Critical Essays on Frankenstein, Part II

And now, some of the essays from the Norton Second Edition of Frankenstein! (As a quick reminder, the original edition is my personal copy; the 2012 Second Edition was supplied by the publisher for review).

The Introduction: “[Frankenstein‘s] central narrative of creative overreaching and bitter disillusionment in a sense outgrew the novel itself and became a kind of independent trope or ‘myth’ that invaded other forms of art.”

There is more  here about Shelley and her life. I think that part of the reason I like reading about their lives is it is so outside the “norm” of society as we are told it existed then; it reminds us that people, and their times, are complex. Some of the texts that Shelley was influenced by, including her husband’s work, are included in these editions. Essays delve more into the historical origins of the story. This edition also looks at Frankenstein in its later incarnations, in plays and film. In so looking at the editions and films and plays, the reader also learns about the publishing and copyright practices of the time. Also examined, what, at different times, people meant when they invoked Frankenstein or his monster as a metaphor.

Another difference from the first edition: this one has a better map (or, at least, one that is easier to read). There are a handful of new footnotes.

In my mini-Frankenstein obsession, I also began getting some of the various Frankenstein inspired films and I am shocked that there isn’t more out there about Mary Shelley. As Lawrence Lipling writes in Frankenstein, the True Story; or, Rousseau Judges Jean-Jacques, “if Frankenstein had never been conceived, the genealogical, psychological, intellectual, political, and sexual complexities of that summer [of 1816] would still provoke plenty of thought.”

And, I can’t resist: Charles Baldick, The Reception of Frankenstein:William Beckford, a pioneer of the Gothic novel in England, recoiled in disgust from this latest of his offspring, writing in the fly leaf of his copy: “This is, perhaps, the foulest Toadstool that has yet sprung up from the reeking dunghill of the present times.” Yes, instead of quoting some of the wonderful insights about how the novel is crafted, I go for the bit that shows that snark isn’t a recent invention by bloggers.

Critical Essays on Frankenstein, Part 1

The Norton Editions (original and second edition) have essays and other materials about Frankenstein. I enjoyed reading them; it reminded me what I liked about school. Yes, I’m the type of person who likes school.

Here are my scattered thoughts and reactions about some of those essays from the 1995 Critical edition.

Shelley’s Preface: The teaser! “The event in which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Mr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence.” Was he paid by the word? So many to say, “dude, this could totally happen.” Also, a bit dig about how this novel is good, not like those other novels out there. This novel (unlike all those other bad novels) illustrates the “amiableness of domestic affection” and “excellence of universal virtue.” Right, in those vignettes between putting together a man out of the pieces of dead bodies and the murders.

Mary Shelley’s Introduction (1831): Establishing her credentials as a writer, while saying she doesn’t want a “literary reputation.” “I have become infinitely indifferent to it.” Easy to say after it’s been achieved, eh?

Without going into the details, I adore all the back story behind writing Frankenstein, the story of the personal lives of the Shelleys and Byron and others in their circle.

Here, some of the original reviews of Frankenstein, showing that bloggers haven’t invented snark.

John Croker, from the Quarterly Review (January 1818):the monster, who had borrowed (we presume from the flourishing colony of East Greenland) a kind of raft, comes alongside the ship, and notwithstanding his huge bulk, jump in at Mr. Walton’s cabin window.” Then, later, a wry observation about the monster saying he’ll “burn himself on a funeral pyre” in the middle of ice.

Anonymous, from Knight’s Quarterly (August – November, 1824):it is not at all probable, that one with Frankenstein’s science should have formed a creature of such ‘appalling hideousness.’ It is utterly inconceivable also, that he should have let the monster (as he is somewhat unfairly called) escape.”

Introduction to the Routledge World Library Edition, 1886: “The subject is somewhat revolting, the treatment of it somewhat hideous. The conception is powerful, but the execution very unequal.”

At this point, I just want to say that sometimes with the more modern criticism (below) it’s difficult to know which edition of Frankenstein is being discussed.

Christopher Small, [Percy] Shelley and Frankenstein: “If [Victor Frankenstein] is not Shelley he is a dream of Shelley, and one that he would not have been averse to dreaming himself, as an improvement, up to a point, on experience.” If this observation is true (Frankenstein is Shelley, or a version of Shelley), it’s rather interesting. Victor abandons the creature; and Shelley abandoned his wife and two children (one not even born yet). Victor’s reaction to stress or responsibility is fleeing and getting sick; while I have no idea how true that is of Shelley, he and Mary did run away to the continent when he left his wife.

William Veeder, The Women of Frankenstein: This contains in interesting point about Justine and her confessor who bullied her into confessing. “How far Mary is going out of her way to invoke conventional anti-Catholic responses is shown by the illogic of events here: the last thing we would expect to encounter in Geneva, the bastion of John Calvin, is Catholic coerciveness.” This type of historical perspective and observation is why reading on one’s own, in isolation, doesn’t provide the whole portrait of a work.

Frankenstein, The True Story: Provides interesting insight into the changing view of Victor and the creature, specifically, which one is the “hero” and which is the “villain.””It begs the question of whether the reader is supposed to excuse the murders of innocent people because the murderer is a victim of prejudice.” And “for Frankenstein does not let it’s readers feel good. It presents them with genuine, insolvable problems, not with any easy way out.”

Review: Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. 1818. Norton Critical Edition, W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, personal copy. Norton Critical Edition, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co., 2011, review copy from publisher. (Thank you to W.W. Norton & Co., who after learning about this project, sent me the newest edition).

The Plot:  Young Victor Frankenstein discovers the secret of life; discovers how to make something live. His creation isn’t what Victor intended: it is hideous. Victor flees.

Left alone, the creature wanders. Eventually, he finds shelter; he also gains language and knowledge. He learns enough to realize he will always be an outcast from society.

