beauty of the human face, but when it sees its own it is taken aback “unable to believe that it was indeed [it] who was reflected in the mirror” and “filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification” (ch. 13 Shelly). Still, it harbors hops that by benevolent actions it can foster human companionship, so the monster approaches blind De Lacey and is initially encouraged. “You raise me from the dust by [your] kindness; and I trust that, by your aid, I shall not be driven from the society and sympathy of your fellow creatures,” the creature tells the blind man (Shelly ch. 15). In the end, however, the monster harvests only the horror and fury of the De Laceys. It creeps back into its hovel and stews in melancholy and despair.
After the monster murders William Frankenstein and frames Justine Moritz, both beloved to Victor, it confronts his creator on the glacier. In a scene reminiscent of Genesis, but through a Gothic-distorted lens, the creature says, “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.” He entreats Victor to end his misery by making a companion. Victor agrees, only to break the promise by destroying his handiwork. In response, the fiend threatens to “glut the maw of death, until it [is] satiated with the blood of [Victor’s] remaining friends” (Shelly ch. 10).
The monster proves its faith by murdering Elizabeth LaVenza, and Henry Clerval. When Elizabeth is assassinated (“I will be with you on your wedding-night”), the monster attempts to frame Victor, in an effort to not only break his heart but to destroy him (Shelly ch. 20 & 22). Victor escapes blame for the murder of his bride, but in Clerval’s case, the creature’s incrimination is successful, and Victor is jailed for a murder he never committed. Once released, Victor pursues the monster across the wide world in an effort to destroy a life he created, daring, the creature would say, to “sport thus with life” (Shelly ch. 10).
Tichelaar associates the Gothic wanderer with the French Revolution. Burke believed in the order and stability of hierarchical monarchy governments. He was “outraged that the common people may be deemed more important than a monarch” (31). William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelly’s parents, took the opposing view of Burke with respect to the revolution. Because they rejected the principle that children must comply with their father’s dictates, they also believed “monarchs should have no right to tyrannize a people… educated and mature enough to govern themselves” (32). This underlying question is whether governments “sanctioned by God” were preferable to those created by man.
If you correlate the question of the genesis of life with governments, it seems at first that Mary Shelly is arguing the opposite of her parents. Victor Frankenstein’s government is the artificial spawn of the French Revolution, whereas a monarchy, God’s government, like God’s creation of life, must be more perfect. This seems an articulate defense of kings and queens and chivalry, but there is a deeper question. The advent of Humanity, represented by science, seems to fail miserably, the blemishes on its creation damning it, until you remember that Victor’s obsession was not based on actual natural philosophy. Victor’s experiments were based on Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Magnus, in other words, anti-science, false unprovable ideas. Of course, its creation, that miserable wretch, could be flawed because the science at its roots is flawed. Or Victor the seeker may have been a good scientist but a bad engineer. Perhaps he rushed from project to implementation with a bad specification and errant calculations.
Humans can do better. Married to actual science are the concepts of merit and dedication to the truth. A government based on these same principles might have a real chance to satisfy its citizens. It is worth an experiment.
(Word count: 644 words out of 865)
Shelly Mary, Frankenstein. University of Adelaide Press. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/shelley/mary/s53f/index.html Accessed 1/23/18.
Tichelaar, Tyler, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Gothic Literature from 1794—present. Modern History Press - 2012
Hasanat, Fayeza. “Lecture 2: The Gothic of the 1790s” https://webcourses.ucf.edu/courses/1271314/modules/items/10953133. Accessed 1/23/2018.