Tag Archive: frankenstein


Doomed By Slavery

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. Continue reading

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Frankenstein’s Abortion

I sat on the swing outside on the patio, relaxing in the pale moon-glow2light of the rising moon, trying to forget for a while the horrible events of the day. It was supposed to be a happy day, the happiest day of my life. Seeing your baby for the first time is supposed to be a magical moment where awe and wonder at the fact that you made that should overwhelm you. Instead all I could think about was that my baby girl might be deformed, physically and possibly mentally. The doctors weren’t certain about the exact nature of her deformity, but she was there was a strong probability that she was going to be different. I was having a child without no conception of how she was going to turn out. She might be the kid no one ever played with, she might be rejected everywhere she went simply for her differences. She would not thank me for her creation. How could she ever have a normal life? She might be full of anger and hate, unable to cope with her situation, and lash out at the world.

Years ago I had made this same mistake and my son had never forgiven the fact that I could never love him the way he wanted me to or give him the life he desired. He wanted me to have the baby. My son wanted someone he could call family. He had sworn to help provide for and take care of her, but the child may not be satisfied with this and might still loathe me. He might also be disgusted with her deformity and reject her. Anything could happen! How could I know, how could I go through with this when there was so much risk?

If she ever wanted children, her condition would be passed on, and they too might lead terrible lives. Did I have a right, simply to satisfy my desire for a baby, to curse my daughter and all the generations that come after her to lives of loneliness, rejection and suffering? I trembled to think of how much they would hate me, the source of all their pain, who would selfishly choose my own wants without a care for the effect on my descendants.

I looked inside the house through the window and saw him sitting in front of the fireplace, the light dancing on his face in hellish flames.  He wanted someone to love and love him. I had felt so sorry for him that I had agreed to have the baby. He had persuaded and threatened me, to extract that promise, but now its selfishness  and immorality burst over me. As I looked at him, I realized that though his impassioned words had swayed me before, this was my decision and I couldn’t let fear or a desire to satisfy someone else’s wants make that decision for me. A shudder wracked my body and I felt a shift somewhere within. A strange sensation came over me and in a wild rush I threw open the door and said, “I can’t do it. I can’t bring that in to the world.  I’m not going through with this baby.”

An Interview with the Author of the Wildly Popular ‘Frankenstein’s Abortion’ 

Interviewer: It’s so nice to meet you! Congratulations on making the New York Time Top 100 Bestsellers’ list! How has the ride been?

MK: Oh its been mind-boggling. When I wrote that story I was just re-reading the scene in Frankenstein where he destroys the female creature, and thinking about how the novel portrays men through what takes place when a man tries to usurp the natural order. I tried to turn that on its head and write what Victor was feeling, but seemingly from the point of view of a pregnant woman. I never expected people to like it so much.

Interviewer: Why do you think its become so popular?

MK: I wrote it to show the gender essentialism and gender roles we propagate, and I think it resonated with people because of the large amount of attention that feminism has been receiving recently. When Victor destroys the female creature in the book one feels horror, fear for the monster’s retribution and pity for the Creature. The selfishness of Victor seems to come to the fore and the reader thinks “After coming all the way here, upsetting everybody, postponing his wedding and working for hours” he just decides to destroy her and doom himself. But when I portrayed the same things Victor says, in an almost stylistically identical manner, but giving the impression that the individual is a pregnant woman who has been persuaded to have a baby, this scene elicits pity for the speaker’s situation and anger that someone is coercing her into having the baby, very different from what it inspired in readers when the person in question was a man. I think people are responding to this subtle demonstration of the essentialist views everyone holds and it shows what we need to take steps toward changing.

Interviewer: I notice that you never explicitly say the word ‘pregnant’ or make clear that the speaker is a woman. Is there some reason for that?

MK: I only wanted to give the impression of a female speaker, to show even simply that is enough to make the reader feel sympathetic towards her, as a helpless victim.

Interviewer: Why did you choose to write about abortion specifically? I mean as I understand it, there are numerous examples of feminine essentialism and objectification of the female body in Frankenstein, embodied in Justine and Elizabeth. Why did you choose this scene and this issue?

MK: Abortion has been a major topic of contention recently with numerous new legislature being passed in different states. I wanted to throw some light on that topic too. The tense that this story is written in is the same as the novel’s and it imparts the idea that could be happening at any time, any place and to anyone.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to say?