The creature wants revenge against his maker. He is also lonely and isolated, and wants Victor to create him a companion. These two conflicting desires ends up being costly to Victor, his family, and friends.

The Good: As I’ve explained, my familiarity with Frankenstein was strictly cultural. I’d never read the book. Oh, I knew enough to know that Frankenstein was not the monster’s name, and that in the book the unnamed creature learned to speak rather eloquently.

I’ve posted about my decision to read Frankenstein, and my chapter by chapter reactions to the text: introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII; chapters I to IV; chapters V to IX; chapters I to IV; chapters V to VII.

Oh, by the way? SPOILERS.

Bottom line, did I like? Would teens? Yes, and of course! But, really, the second part – teens liking a book – is almost a trick question as, seriously, there is no block of “teens”, but rather individual teens, and their reading interests, just like adults, are wide and varied.

Part of what I liked about Frankenstein is that the way the story is told is so different from how one is typically told today: the framing device of the letters, the relatively long amount of time before Victor appears on the scene, the many mini-stories about other people that are told. Part of what I had a hard time with was the language; as a general rule, I prefer more straightforward storytelling and dialogue. I appreciated the detailed description of scenery, but such things aren’t my cup of tea.

There was no “good guy”, no true hero, but some of the essays in these editions (more on that another day) showed how, at different times, Victor was viewed as truly heroic and noble or the creature was viewed as the only one worth identifying with. As those of you who followed my chapter read-along know, I saw both Victor and the creature as flawed. Victor came across as practically bipolar, with obsessive behaviors and mood swings. I lost patience with his reactions to stress: avoidance, run away, get sick. On reread, I realize the first “get sick” was actually that Victor had been feeling ill all along; and I also imagine that working around dead body parts is not the healthiest thing in the world, explaining both his illness after creating the monster and his illness following his work on the Bride. Despite all that, Victor was smart, tried to do the right thing in situations with no clear “right,” and he cared about his family and friends. Victor did not intentionally hurt anyone.

The creature, on the other hand, killed people. He directly killed three (William, Henry, Elizabeth), manipulated the death of a fourth (Justine), and is also arguably responsible for the death of two others (M. Frankenstein and Victor). And his excuse is rather weak: people don’t want to be my friends, so what choice do I have but to kill? In all honesty, the “I’m a victim” sympathy I felt for the creature ended at William’s death. I even tried reading that death as accidental, trying to silence but not kill William, but rereading has led me to realize that was naive on my part. To be even more honest, that sympathy had begun to slowly disappear earlier, during the creature’s stay in the hovel.

Yes, I admire the Frankenstein Charter School: how much the creature was able to learn because of his own drive, his own intellect, his own resources. Very admirable; in a way, the creature always doing things made me think more highly of him than Victor. Except, the creature had a repeated bad habit of misunderstanding human relations and interactions. His voyeurism of the cottage family, while the basis of his education, was still voyeurism; and it created a stalker type mentality wherein he believed that they would all be friend if they just knew him. A not dissimilar sentiment to certain fans of celebrities, who think they know a star thanks to magazines, films, and interviews. His “kidnap a child and mold him to be my friend” was creepy. Obviously, the creature was caught between a rock and a hard place: wanting society yet being rejected based on his appearance. That doesn’t excuse murder.

Part of what was fascinating with the story, then, was two flawed people, Victor and his creation, who are on a path of mutual destruction no matter how much they want to avoid it. Victor can run away, fall ill, attempt to create another being, spend time with family and friends, and all along, he has an appointment: to take out of the world what he brought into it. The creature, isolated, powerful, angry, educated yet ignorant, seems to have no possible path but self-annihilation, taking his creator along with him for punishment. Despite their flaws, I cared for both of them.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein chapter by chapter reading, continued. Confused? Read my introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII; chapters I to IV; chapters V to IX; chapters I to IV.

Chapter V

Victor and his father are heading home, and Victor confesses his guilt for the deaths of William, Justine, and Henry. His father says, “what are you talking about?” (actually, he says, “are you mad?”) and then changes the subject.

Sweet! A letter from Elizabeth! Like her father/uncle/father-in-law-to-be, Elizabeth thinks all of Victor’s problems are about her, namely, that he loves another.

Back in Geneva, Victor is emotionally all over the place. “The tranquility which I now enjoyed did not endure. Memory brought madness with it.” He wants to marry Elizabeth but is convinced it’s suicide; that once he marries her, the creature will kill him. Elizabeth continues to be a saint in dealing with Victor and his moods: “Elizabeth alone had the power to draw me from these fits.”

But, spoiler: “When I thought that I prepared only my death, I hastened that of a far dearer victim.” That’s twice now that Shelley has told the reader about an upcoming death before it happens.

Victor tells Elizabeth he’ll tell her his big secret on their wedding night; I’m sure Elizabeth thinks its something like another girlfriend.

The two marry and head off for the honeymoon. Music of doom follows.

Chapter VI

…And the creature has killed Elizabeth. Only Victor didn’t see that coming.

Anyone want to guess Victor’s reaction to finding Elizabeth’s dead body? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Yes, he faints. That’s our boy, the first to faint or run away or fall ill in any crisis. (If, as some speculate, Victor was modeled on Percy Shelley, that’s not an attractive quality and I can imagine it getting old really fast.)

I continue to be impressed by the creature, because not only does he get around unseen he also manages to eavesdrop and get a lot of information, such as where the honeymoon would be so he could kill Elizabeth. I’m imagining a fanfiction, Black Adder style, of how basically in reality the whole world knew about the monster, a rather open secret, because, hello, he’s eight foot tall and ugly, of course he’s going to be noticed!

The shock of losing Elizabeth kills Dad.

Guess what Victor does now?

