Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Genesis of an outcast

This is a guest post written by Alan D. D.

As ironic as it sounds, this has been pretty festive year for Goths. 1818 was not only the year when Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, by Jane Austen, were published after her death in 1817, it also started with the publication of Mary Shelley’s most famous work: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

The novel describes the life of brilliant scientist Victor Frankenstein, who gets obsessed with the idea of creating life:

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source, many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. (Shelley, 2016, p. 26).

Using parts from corpses, he manages to accomplish this, only to say that this creature ‘was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.’ (Shelley, 2016, p. 28). Victor then attempts to correct his actions, first, shunning the creature, turning him into a murderer, and then trying to kill him. As if to wipe himself clean, he tells his story to Robert Walton, a seafarer he encounters, before dying.

Victor (Colin Clive) and his creation (Boris Karloff) meet (Frankenstein, 1931) 

I am not fond of Shelley’s book due to the amount of descriptions she includes, mostly those of the surroundings. However, the print she has left is undeniable, and while I didn’t enjoyed the original work as I expected because of personal likes, I do love the large amount of those derived from it, be it comic books, movies, TV series, and everything else. The Frankenstein Monster, or The Being, to respect the novel’s terminology, remains as appealing as it was 200 years ago, and I think I understand why.

Shelley describes how a pure, innocent creature that comes to life, knowing nothing about good or evil, could become a danger to society because of society’s perceptions and actions. There is a passage that explains it quite explicitly:

I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder, if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts, and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man, when he contemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the hour of your birth. (Shelley, 2016, p. 79).

According to The Being, he is no monster, for he ‘had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn’ (Shelley, 2016, p. 92). We should see him as a victim of the circumstances, for he was not born a monster:

A lack of love in the monster’s life predetermines him to become evil: he was born as “Adam” and turned into “Satan”. Since he was abandoned early after his birth, he experiences hate and prejudice, which influences his bad behavior (Sic.) and negative attitude towards people. (Skalošová, 2015, p. 55)

1831 Frontispiece 
Moreover, ‘he is never allowed to speak because he is met with fear, disgust and expectations of an evil mind’ (Knudsen, 2012, p. 44). This is what turns The Being into a violent, dangerous creature, because an ‘authentic dialogue rests on the mutual recognition of the participants’ (Hughes, 2017, p. 18), whereas ‘the traditional view of monsters is that they should be seen but not heard’ (Brännström, 2006, p. 12).

The most prominent example in this case is Victor’s behavior: although he accepts he created The Being, he also rejects and shames doing it, and never recognizes him as a life worthy creature. However, it is curious that, while he decides to kill The Being, this, in turn, ‘kills everybody around Victor because he cannot kill his creator’ (Knudsen, 2012, p. 28).

Because of that, I’m inclined to consider him nobler than Victor. In the middle of his misery, The Being seems to still thank Victor for creating him, only hoping things could have been different between them. He loathes his actions as well, lamenting: ‘Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoted being! what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst. Alas! he is cold; he may not answer me’ (Shelley, 2016, p. 121). He later asks Walton ‘think ye that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears?’ (ib.) which reinforces the fact that he detests his violent actions.

Keeping this in mind, viewing him and Victor Frankenstein as opposites, the second one fits the description of what a monster is according to The Being, a sentiment I think I understand. How often do we find or live a situation in which society creates a monster? How many times have we felt outcasts in the environment we live in? We all have felt deceived at least once, and sometimes this is caused by the person we thought would never harm us, making us discover a hatred we thought inconceivable. We all have been The Being.

The novel shows ‘how society alienates people because of their certain characteristics which usually do not fulfil the desired and decisive taste of the society’ (Sarkar, 2013, p. 29), which, as Shelley showed, is a harmful process that creates an actual monster. This makes me wonder: if we look at the news and our modern world, could we say that we have changed? Or could it be that some of us are still Beings in a Victor-ish society?

Danny Boyle's Frankenstein (2011) featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller


Brännström, C. (2006). An Analysis of the Theme of Alienation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Luleå University of Technology, Sweden.
Hughes, B. (2017) ‘A devout but nearly silent listener’: dialogue, sociability, and Promethean individualism in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies 16 (Autumn 2017). 4-21.
Knudsen, L. O. (2012). Reading Between the Lines: An analysis of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, using Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto as an example of male discourse about women. Master’s Thesis. Aalborg Universitet, Denmark.
Sarkar, P. (2013) Frankenstein: An Echo of Social Alienation and Social Madness. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 9, Issue 3 (Mar. - Apr. 2013). 29-32.
Shelley, M. W. (2016). Frankenstein. Gothic Digital Series. British Gothic Novels (1764 - 1820). Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil.
Skalošová, Ž. (2015). Monster and Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Diploma Thesis. Masaryk University, Czech Republic.

Alan D.D. is an author, blogger and journalist who has been freaking the world since 1995. Hailing and writing out of Venezuela, Alan D.D. has worked with books, comics, music, movies and almost anything else that catches his attention. 99% of the time, it’s something about witches. He’s currently publishing a dark fantasy saga in Wattpad and searching for a 24/7 chocolate supplier.