MK: Well, I just want to mention how ridiculously easy it was to mould this scene in Frankenstein into one of a pregnant woman deciding to abort, and it is almost as if Mary Shelley was talking about abortion too. Victor says “My labour was already considerably advanced… [but I had] forebodings of evil, that made my heart sicken in my bosom”, which is very similar to a woman who is pretty far along in her pregnancy but dreads the prospect of the baby and does not want it anymore.

Interviewer: Thank you so much for coming, I look forward to reading more of your brilliant work.

It was on a dreary night of April, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With hesitating anxiety, I arranged my thoughts around me, that I might infuse a spark of intellect into the lifeless blog that lay on my screen. It was three in the morning; the mechanical hum of the adjacent laundry room resonated miserably against the fluorescent bulbs in the study room. My machine’s battery had nearly died, when, with a click, I saw the dull words of my post flicker onto the screen.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineated the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to write? The sentences were grammatically correct, and I had chosen words as intelligent. Intelligent! — Great God! The clunky prose scarcely covered the half of the screen; the relevant tags at the end of the post could not possibly illustrate properly the conventions of my post. The blog layout was well-formed, but this luxuriance only formed a more horrid contrast with the disastrous and unbecoming words that snaked down the page, suckling away any intellectual value from the post seemingly at once.

The different accidents of academia are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly an hour, for the sole purpose of growing the boundaries of human thought and expanding the well of knowledge so that my peers might bathe in its waters. For this I had deprived myself rest and a meal swipe. I had desired the reward of high marks with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the lustrous dream of an infallible transcript vanished before my very eyes, retreating into the darkest recesses of the internet. Unable to endure the aspect of the post I had created, I hurriedly shut my browser. I threw myself on my dorm room cot in my clothes, endeavoring to seek refuge in sleep. But my attempts were in vain, as I tossed and turned in my bedchamber as the agonizing thoughts of my failures tortured my brain.

When I did sleep, I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw my future diploma, the manifestation of my academic success, in good condition on my study wall. Delighted and surprised, I approached it, but as I reached out to at last embrace my good fortune, it became livid with the hue of failure, and to my palms it gave a searing pain. Its form appeared to change, and as it modified, it captured my wrists in the unbreakable snare of handcuffs and rope. What I had so long desired had become the bondage that now held me captive. As I studied the freshly open wounds of my bound wrists, ink appeared to seep out of my injuries and form writing on the ground below me — tantalizingly close, yet a fog shrouded the words so that I could not decipher them.

I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb convulsed; when, by the dim and fluorescent light of my phone, as it forced its way into my consciousness, I beheld a notification on my blog — the failure I was responsible for. The email opened, and it presented some incomprehensible information to me. It might have said something, but I did not read. I was aware of only one letter that was present on the screen — C+ — which appeared to reach out to me, seemingly to mock me for my trespasses on academia. I recoiled, and quitted my phone, and fled into my covers. I took refuge under my sheets, where I remained during the rest of the night, languishing in the agony of my creation.

Review (in the form of an ‘author forward’)

For this project I wanted to do something that everyone in the class could relate to and would also find enjoyable to read. So after thinking long and hard about experiences we might share as a class, I decided the only experience we all must be familiar with is the task of writing a post for our class blog. In many senses, the blog is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster — a collection of many different parts, dug up from each of our minds. I wanted to also convey the sense of struggle that most of us feel as we pursue our higher education. Certainly there are worse fates to fall victim to than that of the overworked college student. However, at times it does feel as though our obligations for school are controlling our lives, and not the other way around, as it should be. The plight of the college student is both humorous and relatable, and in context, it was easy to frame and represent through the creation of one of our blog posts.

Stylistically, I quite literally took Shelley’s passage on Victor’s creation scene, systematically broke it down word by word, and re-wrote it in a way that would fit our experience. Certain sentences are almost identical to Shelley’s work (done on purpose, not out of laziness!) while others only echo the original text. I tried to use the same arcane-sounding literary style that was the popular style of writing when Shelley was around. It actually ended up being pretty fun to do, and as I have found, inserting words and phrases similar to the dramatic, verbose tone Shelley uses can actually be quite humorous when juxtaposed with modern or otherwise silly concepts.

