"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 109
When I anticipated getting my heart ripped out by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I envisioned something gruesome, bloody, and grunting. I had no idea that it would actually be emotional. And yet that is what the five chapters we are tackling today have been. By "emotional," I certainly don't mean emo, although Frankenstein has that all sewn up, as usual.
. . . Elizabeth read my anguish in my countenance, and kindly taking my hand, said, "My dearest friend, you must calm yourself These events have affected me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are. There is an expression of despair, and sometimes of revenge, in your countenance, that makes me tremble. Dear Victor, banish these dark passions. Remember the friends around you, who centre all their hopes in you. Have we lost the power of rendering you happy? Ah! while we love--while we are true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty, your native country, we may reap every tranquil blessing--what can disturb our peace?"
. . . not the tenderness of friendship, nor the beauty of earth, nor of heaven, could redeem my soul from woe: the very accents of love were ineffectual. I was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate. The wounded deer dragging its fainting limbs to some untrodden brake, there to gaze upon the arrow which had pierced it, and to die--was but a type of me.
Oh, shut up, Victor, before I get Bella Swan to punch you in the face . . . Seriously, someone needs to slap Frankenstein the way we slap people who panic during a crisis, to help him to snap out of it. He lets his emotions rule him without even trying to gain the upper hand. This would be annoying enough if it weren't made worse by his never even pausing to wonder what his Creature might be feeling.
We know what inspired the novel, but what do you suppose inspired the character of Victor Frankenstein? Did Mary Shelley base him on someone whom she met in real life? If so, that person must have been horrible! =( Or did she have a sharp enough understanding of a certain psychological concept to build a three-dimensional character from it? I refer, of course, to scapegoating.
While Frankenstein can see that William and Justine would still be alive it if weren't for him, he seems to transfer all accountability to the Creature--or as long as I'm tossing words like "psychological" around, he seems to split himself into "good" and "evil" parts and to see all the "evil" parts concentrated in the Creature. Frankenstein really does seem to think that all he needs to win his innocence back is to wipe the walking, talking evidence of his own misdeeds off the face of the earth. Yeah, because it was so successful when Caiaphas tried to do it, aye, Victor? . . . But never mind him any longer. Let's consider the Creature.
Now we finally find out what the Creature has been up to since the night of his "birth." In our last discussion, I wondered whether there had been other mysterious deaths during that period, which we, the readers, would have linked to the Creature, but which Frankenstein, the master of denial, might not even have noticed. Well, I can quit my wondering now. When the Creature comes face to face with his creator again, he reveals that he has been living with a family. Well, sort of.
My mode of life in my hovel was uniform. During the morning, I attended the motions of the cottagers; and when they were dispersed in various occupations I slept: the remainder of the day was spent in observing my friends. When they had retired to rest, if there was any moon, or the night was star-light, I went into the woods, and collected my own food and fuel for the cottage. When I returned, as often as it was necessary, I cleared their path of the snow, and performed those offices that I had seen done by Felix. I afterwards found that these labours, performed by an invisible hand, greatly astonished them; and once or twice I heard them, on these occasions, utter the words good spirit, wonderful; but I did not then understand the signification of these terms.
"My thoughts now became more active, and I longed to discover the motives and feelings of these lovely creatures; I was inquisitive to know why Felix appeared so miserable and Agatha so sad. I thought (foolish wretch!) that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people. When I slept, or was absent, the forms of the venerable blind father, the gentle Agatha, and the excellent Felix flitted before me, I looked upon them as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future destiny. I formed in my imagination a thousand pictures of presenting myself to them, and their reception of me. I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour, and afterwards their love.
Mrs. Darwin has pointed out that all the things which Frankenstein cherishes the most are exactly what he has denied his Creature. If we also look at the things which Frankenstein takes for granted, but which are a natural part of being born into a family--like knowing your parents' history and being able to orient yourself in a tradition--then we see that he has dealt his Creature a terrible hand. The worst part is that he isn't even sorry.
That is, he isn't sorry that he has caused the Creature to suffer. He is sorry that others have suffered because of the Creature. Because the Creature is all "evil," remember? But as we listen to the Creature's story, we see that that is hardly the case.
How very sympathetic he suddenly is! He may look frightening, but underneath, he is vulnerable, sensitive, and even shy. He feels drawn to gentle people as much as Walton and Frankenstein do--and he tops them both by trying to make those others' burdens lighter. He is intelligent enough to figure out how to tend a fire (though not how to make one) and to learn a language just by listening to others. He is moved by music. He understands the horror of his own appearance, but nurtures the hope that truly good and kind people can learn to love him in spite of it. Maybe he idealises the poor family somewhat--as Walton idealises friends--and their depiction is often too sentimental for me . . . but they are the only family that he has ever known. We can hardly count his early fleeting encounter with his creator, although we can certainly make the case that Frankenstein is the Creature's father.
My friend Bob likes to point out that the word "bastard" means both a fatherless boy and cruel man--because cruel men are often fatherless in some sense. Well, now the son has come home to his prodigal father, to ask for his inheritance. And I think that those who have ever felt let down by their own fathers--and who may have also watched other families with longing--can completely relate.
Totally Optional Discussion Questions for Chapters 9 to 13:
1. At this point, what should Frankenstein do about his Creature?
2. If the Creature spent a year watching your family through a chink in the wall of your home, what would he be most likely to learn about humanity and culture?
Image Source: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley