I’ve spent the last few days reading Frankenstein in anticipation of my Romantic Lit class this upcoming semester (I like to get a head start when I can). It wasn’t necessarily on my reading list before signing up for the class, though I adore Mary Shelley’s mom and had some curiosity about whether or not that way with words could be inherited. But on the whole, science fiction doesn’t much attract me–and though, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this book isn’t really as much science fiction as it is a moral tale, society has certainly billed it as sci-fi. Before reading this, when I thought of Frankenstein, I got visions of a lab with smoking beakers and a green-faced, flat-headed dude hooked up to electrodes, making sounds like a rabid cow. Just not something I’m really interested in.
It, of course, was not what I expected. First off, society is wrong; Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster. That totally blew my mind. How has the belief that he’s the monster been perpetuated this long? I’m not the only one who thought he was the green guy, right? Oh, and another thing–he’s not green. He’s yellowish. There is no mention of him looking like a 1980s Wesley Snipes Chia Pet.
Second, there was very little science in this fiction at all. Dr. Frankenstein had no desire to talk about the actual science of what he was doing at all. He was more interested in talking about himself. And, OH MY, talk about himself he did!!
~My loose, opinion-tainted, spoiler-loaded partial synopsis here~
Once upon a time, there was an adventurous sailor who has nothing to do with the actual plot but is nonetheless our gateway to meeting Dr. Frankenstein. This sailor has a sister to whom he writes letters. She also has nothing to do with the plot. After reading for a long time and hearing nothing about science and green people, the reader is confused. Then we meet a man rescued by the ship who is quite disturbed, as would anyone who spent his entire life obsessed with himself might be. The not-very-smart adventurous sailor thinks this miserable wretch is the cat’s meow, so the stranger decides to tell him what led him to be chasing around some giant dude in a dog sled. He prefaces the following by telling the sailor this will be a really, really miserable story.
~Nested story in adventurous sailor’s story~
Dr. Frankenstein grows up in Switzerland with some childhood friends, who he keeps in his life until he becomes responsible for their early deaths. But I’m getting ahead of myself. At college, he discovers how to animate the inanimate, and he cobbles together corpses and miscellaneous parts to make a human form. He works almost like a possessed man, dreaming of this person he creates being like a son and a worshipper all at once and imagining what advances for science this will bring. But when this weird blob of organs opens its yellow eye, Dr. F. is terrified and bolts, leaving the poor thing to fend for itself. He wanders around in terror of encountering the monster and has periods of illness. He returns home to Switzerland when he hears of his brother’s murder, and–ACK–there he is, there’s that yellow-eyed, eight-foot-tall thing, being all ugly! He killed his brother, the doctor was sure of it.
Later, he meets the monster in the Alps and wants to kill his creation. The doctor is repulsed by the thing’s hideousness. But the monster, who is surprisingly eloquent, convinces Dr. F. to hear him out.
~Nested story in Frankenstein’s story in adventurous sailor’s story~
The monster tells of how he manages to survive and learn enough to sustain himself. He quickly figures out that people are horrified by his appearance and will drive him away, but he desires human connections. The monster stays near a poor family who he grows to love immensely, and he secretly helps them with all their chores. Through watching them, he learns about interactions, family, music, and language. Eventually, he desires reciprocation of his love so much that he feels he must at least try to befriend them. But before he does that, he tells us the story of this family’s history, as he overheard it.
~Nested story in the monster’s story in Frankenstein’s story in the adventurous sailor’s story~
I’m not actually going to go into this, but perhaps you see the point I’m trying to make about the nested stories.
This will become a seriously long post if I continue to sum up the plot, so suffice it to say that the monster just wants love and feels like hurting the whole world when he is deprived of it. He especially wants to hurt his creator. They become locked in a battle of revenge. It’ s sad.
Now, here’s the interesting part, and I’ll be interested to hear what is said in class about this. I feel immensely sorry for the monster, though he continually murders innocent people related to Dr. Frankenstein. Dr. F., is by all accounts is victim here. After all, he wasn’t really trying to create anything bad. But he feels sorry enough for himself for the two of us, and I have no sympathy for him. Here’s just a few samples of why:
“Far from being surprised at my misery, you will only wonder that I survive what I have endured”
“How can you understand what I have felt and still feel?”
(When his new wife seems sad) “You are sorrowful, my love. Ah! If you knew what I suffered and what I may yet endure, you would endeavour to let me taste the quiet and freedom from despair that this one day at least permits me to enjoy.”
Oh, and about that wife…the monster wants his creator to suffer as he suffers, and he does this by taking away all the people Dr. F. loves. Dr. F. knows this. Or he should, anyway–I saw it. When the monster threatens to be there on his wedding night, that clearly meant to me that he would kill the doctor’s wife. But the doctor just kept mourning the wedding night as the night he would die at the hands of his creation. He says, “if for one instance I had thought what might be the hellish intention of my fiendish adversary,” he would have never gotten married. I thought, “How did you miss it?”
He says he blames himself for the murders of his family, but, lord, it sure seems like he feels like the victim. At the most, he blames the fact that he created something “evil,” and connects himself that way. Couldn’t he have given the monster a puppy or something? Shelley makes it very clear that the monster is anything but evil. His responses are extremely human. What seems inhuman to me is to see something as lonely as the monster and to not have any pity for it. But all the doctor’s reserves of pity seems to be already spoken for.