He gets another fever. Victor, ever one to rely on in a crisis: “I lost sensation; chains and darkness were the only objects that pressed upon me.” Apparently, Victor is even committed for a time.

As for Ernest, who the hell knows about poor Ernest because the guy is never mentioned again. Victor never gives him a second thought. Farmer, lawyer, sole heir; orphan; dead brother, dead sister, mad brother; poor Ernest.

Victor confesses all to the magistrate (day late, dollar short, but at least he does it) and the magistrate believes him. Believes him so much that his reaction is pretty much, hey, sorry, we cannot do anything about your creature because he’s got mad powers. Victor’s reaction to that leads the magistrate to think it’s all made up after all.

Chapter VII

Victor takes some cash, his mother’s jewels, and leaves town.

What about Ernest? Insert your own fanfiction here, because I have no clue.

Victor tries to be the hunter. And before he does so, he swears on his family’s graves and this is AWESOME.

By the sacred earth on which I kneel, by the shades that wander near me, by the deep and eternal grief that I feel, I swear: and by thee, O night, and by the spirits that preside over thee, I swear to pursue the demon, who caused this misery, until he or I shall perish in mortal conflict.” And it keeps going!

Of course, the creature is lurking nearby, because that is what stalkers do, and he laughs.

The chase begins! And just as I’m thinking that the creature is letting himself be seen by Victor, leaving clues for Victor to follow, Victor comes to the same conclusion. It doesn’t stop him, as the two head north; north to the snow and ice, because cold doesn’t affect the creature. Eventually, Victor finds himself on a piece of ice and sees a vessel, and we’re back to the beginning!

Did you forget this all began with Walton writing letters to his sister?

Victor asks Walton to swear that, if Victor dies, Walton will continue the quest to “satisfy my vengeance in his death.” No, not unreasonable at all, especially considering the two of you just met.

Walton asks Victor for some details on how to create your own monster; Victor declines.

Victor believes his dead friends and family are visiting him. It’s sad; it’s sweet; and does not any of them ask, “what about Ernest?”

Walton is still looking at Victor as his new bestie: “what a glorious creature must he have been in the days of his prosperity, when he is thus noble and godlike in ruin.” Well, Walton, before he became action hero, he was smart, intelligent, and reacted to stress and conflict with such avoidance techniques as illness and removing himself from the situation.

Poor Victor. He has no hope of happiness: “the companions of our childhood always posses a certain power over our minds, which hardly any later friend can obtain.” First, I love this line; second, burn to Walton and his wanting a friend.

September 2nd letter.

Dear Sister, stuck in ice, fear of mutiny.

September 5th.

Dear Sister, stuck in ice, fear of mutiny, Frankenstein sick. The sailors want to head south as soon as the ship gets free (if the ship gets free, that is); Frankenstein gives a speech to try to rally the boys to continue north, to follow Walton’s dreams (and of course find the creature).

September 7th.

Walton agrees to head south.

September 12th.

Walton is returning to England. “I have lost my hopes of utility and glory; – I have lost my friend.”

WHAT?! Despite everything, I’m sorry. Sorry for Walton; sorry for Victor. Sorry for Ernest.

Walton explains that once he agreed to go south once the ice cleared, Frankenstein became upset. He had “not many hours to live” and once again tried to get Walton to continues his quest. (Maybe, Victor, you shouldn’t have told him he’d never be as good a friend as Elizabeth and Henry; or maybe that was said to get him to say “yes I will be a good friend and continue your quest that can only end in death of me and perhaps my loved ones.”)

As Walton writes this, the creature comes, and asks Frankenstein to pardon him. Walton is moved to curiosity and compassion; the creature does have wonderful persuasive skills. But then the creature is all, oh think of me, and how much it hurt me to kill Clerval. “Think ye that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears?”

Oh. come. on. Please, creature, have some self respect, like when you admitted to liking killing William. Also? This is not all Victor’s fault. You chose your choices!

Walton is not taken on by the smooth talk of multiple syllables and complex sentence structure: “You throw a torch into a pile of buildings, and when they are consumed you sit among the ruins, and lament the fall. Hypocritical fiend.”

Now the creature is off to kill himself, but first he has to get in the last word against the dead Victor by insisting that his “agony was still superior to thine.” Sorry, creature, but Victor wins this one because you basically ruined his entire life and killed everyone he loved. Except Ernest. And thus the creature leaves us, insisting he’s going to burn himself on a funeral pile  (literally? cause it’s the arctic, right?).

He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.”

The end.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein chapter by chapter reading, continued. Confused? Read my introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII; chapters I to IV; chapters V to IX.

Volume III

Chapter I

Victor, having agreed to Bride of Frankenstein, is now back in Geneva. He’s being Victor, in that he is avoiding what he agreed to do. Dad thinks that Victor’s odd behavior is all about Elizabeth, and that Victor may love another and regret his engagement. Victor does want to marry Elizabeth, but decides he cannot marry her with the promise to the creature unfulfilled.

Of course, the only way to make Bride is to go to England to learn more about the latest discoveries “material to my success.” (So, just how do you find out that England is the hotbed of reanimation? Secret scholarly journals?)

The cunning plan: go to Strasburgh to pick up Clerval as a traveling companion, head to Holland, then England, then France, then home, all in about two years.

Damn, but I wish I could travel like that! Without, of course, the monster making and death.

Aw, Elizabeth wants to go, but can’t, what with her being a girl and all. She “only regretted that she had not the same opportunities of enlarging her experience, and cultivating her understanding.” Best sister/cousin/girlfriend/fiance EVER, to put up with all of Victor’s travelling and absences.

Oh, spoiler! Victor just let us know not to get to attached to Henry: “And where does he now exist? Is  this gentle and lovely being lost for ever? . . . . your form . . . has decayed.”

Chapter II

Of course, Victor will need letters of introduction. To people working on reanimation. How do those conversations go? I know, I know — they are really not Reanimators. Just people studying areas that Victor will use for his own unique purposes. Still, I am amused bu such things.

Victor and Henry travel, we get mini travelogues, enjoy the scenery, learn a bit about Charles II, and then Victor heads off alone to the most remote, miserable, isolated place in the world to work. Has he really been travelling all this time with body parts? And has Henry not noticed, or just been too polite to mention them? “It was indeed a filthy process in which I was engaged.” Not smelly? Oh, that’s right, his science includes eliminating the smell of rot. Still, I can quite imagine what the people who did his washing thought of all this. (Note to self: interesting area for fanfiction.)

Chapter III

For those of us, like me, who care about timelines, Victor is in his early twenties and the monster is about three years old.

Victor begins to realize some fatal flaws in the creature’s cunning plan of how to find a lifetime of happiness and never kill anyone or burn their house again: what if they don’t like each other? What if they have kids? (Good to know that Victor didn’t omit any aspects of the creature’s anatomy and that it was all in working order AND I DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW VICTOR KNOWS THAT, OK?. But if he was worried about offspring, couldn’t he have just omitted a few internal bits for Bride?)

And of course, this is the moment where the monster is there, following him, spying on him, because that is what the monster does, lurk and spy and only get seen by Victor, and this is the moment when Victor doesn’t just have second thoughts but he also “tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged.”

The next day the two have a confrontation, and the monster threatens Victor: “I shall be with you on your wedding day.”

Victor has a bit of a boating adventure (a bit reminiscent of This Dark Endeavor), when he dumps the body parts of his abandoned experiment, runs into bad weather, and ends up in Ireland.

Victor gets a cold reception and is accused of murder!

Chapter IV

At first, I wondered if the body parts had been found and that was what Victor was accused of. But nope, it’s not that, it’s the body of a young man, about twenty five, found strangled.

Guess who it is? If you guessed Henry Clerval, you guessed right. The monster is so brilliant that not only did he murder Henry, he figured out that Victor would have troubles on the water and get blown ashore in Ireland and so worked out where to dump the body to either frame Victor or to leave it as a message. Dude understands weather patterns, wind, and water currents.

Let’s see, Victor is facing a crisis, so what does he do? He gets sick. For two months Victor is ill with fever, but he recovers: “I was doomed to live.”

Victor describes the old woman who was hired to be his nurse: “her countenance expressed all those bad qualities which often characterize that class.” That class, indeed,

The magistrate has contacted Victor’s father during Victor’s illness, not because Victor gave him that information but because, of course, Victor had his letters with him when he went body-dumping in the ocean. This is actually a consistent character trait of Victor, to keep his writings in his jacket pocket.

And his father is there! I don’t remember any of this from the illustrated comics!

Victor is held in prison for three months, then travels 100 miles to trial, but the grand jury doesn’t find a cause of action against him because Victor had an alibi; he was in Orkney when the body was found. (So the Monster killed & dumped Henry before Victor even took to the sea to dump the Bride’s parts.) Victor is released from prison! The moral of the story: be thankful for modern American criminal law, the bail system, and police who figure this stuff out before grand jury time.

Oh, no. All of this trial and tribulation has led Victor to the habit of taking a small quantity of laudanum.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein chapter by chapter reading, continued. Confused? Read my introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII; chapters I to IV.

Chapter V

Wait, there is something new! Someone new! A pretty woman is visiting! An Arabian named Safie! This was totally not in the movies! Or if it was I don’t remember!

For some reason, this family is teaching the Arabian their language, including how to read, write, and spell, so, of course, the creature learns, also.

Huh. Imagine what this means for education! Forget classrooms. Just put the student in the room next door, not even able to sit up straight, with just a chink the size of an eye, and you, too, can learn how to read, write, and speak fluent French. It’s the Frankenstein Charter School!

Why these random poor people in a cottage are teaching Safie I have no idea. But how lucky for our creature!

Also, the creature is naturally drawn to the good: “I admired virtue and good feelings, and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities in my cottagers.”

“MY” cottagers? Obsessive stalker, I’m telling you.

Chapter VI

Oh, good, we learn more about the cottagers. The old man is De Lacey, and they used to live in France and they used to be rich and….

Oh.

Of course, one couldn’t have real cottagers be of such gentle manners and good qualities. Of course, they aren’t real farmers, or real people of the lower orders. It’s almost like, “hey, for these people to be good,  of course they used to be a higher class.”

Back to the backstory. So, back when they were rich, and in France, they had a friend who was a Mahometan, a Turkish merchant. This Mahometan had married a Christian woman and had a daughter, Safie. The French persecuted the Turk because he wasn’t French and wasn’t Christian, but the DeLaceys helped him, in return for Safie marrying Felix, but Felix is a good guy who totally wouldn’t make her do that, but it’s OK because they fall in love anyway. And then there is soap opera-ish double dealings and double crossings and betrayal and lost fortunes and running away, and long story short, the DeLaceys lost everything and have to live in this cottage. Safie just escaped her mean father to reunite with her true love Felix. Everyone is very refined, not like those other poor people. Oh, you good, noble, selfless, really rich people!

Well, at least this explains who the hell Safie is and why this group of cottagers is helping her. It wasn’t just another random coincidence. I’m not sure the point of this tale: true love (Felix and Agatha) triumphs? Prejudice (against the Turk, the Turk against Felix) is bad?

Chapter VII

Frankenstein Charter School continues, with the creature’s mad genius skills. He’s now reading three books he just happened upon: Paradise Lost, Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werther. No silly ABCs or baby books for him!

The creature begins to think, “who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?” Meanwhile, I begin to think, imagine if Frankenstein hadn’t run away from him (not once, but twice) but instead taught him. Because if this is self-taught, wow, imagine the lost potential!

While the creature has acquired other clothes, he still has the ones he took from Victor that first night. And, guess what is in the pocket of Victor’s coat? Guess! Guess! Guess!

No, not a ring.

A diary. Victor’s diary of the months leading up to the creation. Yes, Victor had time to run away, write “I hate my monster, he’s ugly,” put it in his jacket pocket, then fall asleep.

Remember how I said the creature was being all creepy about “my” cottagers? Well, he’s at it again. He’s all “when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues, they would compassionate me, and overlook my personal deformity.” He’s a total stalker fan, who knows every little detail about their lives and becomes convinced they are his BFFs even though they don’t even know he exists. I’m wondering if this was based on any stalker fans of Byron and Shelley (cough Claire Claremont cough). Much as I like the creature’s intellect, and what he’s accomplished, I’m sorry, this “they will be my friends” is wrong, wrong, wrong.  (You don’t know who Claire is? I’m afraid if I link to more information, you’ll spend all your time reading about her and never come back.)

Where does the creature go to the bathroom?

How can he, at 8 feet, live next door to them for years and nobody know?

Did I mention the father, the old man, was blind? So the creature’s not-awful but still really stupid plan is to approach the blind guy first, because he won’t run away screaming.

At first, all works according to plan because blind guy doesn’t run away screaming. The two have a nice chat, until Felix, Agatha, and Safie come home. Guess what?

Do they say, “hey, you, stay and be a member of our family!”

No. They freak out, Agatha faints, Safie runs away, and Felix rushes to protect his father. The monster runs away . . . . to the hovel next door. Unseen.

Chapter VIII

The DeLaceys are leaving forever; the creature learns this when he hears Felix talking to someone. Wouldn’t you love to know their side of this story?

Two choices: what does a sane person do in this situation? What does a stalker do?

The creature picks — the stalker solution. “Revenge and hatred filled my bosom.” So, of course, he destroys their garden and burns down their cottage, then heads to Geneva looking for Victor.

The more deeply did I feel the spirit of revenge enkindled in my heart.” Creature, you want revenge? Talk to Amanda-Emily over on Revenge. Now there is a girl who understands revenge.

His misfortunes continue: he saves a girl from drowning, and it’s taken to be an attack so he is shot at. Poor monster! Now he is also shot in the shoulder. Victor did a pretty good job at creating him, though, because no infection!

And now he’s in Geneva. So guess what? He sees  a “beautiful child” and decides the only logical thing to do is to kidnap the child to make the child be his friend.

Right.

Monster is crazy.

He’s thinking, “oh, this child is too young to run screaming from me in terror.” And in a way he’s right, as the child doesn’t run away. Except the monster is also wrong, in that the child does, in fact, scream in terror. Monster grabs child, and the child, being a child, “monster! ugly wretch!” and “let me go, or I will tell my papa.” Gotta  love kids. Child, if he doesn’t let you go, how will you tell your papa?

The creature’s reassuring response fails to reassure or to cause the boy to look beyond his ugly facade to see the smart, caring person behind it: “Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me.”

So the child responds: “Hideous monster! let me go; My papa is a Syndic –  he is M. Frankenstein – he would punish you. You dare not keep me.”

And with that, William – c’mon, you figured that out – seals his fate. He has given his last name.

Europe was small back then, what with all these coincidences of people meeting up randomly. We know this is William and is indeed Victor’s family, but what if this was not the same Frankenstein family?

So, the monster kills William, but tells us (or, rather, Victor) in a way that seems to avoid responsibility. He admits that “you shall be my first victim” but explains the killing as “I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet.” Still, it’s pretty clear it was intentional and the creature is happy.

Also, the monster takes the miniature. He later sees Justine walking through the forest and “I approached her unperceived, and placed the portrait securely in one of the folds of her dress.”

An eight foot ugly giant just reverse pickpocketed Justine and she never noticed. (The 1831 edition changes this to Justine being asleep in a barn when the creature does this.)

The monster recounts all this to Victor, ending with how lonely and unhappy he is and how only one thing will make him happy: Victor must create a female companion for him.

Chapter IX

Victor says no. Creating one wicked creature was bad enough, but two? No, no, no.

The creature is eloquent in his arguments: “I am malicious because I am miserable.” “If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear.” “What I ask of you is reasonable.”

Victor is listening; and whether he is swayed by the arguments, or has other motivations, he begins to consider the request. “There was some justice in his argument.”

The creature continues, explaining the two would run away to South America and hide out and not bother anyone.

The creature truly believes love of a companion – loving and being loved – will solve all his problems.

Victor considers it all, and agrees. He will make a female creature.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein chapter by chapter reading, continued. Confused? Read my introduction post; chapters I to III; chapters IV to VII.

Volume II

Chapter I

Justine died.” Poor Justine!

Meanwhile, the father is being the voice of reason and cautions all against “immoderate grief.”

They are in the house in Belrive; Victor spends his days on the lake. He’s emo boy, all right.

Elizabeth is upset about Justine’s death, especially that an innocent person was convicted. I guess before this, she thought the system always works. “Now misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other’s blood.”

And now to Chamounix. Victor continues to feel things, deeply. He continues to feel guilty. He continues to do nothing about his deep feelings. To be honest, I’m not sure what Victor could be doing right now. Any time for action was in the days after the creature was made, and he was ill then.

Chapter II

And now Victor climbs Montanvert, and it doesn’t really matter why, because this, the first time he’s been alone for weeks, guess what happens? Why yes, his stalker, er, his creation, shows up!

The creature talks, sounding oddly like Elizabeth when speaking about social order: “I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king.” That natural lord and king being Victor.

