"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 110
Do you like finding books within books? I do! It's nice when characters are also readers. =) It strains credulity a bit that the Creature learned how to read while observing other people doing it, from outside the latter's home . . . but no more than that he should just happen to stumble across some pretty good books in the wilderness. So let's just accept it, aye?
I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment . . .
As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathised with, and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none. 'The path of my departure was free'; and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.
The other two books are Plutarch's Lives and John Milton's Paradise Lost--and together the three make an odd collection. It's true that the purpose of literature is to teach us what our immediate experience cannot, and these books certainly expand the Creature's intellectual world. But they seem to be here mostly for contrast, for the effect that these worthy classics have on him is nothing compared to the effect of some other reading material that he finds in his own pocket: his creator's journal entries.
Chapters 14 to 17
The Creature can't seem to catch a break, can he? His plea to De Lacey and the chaos that follows were as hard to read as his account of his first days. It's especially disheartening to know that his moving words come to nothing in the end: De Lacey surely told Felix what the Creature said and might have even put in a good word for him, but Felix is convinced that something so monstrous looking wants only to do monstrous things that he is determined to relocate the whole family, before the Creature can come back to kill his father. How terrible to be so misunderstood!
How do you suppose Safie, the newest member of the De Lacey family, reacted to the story? Do you think it rang a bell at all? I hadn't been planning to say anything about "the Arabian," but it has just occurred to me that there is something very significant that she and the Creature have in common: they are both outsiders who nonetheless have something to recommend them to those on the inside.
Safie related that her mother was a Christian Arab, seized and made a slave by the Turks; recommended by her beauty, she had won the heart of the father of Safie, who married her. The young girl spoke in high and enthusiastic terms of her mother, who, born in freedom, spumed the bondage to which she was now reduced. She instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion, and taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect, and an independence of spirit, forbidden to the female followers of Mahomet. This lady died; but her lessons were indelibly impressed on the mind of Safie, who sickened at the prospect of again returning to Asia and being immured within the walls of a harem, allowed only to occupy herself with infantile amusements, ill suited to the temper of her soul, now accustomed to grand ideas and a noble emulation for virtue. The prospect of marrying a Christian, and remaining in a country where women were allowed to take a rank in society, was enchanting to her.
At first, I just blinked a lot at Shelley's characterisation of Safie. She's at once so fantastic and so flat that she must have been based on Romantic-era ideas of Muslims rather than on any actual observations by Shelley. But her otherness doesn't seem to have been held against her at any point--and her desire to be with gentle people like the De Lacey family rather than her own devious father is even a mark in her favour. Perhaps it helped that she grew up in her mother's Christian faith and has this extra tie to recommend her to her European friends. In any case, she is accepted by them with open arms.
Safie runs away from her father, but the Creature has no choice but to run back to his own. This time, however, he is no longer hoping to be accepted by some inner circle; he wants a circle of his own. And perhaps it was Paradise Lost which inspired him to ask Frankenstein for a companion of his own, "of the same nature as [himself]."
Ironically, there already seems to be someone who fits the bill exactly, though that person is not of the opposite sex. I mean, doesn't the Creature remind you of someone when he says:
". . . If I have no ties and no affections, hatred and vice must be my portion; the love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes, and I shall become a thing of whose existence every one will be ignorant. My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor; and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded."
Frankenstein and his Creature have not only the same Romantic notions of friendship and companionship, but also the same tendency to split themselves into "good" and "evil" and to try to place the latter on something else's head, so as to destroy it forever. While it may be true that forced solitude is hardly conducive to virtue, and that externals that are "near occasions of sin" should be avoided, neither do virtues "necessarily arise" as a result of changed circumstances. Which means that Frankenstein's condition that the Creature and his new companion leave Europe forever isn't going to solve things, either. Even if Frankenstein is truly never bothered by them again, he will still be a total wimp inside and it will continue to eat him.
In this respect, both Frankenstein and the Creature are like someone I know who, for a decade, couldn't hold down a job for longer than a few months, but insisted that he would be a model employee if only he could find a decent boss. Ah, yes, if only . . .
Totally Optional Questions about Chapters 14 to 17:
1. What book would you have laid in the Creature's path?
2. Is the Creature making reasonable requests of people? (Was he asking too much of the De Lacys? Is he within his rights to demand a companion from Frankenstein?)
3. How would you measure an outsider who wishes to be part of your community, to determine whether or not he would be a good fit?
Image Source: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley