No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, September 09, 2012

2012/40: Frankenstein -- Mary Shelley

Were we among the tamer scenes of nature I might fear to encounter your unbelief, perhaps your ridicule; but many things will appear possible in these wild and mysterious regions which would provoke the laughter of those unacquainted with the ever-varied powers of nature...

Another novel read for the Coursera fantasy and SF course. I know I've read this cover to cover before (it was one of the novels I studied as an undergraduate) but I'd forgotten a great deal of it, and found it much more poignant and profound than I'd expected.

Also, Victor Frankenstein is an arrogant twit who lacks empathy.

Now I am finally ready to read The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, Peter Ackroyd's fanfic riff on Shelley's original.

My Coursera essay:

Frankenstein's three narrators -- Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and Frankenstein's nameless creation -- are lonely. Walton writes to his sister 'I bitterly feel the want of a friend' and believes he has found that friend in Frankenstein. Frankenstein is deeply affected by the death of his friend Henry Clerval, 'the most noble of human creatures'. The Creature yearns for 'compassion and friendship' -- at first from humans that he encounters, then from his creator, and finally from the companion that he entreats Frankenstein to create for him.

These friendships seldom have happy consequences. Frankenstein wishes to create a 'new species [who] would bless me as its creator and source': perhaps he also hopes that his creation will become his friend. Instead, at the moment of the Creature's awakening, Frankenstein turns from his 'dream' in disgust and horror. The Creature's subsequent jealousy and rage lead to the death of the two people most dear to Frankenstein: his bride Elizabeth, and his friend Clerval.

The Creature's overtures of friendship inspire only fear and violence in those he meets. The De Lacey family flee their home. Little William rejects the 'hideous monster', and is killed. Worst of all, the man who brought the Creature to life turns from him. Though Victor Frankenstein admits that his duty to his creation is 'to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being', he refuses the Creature his friendship and affection, and destroys the half-made companion that would have been the Creature's bride.

Walton alone is not destroyed by his brief friendship with Frankenstein. However, his friendship is not enough to save Frankenstein: 'I would reconcile him to life, but he repulses the idea'. He cannot even fulfil Frankenstein's dying wish: his 'curiosity and compassion' prevent him from destroying the Creature. He sails for England, consoled only by the prospect of reunion with his sister, mourning a friend he barely knew.

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