Tag Archive: robert walton

By Jade Graham


-Located in the Saville Family Archives-
From the desk of Margaret Saville
Date: December 4, 1799

Robert and I were close, especially when we were younger. He was always wandering off to the nearby forest where we lived as kids, while I always had my nose in a book. Eventually, he would come back and tell me his findings. Usually, it involved woodland creatures and his attempts to interact with them. I always believed them to be silly tales he told to amuse me. After he was finished telling me his stories, I would tell him the book I had read that day. Reading was my way of experiencing adventure, and Robert quite often enjoyed my retelling of the interesting novels I read.

As we got older and we both were dedicated to our studies, we kept in touch through letters. I was focused in England and Robert was continuously changing school to another school. One day, I got a letter out of the blue from him saying he was planning an expedition to the North Pole and leaving his studies behind. I inquired as to why he would make a decision so drastically. It made me think back to when we were younger and his forest journeys.

He used to say he wanted to change the world with a great adventure one day. In his letter, he reasoned that this expedition was a fine idea and how he was fully capable of seeing it through. Robert desired the knowledge that others did not possess in universities. I did not believe when my brother informed me of going through with this expedition that it would go well. The North Pole is dangerous and not like the woods he used to explore as a child.

I wondered if mother and father knew of Robert’s intentions. However, there is very little they could have done to stop him. Once Robert set his mind on something, he was driven by ambition to get the task done. If only they knew what I knew now. I haven’t heard from Robert in a few months, the letters have stopped. I’m terrified that something else has occurred since his last letter where he revealed the last part of Victor Frankenstein’s story with his creation. Even the word, “creation” is still appalling to read in his letters. What a story!

If this is to be truthful, then science has forever been altered. The events that have taken place the past few years, if real are fascinatingly terrifying. But a question lingers in my mind most nights, preventing sleep. Is it better for the world to know of the creature and his creator’s tale or let the world continue? With this knowledge my brother, as well as myself, now have… what are we to do with it? There is no proof, no evidence to be given. When Robert comes home as he is supposed to in four months time, I will ask what he believes should take place next. I do hope he is alright. Robert does not always think first with his actions, especially if he can attain something out of the risk. He and Victor Frankenstein appear to have this idea in common. I just hope for his sake that he does not end up in a fate such as Victor Frankenstein did.



Published in The New York Times
May 13, 2019

It has been over two hundred years since this letter (and others mentioned) have been written. Recently found in the deceased Mary Saville’s household, skeptics believe there is a possibility of truth to this story. Other sources have discovered journal entries from their family ancestry describing strange events involving a “creature” like the one mentioned in Ms. Margaret Saville’s letter. This one, however, is the only letter recovered, the other ones have yet (or never will be) found.

Why were these letters between Ms. Saville and her brother written? It appears to be a sibling bond nonetheless, however, the wild tale implications seem to add a shock appeal. Ms. Saville’s handwriting in this letter is quick as if the thoughts were about to leave her as she wrote them. As if she needed to get them out. Yet, there is still secrecy what the full story is. Without the other letters, the world does not know the full tale. I do believe skeptics will find the letter funny and discard it. Cast the idea off aside, when in reality one never does know the full truth. What happened with the person Victor Frankenstein? What fate did he have? Why did Ms. Saville want to stop her brother?

Too many questions with very little answers to show for an actual story. That is what my editor told me. But here, now before the deadline, I believe there is more to Ms. Saville and her brother’s letters. I believe they could change the world as her brother wanted to when he was alive.

Blog Summary 2 – Perspective

One integral idea that comes across from my posts is the notion of perspective, and how said perspective informs or influences the audience. All the themes, motifs, and ideals expressed in Frankenstein are fed through a narrative lens or a particular perspective. This means that the audience is given a filtered image of reality tainted by a particular character’s ideology rather than reality itself. This is further complicated by Shelley’s choice of narrative. She could have easily framed the novel in a third-person omniscient, which would seamlessly encapsulate the perspectives of all the characters, but most importantly the perspectives of the creature and Frankenstein in a unbiased manner. Instead, she chooses an epistolary narrative, in which most of the story told to us in a shifting perspective, from letters written by Robert Walton, to quotes from Victor Frankenstein, and to, a lesser degree, the creature. So instead of one consistent, holistic perspective, the audience gets multiple, partisan perspectives. Not only does this fragmented view offered by the novel result in multiple layers of subtext, but it also helps us to better understand each character.

The discrete, individual perspectives are so important because they provide much of the context within the novel, or in some cases, lack of context. This is particularly exemplified by the by the perception of “lower” characters, such as the creature and Justine, by the “higher” ones such as Walton or Frankenstein. For the majority of the novel, the events are expressed from a privileged, elitist, perspective that does not provide context for the actions of the creature, and thus the audience is led to believe the creature to be a violent, grotesque, misanthrope. However, Shelley also ingeniously gives us the perspective of Frankenstein, which not only provides the aforementioned context, but allows the audience to compare and contrast perspectives. From the particular details that are emphasized or obfuscated, the audience can surmise the character’s biases and ideals, and ultimately better understand the characters themselves.

Burke’s understanding of sympathy can be put concisely, I think, as an indiscriminate attempt by the inherently curious mind to recreate for all faculties what it only perceives with a few. And this phantom of an experience , because it is unreal “may either partake of the nature of those which regard self-preservation, and turning upon pain may be a source of the sublime” (part 1, section 13), or because it is still an experience “it may turn upon ideas of pleasure” (part 1,section 13). Be that as it may, sympathy is a profound mode of communication. It is, as Burke puts it “an instinct that works us to its own purposes without our concurrence.” (part 1, section 14).