At this point, I’ll go on record saying that while I like Victor (really!) I have more sympathy for the creature than for Victor, because the creature did not ask to be made, did not choose his appearance, did not ask to be abandoned. Though, arguably, the monster could have stayed in Victor’s student apartments and it wasn’t so much as Victor abandoning the monster, rather, Victor chose not to pursue him. However you want to characterize Victor’s action, I’m disappointed in him. His running away and avoidance seems both shallow and weak.

Anyway, a lot of ice. Just like at the beginning of the book.

Chapter III

And thus the creature’s tale begins.

The creature’s birth and infancy, as it were, is remembered by him, but not well. Pretty much, he’s a blank slate and begins teaching himself, well, pretty much everything. At this point, the creature is much more admirable because look at all he was doing while, basically, Victor ran away, fell asleep, ran again, and then had a “nervous fever.”

Much as I’m sounding Team Creature, I’m not, totally. Because wow, the creature kind of has it easy, or as easy as a hideous eight foot monster who has just come into existence can have it. He conveniently finds fire, food, etc. 

Aw, the villagers see him and drive him out because he’s so ugly. Sad!

The creature hides in a hovel by a cottage, something so low he cannot even really sit up. He steals bread, he steals a cup, he reinforces his little dwelling, puts some straw on the floor, and is close enough to the chimney in the adjoining cottage to be warm. He’s so happy with so little! It just so happens that there is a boarded up window in the cottage, in the shared wall, so the creature creates a tiny chink in it so he can observe the inhabitants of the cottage.

The creature doesn’t have TV, so instead he watches the inhabitants of the cottage.

Chapter IV

Even though the creature is new born, and has no knowledge of anything, he instinctively is impressed by the “gentle manners” of the three people in the cottage. The creature watches and learns; he even tries to help out with little chores. He begins to learn words. In a way, the creature is a Renesmee. Oh, he doesn’t instagrow because he’s born this size, but he’s learning by leaps and bounds. His learning is especially impressive because it’s self-taught under some pretty dire circumstances. Either he’s highly motivated, or maybe it’s because an adult brain (I assume) was used?

The family next door is a father and two grown children, Felix and Agatha.

And much as I admire the creature’s learning, his observing this family is, well, kinda creepy. Sort of stalkery. A bit obsessive.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein chapter by chapter reading, continued. Confused? Read my introduction post; chapters I to III.

Chapter IV

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toil.” Another terrific line.

Victor is really unclear on the specifics of his jigsaw puzzle man, including how he was put together and how he ended up being about 8 feet tall. But man, boys — given the chance to create something, Victor starts big. There’s no assistant, but it does happen during a rainy night. Vague clues: “the instruments of life around me,”  as well of mention of having to “infuse a spark of being“.

Shelley is clear on one point: the creature is ugly. U.G.L.Y. you ain’t got no alibi, you’re ugly. No, really.

Alas, poor Victor! “I had worked hard for nearly two years” (So he’s about 20, 21) “for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body.” “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” I think we’ve all been there, where the reality doesn’t measure up to the dream.

So, what does Victor do? He runs away. No, really; he leaves his workroom and hides out in his bedroom thinking “what have I done?” Seriously, Victor, you had TWO YEARS before this date to think this out. Victor falls asleep and wakes up to the creature’s ugly face. Did I mention he’s ugly? “The miserable monster” is at his bed, so Victor… runs away. I’m beginning to sense a pattern to how Victor deals with things he doesn’t like. (Also, possible message here about fathers abandoning their children.)

Oh, boys. They get what they want, they never want it again. I think there was a song about that. Only, it wasn’t about a monster.

As Victor wanders the streets, guess what? Of all the people in the world, he runs into his BFF Henry Clerval who has finally got the OK from his father to go to study! Clerval addresses Victor as “my dear Frankenstein” and this, my dear reader, is the first time — absent the title — we learn Victor’s last name. (Page 36 in my copy).

There’s a joyous meeting, and then Victor falls sick for several months. Lucky Victor, Henry is there to help nurse him. Poor Henry! This long wait to leave home, pursue his education, and he ends up playing nursemaid.

Chapter V

A letter from Elizabeth!

Some details include that Ernest is nearly 16, so Victor is nearly 22, and William is about six. There’s a bit of a digression as Elizabeth ponders Ernest’s future career path, with Elizabeth wanting him to be a farmer and Mr. Frankenstein wanting him to go into law. I know one shouldn’t play guessing games about “what the author is thinking,” but here (and in other places) I can’t help but think we’re not hearing a character’s views but, rather, the view of either Shelley or her husband. Also? Elizabeth’s views seem either overly romantic and unrealistic (it is a “very healthy happy life“), or her talk of “being a farmer” is more along the lines of how a rich person would be a farmer: living in the country and hiring others to do the work.

The next mini-story in Elizabeth’s letter is about a servant, Justine Moritz, which leads to musings about class as well as a detailed backstory about a nasty mother. Regarding class: “[In Geneva,] there is less distinction between the several classes of its inhabitants; and the lower orders being neither so poor nor so despised, their manners are more refined and moral.” Interesting that Elizabeth observes that how one is treated, especially how a whole class of people is treated, can impact the actions of those so treated. Yet, even though this is clearly fairly modern (and a bit of foreshadowing regarding the creature), the use of “lower orders” seems to reflect a view that there are, indeed, different classes of people.

As to Justine’s backstory, is it told to condemn favoritism? Are all these anecdotes simply to convey a fuller sense of place and character, or are they supposed to be instructional? Or is Elizabeth just being chatty?