Frankenstein 1994

Let’s talk a bit more about the creation’s birth scene. Bouriana Zakharieva, in “Frankenstein of the Nineties: The Composite Body,” writes that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), “[c]reator and creation embrace in an ambivalent scene of struggle and affection; their hug is an expression of a desire to separate from each other and at the same time to help each other stand erect” (422). The claim is that this moment symbolically represents “human evolution” (422) and their eventual “love-hate relationship” (423).

But for me, I think this was downright one of the most comedic scenes of the film. Victor fails at least six times to get his creation to stand in that slimy mess, and the camera makes no effort to disguise the pitifulness of it all. I didn’t see much animosity so much as a little creator so desperately wanting his creation to stand.

I have way too many questions, but oh well:

Why did Branagh introduce this “standing-up scene,” which Mary Shelley never put in her novel? Does its comedy (if you agree that it’s funny) serve some purpose? How does it, as Zakharieva claims, represent “human evolution”? Finally, why is it only after the creation’s actually chained up that Victor questions, “What have I done?”

ship

If not for Frankenstein I probably never would’ve heard of Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, let alone his seminal work, Ruins of Empires.

It’s not a widely read book these days, but remember, it’s the exact one from which the creation “obtained a cursory knowledge of history” (Shelley 108). Listing the “different nations of the earth” (108), he talks about Asiatics, Grecians, Romans, Christian kings and even Native Americans — but never explicitly the British.

I never noticed this, but the student gfeldtx did, and in “Powerful Omission,” claims, “Through omission, Shelley has rendered the most powerful nation on earth voiceless. This is the same voicelessness that categorizes [Gayatri Chakravorty] Spivak’s idea of the subaltern.”

A commenter added: “Felix is French, and Volney is French, yet there is no mention of anything regarding Napoleon and his French empire, or honestly just anything regarding France in general.”

No mention of Britain. No mention of France. What’s up that?

I contend that this omission of the British and French empires does not render these empires voiceless. In fact, I think the omission calls more attention to these nations, which cannot be confined within a “cursory knowledge of history” but are at large within the novel through the manifestation of the creation as the revolutionary working class.

Based on the despairingly great lengths I took to actually understand what Volney’s 1791 book is about (you can find a pretty decent summary here), I wish I could articulate it better. Here’s my attempt: Volney highlights the constant dispute between the higher and lower class as the source of all social conflict, and he proposes that through the progress of science, all people will become enlightened and will then work for one another’s interests. Now, I know, we’ve commented at length about the creation as proletariat, but lend me your ear real quick.

I hesitate to paint broad strokes, but the creation embodies the mob. He is the lower class, the French revolutionaries, the British revolutionaries. He cannot be contained in Felix’s teachings because he is present history, the people who “possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property” (109) and have the collective capacity to

Throughout Frankenstein lies this tension. While there may be no mention of France and Britain in relation to Ruins, remember Elizabeth’s letter to Victor: “The republican institutions of our country have produced simpler and happier manners than those which prevail in the great monarchies that surround it. […] A servant in Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France and England” (66). But what happens to Justine?

If I had more time, I’d go further than this. Remember the very first words of the novel? “To Mrs. Saville, England” (28). And when the novel closes, where is Walton returning? “I am returning to England” (183). Everything we’ve read has come through the lens of the English. They’re on the outside of this confined text. And so is the monster.

Don’t Force It

Mellor’s argues that Frankenstein is subconsciously engaging in oppressive sexual politics in his pursuit of the creation of life. In other words, Victor’s scientific endeavors are an assault on females and inherently sexist, simply by virtue of his scientific pursuit.

I would argue that Mellor’s paper is subconsciously engaging in oppression to logic and critical thinking. By extrapolating her conclusions, which are tethered together with rickety evidence, she is launching a direct assault on literary study and common knowledge. Sometimes, I think people get too caught up in wanting an argument to be true, and bending whatever support they can to justify their position. In Mellor’s case, I think she had reached her conclusion well before analyzing and doing a thorough reading of the book. Instead, she used her reading simply to back up what she wants to believe about the book.

I mean, come on. Out of all the things Victor does to warrant personal criticism, I think his devotion to the sciences is one of the only admirable things he does in the entire movie. “Manipulating nature”, as Mellor so critically describes Victor’s actions, is also responsible for all of modern medicine, technology, and mechanics. Those things are essential to our society today, and were each borne out of a manipulation of nature.

