victor frankenstein laboratory

 

My dear Sister,                                                                                            August 22nd, 17 —.

You will remember from my last correspondence the account of my admirable guest Victor Frankenstein, how during his studies in Ingolstadt he had by some miracle discovered the secret to bestowing life. Good God! The prospect alone animated the greatest excitement in my soul! I begged he continue, and after a night’s rest he obliged, his words which I will relate to you:

“It was with great delight that I began my labours. A temporary shunning of my fellow-creatures, my classmates, even my dear family, but was a small price to pay for the great knowledge and glory — oh! the glory! — that was well within my grasp. My silence, however, did not go unnoticed. My worried father sent me numerous letters inquiring about my studies, but to these I remained mute, resolving to reward him with words of triumph upon the accomplishment of my toils.

“Oh, dear father, but if this were the truth! If only an accursed spirit had not descended to seal my wretched destiny! Forgive me, I must pause here; for it requires all my fortitude to recall the memory of the frightful events which I am about to relate, in proper detail, to my recollection.

“Delays seemed to me at first necessary. I resolved to never be so unkind as to endow my creation with anything but beautiful features in perfect proportion. Yet charnel-houses proved less helpful than I had anticipated. Three months alone were spent acquiring the perfect nose; each arm well over 10 weeks each, and I still shake remembering the many sleepless nights I agonized over which thumbs would invoke in me the most delight when my creation were to one day attempt the famous gesture.

“You will understand, then, that these unforeseen deferments did nothing to bolster my spirit. Soon my occupation became, to my horror, loathsome, and I could not prevail on myself to enter my laboratory for several days, loath to see the pitifulness of my labours. Even in the midst of work my wicked mind would conceive of reasons to cease. At certain times I left the thing on which I was engaged under the pretense of research, only to find myself three hours later engrossed not in the works of Cornelius Agrippa or Paracelsus, but in the basest novels of Burney or Fielding!

“It was in this detestable manner that winter, spring and summer passed away. The smallest setbacks continued to cripple me, and it was with greater ease that I began to neglect my work. Often I convinced myself that a warm meal would induce the greatest productivity. But food alone would of course not suffice. Sleep, then, would perhaps restore my energy and fill me with fresh resolve. This too was a farce. I would delay for weeks at a time, determining that fresher materials were needed from the slaughter houses, then that I could not possibly work at night, for candles were a luxury worth saving. Weeks, then months, passed like this, and the intent and care with which I had put into cleaning my seldom-used instruments was repulsive.

“I shudder in recollection, for to my fellow-creatures I appeared like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines. The simple pleasures that before yielded me such joy no longer did so. Yet what did I have to show for this sacrifice?

“Nearly two years into my work, my ambitions had transformed. Completion alone could bring me solace. Beauty, once treasured, was subordinate to the far more desirable prospect of conclusion. While I would often turn with loathing from my occupation, the energy of my purpose sustained me. I looked toward completion with a tremulous and eager hope, yet still my heart sickened in my bosom.

“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.”

As he said this, my amiable friend closed his eyes, visibly distraught, and became silent. I was confused — as you must be, dearest Margaret — more than disturbed by his tale and confessed this to him.

Nodding, he confided in me the true source of his anguish, that his two years of labours had been a response to an ordinary assignment from his professors, that the task was “to demonstrate what one has learned from four years at the fine University of Ingolstadt,” and that his classmates had managed quite nicely by writing papers or, at most, making some small discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments.

“A conveniently open prompt,” he bemoaned. “The source of all my unhappiness! Ambition mixed with Procrastination, the accursed draught! Unforgiving wretch! Devil!” He continued another half an hour in this wild manner, extoling the importance of time management, before at last, exhausted by his effort, he sunk into silence.

 



AFTERWORD

Readers of this post will likely be familiar with my classmate Sev’s brilliant piece on the banes of blog writing in this class, a word-for-word parody of the creation scene in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With this in mind, I find it important to mention that I too had the idea of paralleling the writing process with Victor’s creating of the monster, that I had resolved early on to write about this exact idea and that it was with a combination of joy and dismay that I saw Sev’s post in the wee hours of Thursday morning. While it has undergone a fair bit of changes, this is still the idea I have presented in “Doomed By Slavery.”

An aspect of Victor Frankenstein’s story that intrigued me most was his attitude toward building the female creation: “I went to it in cold blood, and my heart often sickened at the work of my hands” (Shelley 143). This is often the feeling I get while writing, and, indeed, this blog post is a sure-fire example of this. Like the creation, essays are an amalgam (a composite body, if you will) of various points and quotes and analyses and ideas that are forced together (hopefully naturally but not always) to form a seemingly cohesive whole. Oftentimes, like Victor, I look on my creations with disgust. Also like Victor, I toil through this process and feel “like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines” (60), even though my task is not nearly so daunting.

This comparison, however, elucidated differences between he and I, for although we both suffer, Victor’s personal pursuit of glory is his primary motivator for his first creation, while mine (like many college students today, I presume) is to fulfill my duties as a student. In this sense, I actually find Victor somewhat admirable in his commitment to his craft. In this retelling, then, I hoped to strip away this redeemable quality by answering the question, what if Victor were as bad a procrastinator as me? And, better yet, what if he were really just a perfectionist who went overboard on a simple school assignment

Throughout, I tried to maintain the setting in 18th century Ingolstadt (Burney and Fielding wrote popular books at the time, though I’m not sure they would be called “base”), and keep everything about Victor’s character intact, aside from his work ethic. In homage to Shelley’s text, I maintained the frame narrative (Walton opens and closes) to cast the entire account in Frankenstein-style ambiguity and tried to preserve her word choice (“dear Sister,”  “Good God!,” “wretch,” “labours,” “shudder”) to contrast the seriousness of the language with the silliness of the situation. Scattered throughout the piece (like the body parts that comprise the creation) are exact quotes from Shelley’s original text, used in different situations and contexts to induce humor.

Speaking of ambiguity, I chose to leave the existence of the creation largely uncertain, for the story revolves not around the journey (struggling to make the creation or write an essay) and not the destination (whether or not the creation or the essay is completed). In this iteration, did Victor actually produce a living and breathing creation, or was he about to describe some other “accomplishment” to his toils? Or maybe this last-minute rush to finish the creation could actually fit in with Shelley’s original narrative, and it could even explain why the creation looked so hideous! I hope these are just a few of the questions a reader will come up, but then again, they may look at this hideous, large, convoluted amalgam, this assignment-taken-too-far, and turn away in disgust. I’d be fine with that too. My creation is complete.

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