As for chattiness, there is also humor with a touch of snark! “The pretty Miss Mansfield has already received the congratulatory visits on her approaching marriage with a young Englishman, John Melbourne, Esq. Her ugly sister, Manon, married M. Duvillard, the rich banker, last autumn.” Oh, the poor Mansfield sisters, to be described so! When I first read this, I thought Elizabeth was just being nice (the pretty) and then I realized she was distinguishing between the two (the pretty one and the ugly one) and was all “um, that’s not nice.” Also, it tells us that Elizabeth and Victor have always referred to the two sisters this way.

Elizabeth has written herself (and us) “into good spirits,” as well as reminding the reader of the family in Geneva.

Victor is feeling better, he’s totally broken up with science following his disastrous experimentation and success with creating life. Clerval studies languages (Persian, Arabic, Hebrew) and so Victor joins him. “Their melancholy is soothing, and their joy elating to a degree I never experienced in studying the authors of another country. When you read their writings, life appears to consist in a warm sun and garden of roses, — in the smiles and frowns of a fair enemy, and the fire that consumes your own heart. How different from the manly and heroical poetry of Greece and Rome.”

And thus another year passes.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how quickly years go by? And, is it just me, but isn’t Victor a bit bipolar? Or maybe it’s that I was reading this while watching Homeland.

Chapter VI

And now, a  letter from Victor’s father! Alas, bad news: “how shall I inflict pain on an absent child.”

Who is dead? Because, really, with that beginning you know someone is. “William is dead!” It’s even worse than that, because “Victor, he is murdered.” He was strangled, and a miniature of Victor’s mother stolen.

Dad (whose name is Alphonse, for those who like to know things like names) preaches peace even as he writes about the murder of his youngest.

Victor gets ready to go home, having been away for nearly six years.

Let’s take a moment, forget everything else, and instead look at that. Six years away from home, with only letters, with no visits home and no visits from home. This, perhaps, is one of those things about culture and time that I as a modern reader don’t get but Shelley’s contemporaries would: that when one went to university, one would not go home. Years would pass, and that would be the norm.

Alright, so Victor is on his way home, and first swings by where William was murdered. Which, by the way, I understand. And, during a storm, he sees the monster. Even though two years have passed and it’s a storm, Victor instantly realizes it’s his creation and seconds later thinks, “could he be (I shuddered at the conception) the murderer of my brother?”

Normally, I would say Victor is being a wee bit melodramatic and jumping to conclusions, except, thanks to films, I know that the monster did kill William. (Oops, spoilers.)

Part of the reasoning behind Victor’s belief: “nothing in human shape could have destroyed that fair child.” Aw, poor Victor. Except, it’s logic fail. Sadly, people in human shape do destroy children. Yet, interesting to observe a belief that somehow, William’s status as “fair child” would have protected him from any natural (i.e., not monster) event or person. Ignoring for the moment that Victor hasn’t seen William since infancy so how does he know William wasn’t a nasty brat of a child, I again jump in with assuming the text is telling us about the author, specifically, showing us some of her own mourning over the children she lost. (Shelley had four children, only one who lived to adulthood.)

Two years had nearly elapsed since the night on which he first received life; and was this his first crime?” Oh, Victor. NOW you wonder what he’s been up to for two years?

OK, this next bit is weird. Victor is now home, and he’s looking at “the picture of his mother that is over the mantelpiece” which was painted “at my father’s desire.” The picture shows his mother “in an agony of despair, kneeling by the coffin of her dead father.” Isn’t that odd? To commission a portrait of someone in her grief? And, also, to have a picture of this woman at her worst possible moment — poor and orphaned and alone? It’s both creepy but also a bit sinister, as if it was there as a constant reminder to the mother of what the father did for her, rescuing her from poverty. Maybe that’s just me.

Meanwhile, remember Justine, who Elizabeth conveniently reminded Victor (and us) about? Guess what, she’s been accused of murdering William! She’s in prison awaiting trial. The evidence: she took to bed and also had the missing miniature on her!

Chapter VII

Victor’s home just in time for Justine’s trial. Victor is convinced of her innocence because he’s decided that the creature killed William. He’s not going to tell anyone, because who will believe his science project killed his brother?

Elizabeth is also convinced that Justine is innocent. “I am. . .  the cousin of the unhappy child who was murdered, or, rather his sister, for I was educated by and have lived with his parents ever since and even long before his birth.” Which, eww, gross, considering her quasi engagement to Victor.

Verdict: guilty. Because Victor kept quiet. Then, Justine confesses — she is bullied into the confession by her confessor. (More on that when I talk about the various essays about Frankenstein.)

End of Volume I.

Frankenstein

As I explained last month, I’m doing a chapter by chapter reading of Frankenstein. So, this will be reactions, some quotes. Rest assured, I enjoyed this book, even if I get a little snarky at times! It’s snark with love.

Volume I.

Letters.

 Dec 11. 17__

Wait, this begins with a letter written in Russia to someone in England? Who are these people? Where is Victor?

So, R. Walton is pursing his childhood dream to explore the North, after a one-year detour as a poet before claiming his inheritance. “And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose.” Oh, so he deserves it? Quite full of himself.

March 28.

“…appears to be men on whom I can depend, and are certainly possessed of dauntless courage.”

I’m sure they are. I’m sure when the going gets tough and it’s eat-the-dogs time, they will be dependable.

But all Watson really wants is a friend! He wants a bromance and a BFF!

Will that bestie be…. Victor?

Huh. A whole paragraph on the ship master’s past romance.

Remember me with affection, should you never hear from me again.”

Oh, Robert. Margaret had to put up with a lot being your sister, didn’t she?

July 7.

Robert is killing me. Is he supposed to be this funny, or am I just in an odd mood? “No incidents have hitherto befallen us — ” if you don’t count BREAKING THE MAST.

August 5.

Finally! On the ice, “a being which had the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature.” Now, who could that be? Wait, wait, don’t tell me.

And now, the strange European (not the gigantor they saw, someone else) comes on board.