Frankenstein does some morally reprehensible things throughout the story, and probably was a sexist, and probably was also completely insane. I would not want to hang out with Vic, because he seems like the kind of guy to just stand in the corner awkwardly and make everyone uncomfortable. But regardless of that, he definitely was a brilliant scientist, and I don’t think it’s fair to chastise him for trying to innovate and create the next great step for mankind.

By saying that Victor’s attempts to manipulate nature were inherently sexist, Mellor is arguing that the sciences themselves are also inherently sexist. That message is the last thing we need these days. Women need to be encouraged to study and participate in STEM-related fields, and placing a sexist label on certain fields of study is counter productive and dangerous.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

So, we have reason to believe Victor Frankenstein is a rapist.

Yes, yes, I know the victim we’re talking about isn’t a person, but nature (if that makes it any better), but let’s wrestle some more with that idea. Because I can’t help but think, “Victor may be violating nature by playing God and all, but doesn’t he also show affection for nature? Doesn’t he spend a lot of time romanticizing landscapes?” And the answer to all that is, “Yes … but not really.”

Victor does have some tender scenes with nature. Roaming the mountains, he describes how nature “congregated round me; the unstained snowy mountain-top, the glittering pinnacle, the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine; the eagle, soaring amidst the clouds — they all gathered round me, and bade me be at peace” (Shelley 90). In times like these, Victor dotes on nature and calls her (if I may continue the metaphor) a healing friend. But the lovey-doveyness quickly stops. When Victor wakes up the next morning, the rain is so heavy that he can no longer see his “mighty friends” (91), the mountaintops or the trees or the eagle. And he declares, “Still I would penetrate their misty veil, and seek them in their cloudy retreats. What were rain and storm to me?” (91).

Wait. What? Penetrate?

Sounds messed up, but any reader of Anne K. Mellor’s “A Feminist Critique of Science” shouldn’t be surprised. Mellor argues that Frankenstein is a story where “the aggressive, virile male scientist legitimately captures and enslaves a fertile but passive female nature” (Mellor 1). And based on the novel’s gendered language, it’s pretty hard to refute that. (The word “penetrate” comes back a lot more than you’d expect.)

So Victor’s definitely obsessed with raping nature, but the cool thing is nature doesn’t just take it. After he decides to mess with nature again by agreeing to make his creation a female companion, Victor accuses the sky for mocking him and asks it to “crush sensation and memory; let me become as nought” (Shelley 131). He bemoans to Walton, “I cannot describe to you how the eternal twinkling of the stars weighed upon me, and how I listened to every blast of wind, as if it were a dull, ugly siroc on its way to consume me” (131). The horrific results of his rape (the creation) now fully illuminated to him, Victor cannot even bear the mere presence of nature. Where there was once comfort now lies misery. Gone is the restorative, consoling friend. Gone is the passive, silent victim. So, yes, nature in Frankenstein may be feminine, and she may have been violated, but she’s far from submissive.

And I think Victor may want that veil back.

victor & elizabeth

I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film version of Frankenstein, so honestly I’m not too sure what’s going on in that scene up there. I mean, yes, that’s Victor and Elizabeth clearly having a moment. But I wonder, is Elizabeth dead in that picture?

She probably isn’t, but hear me out — the only times Victor shows intense passion for Elizabeth (in Mary Shelley’s 1831 book, at least) is during his particularly vivid dream (which I’ll get to) and after Elizabeth’s dead, when he “rushed towards her, and embraced her with ardour” (168), observing “the deadly languor and coldness of the limbs” (Shelley 168).

Now, that dream. In it, Victor’s walking the streets of Ingolstadt, when suddenly he see Elizabeth “in the bloom of health” (61). He recounts, “Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death, her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms” (61).

Sigmund Freud would have a field day with this one. Believing that dreams were fuzzy windows into the unconscious, Freud analyzed dreams to find repressed bestial desires now made into altered, more acceptable forms. According to Freud, “every emotional affect, whatever its quality, is transformed by repression into morbid anxiety” (Freud 429), and if this repressed object recurs and causes anxiety, then it’s considered uncanny. Yup, Victor’s sure sounds like an uncanny dream.

So why this dream now? Why would Victor think of his dead mother now? Well, this happens just after he’s given life — given birth — to his creation. And remember, one of the biggest reasons he decided to do this whole thing was because he thought, “if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (Shelley 58).

