Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
Reading Frankenstein reminded me of another book dealing with a man playing at God’s game – The Island of Doctor Moreau, which was discussed earlier this year. The two men are obsessed with learning the mysticism of life through grotesque experiments. But while Moreau is never touched by guilt or remorse,Victor Frankenstein spends the rest of his life trying to pay for the damage he’s done. I liked that about him, but it took me a while to understand his ways. At first Victor is telling us that from his very young years he was interested in the “secrets of heaven and earth”. He explains that “whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world” (p.25). Very much like Moreau, he wanted to be able to understand how things worked, which is nothing new for an aspiring scientist. Victor, however, undertakes a dark task of creating a human from parts of multiple corpses reanimated with electricity.
We all know the story of course. There is a thunder storm, and a hideous underling croaking “Yes, master”, and a menacing “It’s alive!” as the monster moves for the first time, his hideous features illuminated by sudden flashes of lightning! Well, not exactly. I was expecting all these theatrics as I opened the book, but was greatly underwhelmed by the process of creation of the monster. In the book Victor does it alone, in the privacy of his apartment turned into a lab. The whole thing takes maybe a page in description, and while we have a lifeless form on the operating table at one point, it is a walking zombie by the next paragraph. And no, Victor does not proclaim it to be alive in hysterical triumph. Instead, he is terrified by his own creation and retreats to the safety of his room, pretty much fainting in the process.
Yes, Victor does a lot of fainting in the book. Apparently, back in the nineteenth century, it was considered a sign of extreme manliness to be able to express violent emotions and be physically devastated by inner turmoil. I guess back in the day women didn’t complain about men being too insensitive. And Victor has a lot to be sensitive about: the monster is resentful of his master’s hatred for it and vows to exercise vengeance whenever opportunity allows for it. The monster feels rejected by the world, and while originally having a pure heart, learns cruelty and violence as one after another of his attempts to be part of society fails. When it crosses paths with those dear to Victor, it sees the opportunity to rob his creator of happiness too. This is pretty sad, if you ask me. Sometimes I wondered why Frankenstein couldn’t take responsibility for the monster, instead choosing to destroy it. To remember a famous Saint-Exupery quote from Little Prince: “”You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed”, and Victor failed on that accord. I think he should have followed through with his promise to create a female for the monster and let them live in seclusion. At the same time, who is to say that Victor’s logical explanation to his change of heart wasn’t based on real possibilities? And finally, to conclude on the epic note of awesome:
This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and , in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stagecoach. The cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in furs – a dress which I have already adopted, for there is a great difference between walking the deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. […] I shall certainly find no friend on the wide ocean, nor even here in Archangel, among merchants and seamen.
Ok, how cool is that? Mary Shelley herself is mentioning my hometown in one of the most famous horror books ever published!