FINALLY. Victor. But we don’t know that quite yet.

Meanwhile, yeah, as guessed, Robert is sure he’s found his BFF. Sorry, dude, but “his constant and deep grief fills me with sympathy and compassion” is NOT a basis for a friendship.

Oh! The stranger is about to share his tale with Robert!

Chapter I.

European guy is from Geneva, a distinguished family, mom is Caroline Beaufort, cousin is Elizabeth Lavenza because his father’s sister married an Italian. 

When Elizabeth’s mother dies, she, an infant, gets shipped to Geneva and Mom sees this orphaned girl and thinks the only logical thing: a future wife for my toddler son! Call me a cynic, but Caroline’s own poverty pre-marriage and the mention of Elizabeth’s fortune makes me think it’s more than a baby’s beauty and “gentle and affectionate disposition.”

Victor’s bestie is introduced, Henry Clerval. (Nope, we don’t know what Robert thinks of this, or any of this, because from now on it’s Victor’s story, even if it’s within a letter being sent to Margaret.)

Victor on his childhood: “No youth could have passed more happily than mine.”

Victor gets a bit obsessed with certain people like Agrippa. Father calls it “sad trash”. Victor pursues it anyway. Snort. See, dissing someone’s reading choices NEVER ends well.

Basically, Victor is reading those who studied alchemy and the occult. Agrippa, Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus.

My dreams were therefor undisturbed by reality.” So, is Shelley condemning the limited schooling of both Walton (who also complained about his early education) and Victor? For being incomplete? It goes quickly from “I had the bestest childhood ever” to “hey, gang, let’s raise some ghosts and devils.” I can see why Oppel was inspired to write This Dark Endeavor.

Victor is about 17. He has a brother Ernest. Here’s a funny story about Ernest. My story, not Victor’s. My familiarity with Frankenstein was comics and film; and I didn’t remember an Ernest, so thought Oppel had invented him, so expected Ernest to die at any moment while reading This Dark Endeavor.

By my calculations, Elizabeth is about 13 or 14; Ernest 11; and William an infant.

Chapter II.

17 year old Victor is to head off for the University of Ingolstadt. Except Elizabeth and then Mother get scarlet fever, and Mother dies. “Why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished.” Sentences like that: love.

Victor meets two professors, M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy, and M. Waldman, chemistry.

And Victor promptly dismisses a professor because he “was a little squat man, with a gruff voice and repulsive countenance.” Also, “I had a contempt for the use of modern natural philosophy.”Wait, is Victor the Holden Caulfield of the 18th century? Seriously, I love the arrogance of Victor, reacting to the man based on his appearance (oh, when will that happen again?) and believing that he, in his teenage glory, knows enough to hold all of natural philosophy in contempt.

Chapter III.

Victor decides that Kempe may know something after all: he has some “sound sense and real information.” Sadly, in these pre-plastic surgery days, he still has “a repulsive physiognomy and manners.”

Two years at Ingolstadt, and no return to Geneva. When these people travel, they travel!

“One of the phenomena which has peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?”

“…I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.” Alas, Victor does not share the details. No trying this one at home, boys and girls!

“It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being.”

The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials.”

Ew, ew, ew. And also, at this point I’m going to assume that the unshared details include what Victor did so that his rooms (and himself) didn’t smell like rotten corpses. Otherwise, the neighbors hated him! And you thought the people next door smoking was bad!

Basically, Victor becomes totally obsessive, ignores everything else, and does this for a year or two.

Frankenstein

In my review of Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor, I mentioned how I have never read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I wanted to make this fun, for me and you, so here’s what is happening. Instead of a traditional review, I’m going to be sharing my chapter by chapter reactions over several posts. Those posts will be on Friday, because, well, Frankenstein Friday. Get it? I’ll be starting the posts February 3.

I read the Norton Critical Edition (1995), edited by J. Paul Hunter. When I bought it, the second edition wasn’t available yet, but it looks like it has interesting contents.

A quick note about editions. Norton uses the original published version of Frankenstein, published in 1818. (Apparently, technically the “original” Frankenstein is considered to be Shelley’s original manuscript before her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited it.) What’s fascinating is that Shelley (for purposes of my posts, Shelley is Mary Shelley) published a second version of Frankenstein in 1831. Aside from the “what’s the real text,” or “what did she change and why,” I love that it’s an example of an author not letting go of their work. I love that it’s something that happened in the early nineteenth century, but it’s also something that happens today. Stephen King, for example, published the “complete” version of The Stand; the Wall Street Journal recently called ebooks the “books that are never done being written” because it’s so easy to go in and revise.

Frankenstein (1818) was originally published in three volumes by Lackington, Huges, Harding, Mavor & Jones, London. While I was aware that “one” book used to be printed in several volumes, I wasn’t sure of the “why” behind it. For those of you who, like me, were computer science majors or some other not-English major major, here is what Wikipedia has to say about these “triple decker” novels which were pretty standard in the nineteenth century: “The format does not correspond closely to what would now be considered a trilogy of novels. In a time when books were relatively expensive to print and bind, publishing longer works of fiction had a particular relationship to a reading public who borrowed books from commercial circulating libraries. A novel divided into three parts could create a demand (Part I whetting an appetite for Parts II and III). The income from Part I could also be used to pay for the printing costs of the later parts. Furthermore, a commercial librarian had three volumes earning their keep, rather than one. The particular style of mid-Victorian fiction, of a complicated plot reaching resolution by distribution of marriage partners and property in the final pages, was well adapted to the form.”

What does this remind you of? I KNOW. Ebooks, right? Take a long novel, divide it into three parts, price Part I to whet the appetite for Parts II and III!

I’m in the process of drafting my Frankenstein posts; once they are done, I’ll post the schedule in case anyone else wants to read along.