Because the death of his mother absolutely wrecked him. In fact, Victor calls it “that most irreparable evil” (50). In describing his mother’s nursing of Elizabeth from scarlet fever (which ultimately kills her), he details, “Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver” (49). Imprudence? Ouch. For every tender word he uses to describe Elizabeth, this speaks volumes. Undoubtedly, Victor has not gotten over the death of Caroline Frankenstein, “this best of women” (49). Worse, Caroline straight-up tells Elizabeth (really, the reason she’s dying in the first place) to replace her, as she says, “Elizabeth my love, you must supply my place to my younger children” (49).

And in a way, Elizabeth does. She is the sole madam and caretaker and ultimately wife of the Frankenstein house. But she’s also inadequate. Victor’s affections clearly remain with his dead mother, shown through Elizabeth transforming into Caroline in his dream as well as his obsession with animating dead matter. Because of Victor’s repressed resentment for Elizabeth, she cannot fully replace Caroline as mother and lover.  And most telling of all, Victor, ever the egomaniac, takes on this pursuit on his own, taking the role of mother in forming the creation. Pretty sure that didn’t work out so well either.

From Victor’s “wildest dreams” it appears that he is deviating from the normal Oedipal development (if any of it can actually be called ‘normal’), and instead of progressing from the infantile Oedipal stage into an adult stage where he is supposed to look for substitutes for his mother, he is regressing back from the substitute, namely Elizabeth, to his mother, as is seen in the dream figure’s transformation. This revival of an infantile stage is a return of the repressed and this which arouses the uncanny, along with the incest taboo that is ingrained in society, causes Victor to be absolutely horrified with his unholy desire, as is seen in the image of the “graveworms crawling”(61) which, according to Freud, could be a safer way to express his horror at his incestuous thoughts, as ‘insects’ is a word similar to ‘incest’. This tension and self-abhorrence in Victor may be the source of all his anguish throughout the novel, and his drive to make the Creature. The Creature can in fact be seen as an expression of this unnatural sexual desire for his mother that is buried in his unconscious; he is the desire made flesh. Victor’s narcissism doesn’t allow him to loathe himself for what he sees as a horrifying unnatural desire, or go harmlessly neurotic like other people do when their repressed drives rise to the surface, so instead he creates a being, a manifestation of this desire, on which he can displace the hatred. This is supported by the fact that the Creature’s biggest grievance is that he is unnatural and doesn’t belong anywhere.

Like his desire for his mother, the Creature is also a literal return from the repressed, as he is put together from parts of dead bodies that were buried in the past. He is Victor’s hidden perversity exposed to whole world, as is exemplified in the image created by “[in the] light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch”(61), where the light invades the dark room, a representation of the inner compartments of Victor’s psyche, and shines on the Creature. This can also explain the description of the Creature’s eyes with “if eyes they may called”(61) which calls into question the legitimacy of his penis, as Victor is afraid that his forbidden desire for his mother means that there is something wrong with him sexually. This is why Victor seems to simultaneously hate the Creature and be obsessed with him. This is why he never tells anyone about the Creature as, to reveal his unconscious desire would be unthinkable, elucidated in how he says, “my tale is not one for the public”(78) and doesn’t even consider telling the truth to save Justine’s life. This is why he feels such strong fear, (“catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse”) and horror towards the Creature, as this is the result of the experience of the uncanny that arises when there is a return of the repressed.

Let Them Eat Cake!

One of the toughest things for me to do, in trying to understand Marxism, is to try to look at world through the lens of the proletariat. I feel like a lot of us here at Vanderbilt might struggle with the same thing. While we study at our expensive private college, surrounded by amenities and comforts, most of us feel at ease with our social condition. When we look at the world through our own experiences, it’s hard for us to imagine why on earth anyone could possibly adopt the revolutionary views Marxism is all about.

For me, a Marxist reading of Frankenstein struggles with this same concept. It’s hard to understand the pathos of the ‘proletariat’, in this case the monster. I feel like Montag’s essay arrives at a valid conclusion. The monster, Montag says, is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability”. What this meant, to me, is that the struggle of the proletariat is what is hard to symbolize. I can certainly see how the monster represents the proletariat, that much is clear. But it requires deeper meditation and thought to understand the monster’s struggle, and the actions he takes as a result.

When the monster, standing over Victor’s dead body, says, “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on,” the feeling of class struggle is certainly present. I think the Marxist would use this to justify the monster’s actions. I have trouble doing this – and maybe that makes me an unwitting part of the bourgeois.