The novel Frankenstein is a narration (in a letter, to Margaret Seville) of a narration (to Robert Walton) of a recollection (of Victor Frankenstein. Inception, anyone?). And so by its very structure, it distances the reader from the story. It is imperative, therefore, that the text bridge the gap of this sacrifice for realism by invoking man’s generous reserves of sympathy. This is my attempt to understand how an extract, and by extension the whole text from the novel, communicates with the reader’s passions.

In this selection from a letter, Robert mentions to his sister his dire need of a friend. The paragraph expands on this idea to garner the readers’ sympathies. The text contains a lot of repetition and rephrasing of thoughts (“when I am glowing with […] success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will […] sustain me in dejection.”, lines 2-3. And: “who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine[?].”, lines 4-5). Similarly, Robert delineates his  need for a friend throughout the paragraph (“I have no friend, Margaret”, line 2; “but I bitterly feel the want of a friend”, line 5; and “I greatly need a friend who would […][not] despise me as romantic, and […] endeavour to regulate my mind.”, lines 13-14). This repetition, both explicitly and in meaning, ensures that the readers can let Robert’s thoughts sink in, and that they are constantly reminded of his predicament.

Another point of notice is the dramatization of Robert’s thoughts. For instance at one point he almost assumes his sister’s response (“You may deem me romantic, my dear sister”, line 5). And again, in the heat of the moment he exclaims :”How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother!” (line 7). This change in tone and attitude makes the letter’s text more vibrant and creates the illusion that the veil of narration does not exist. And so the readers find it easier to identify themselves with Robert directly rather than through Margaret.

Similarly, the letter’s content is enforced by its theme. Robert’s repetitions make it clear that his need is acute. We see it reflected in the aura of his words. Between lines 3-6 the sentences are disjointed, and put excessive focus on something, his prospective friend, that he does not have. He also uses somewhat contradictory phrases (“gentle yet courageous”, lines 5-6; “approve or amend”, line 6) that create tension in the text. The structure and the content of his sentences makes Robert seem urgent and impulsive and in character with Shelly’s intended depiction. So the readers can now experience another dimension consistent with what they already know (of his overwhelming need). And the clearer the image of Robert is, the more the readers can sympathize with him.

Also the general outlook of the entire paragraph is very grim. Shelly uses words like “disappointment”  (line 3), “dejection” (line 3), “difficulties” (line 7), “despise” (line 13) etc. that form, so to speak, a chain of gloom through the lines. And in my observation tragedy is easier to dramatize. So the word choice contributes to an increased effect on the readers and their immersion in the text, which in turn makes their sympathy an easy target for the author.

Furthermore, up until now, to the readers Robert is the under-taker of a dangerous adventure of an era long bygone. This makes it difficult for them to associate weakness with him, or to let themselves be “put into the place of another man, and [be] affected in many respects as he is affected”, (Burke, part 1, section 13). However, from lines 8-12, Robert mentions his youth and his isolation, and his consequent inferiority to “many schoolboys of fifteen” (line 12). Now Robert starts unfolding as a human character with flaws, which is something that every reader can identify with on a personal level. And as a result the readers start paying more attention to his current distress.

It is apparent that this extract is a trove of sympathy traps. Mary Shelly uses narrative technique and sympathy to create a plausible and realistic story that, I am sure, must have been the closest thing 19th century England had to a 3-D experience.

The Creature is Human

The stereotype that our culture has developed about Frankenstein’s monster is one of simplicity: he is either a misunderstood creation, or a killing machine that is to be feared. However, my reading of Frankenstein changed this because, for the first time, I saw the Creature as both. He is learned, intelligent, and reasonable, and yet he brutally kills Elizabeth and Henry Clerval. The amazing thing is that by portraying both sides of the Creature, Shelley makes him distinctly human.

When Frankenstein looks into the eyes of the monster and remarks “if eyes they could be called”, the implication is that he sees no soul in the being that he created. Perhaps the emptiness he perceived was just a reflection of his own eyes, for he is the immoral, hollow man who  abandoned his best friend and his true love in the pursuit of perverting the laws of nature. The creature, in fact, does have something there. He is not violent by nature, and becomes well-read and educated. When he confronts Frankenstein again, his initial reaction is not one of violence, but of love — he asks for a wife. When he acts violently, it’s in moments of temporary rage and passion similar to any other human being. And when Frankenstein deprives the Creature of its one request, the creature vows to have his vengeance in the same manner that people have for thousands of years.

Most telling of the Creature’s humanity is his deep remorse for the death of Victor Frankenstein. He realizes that all the destruction he wrought has brought him no peace. He understands now that he has fallen from virtue, from the creature that was “once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness.” His tragic fall is parallel to every other fall from grace that man has experienced. When Robert sees him drift into “darkness and distance”, the Creature leaves the novel as a human being, not a monster.

I used to look at this iconic photo and fear the Creature. I saw the wrinkled skin, and the shadows under his eyes, and the painful bolts protruding from his neck and my heart would race. Now, I see not only the fear; the wrinkles on his face are that of an old man, wise and learned. His worn jacket is that of a middle-class man, warm-hearted and caring. And the radiant darkness that his eyes project is that of the lonely man, who wants nothing but to be accepted as an equal.

Maybe it’s high time we stop calling him the Creature.