I finished reading the 1818 text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a couple of weeks ago. Now, we’ve started the lectures in class. This is a good thing. I really tried to be the historian and keep some level of objectivity regarding the values and mores of the early nineteenth century. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t keep up the pretense through the entire novel. Fortunately, I’ve attended a couple of lectures that gave me a bit more context. Romantic writers, such as Shelley, were interested in emotional characters, romantic characters. At the time masculinity was in something of a crisis. English men were brutish and without sensitivity. The Romantics created characters who were ‘Men of Feeling’ to prove that men did not need to be uncaring brutes. Apparently, Victor Frankenstein is a Romantic Man of Feeling. While this helps me put this character in context, it does not make me like him any more. He is one of the least sympathetic characters I have every met. Honestly, I think I might like Willy Loman more. Victor Frankenstein is an annoying, whiny baby! After sewing together body parts from who-knows-where and building an eight-foot tall humanoid ‘blank’ he runs away as soon as it comes to life! This was his plan all along – create life. It’s not as though he didn’t already know it was hideous – he bloody-well stitched it together himself! So, he abandons his creation moments after birth, then spends the rest of the story having six-months long swooning fits, bemoaning his fate as creator and vowing to destroy his creation! Meanwhile, the Monster learns to read English (and reads Milton’s Paradise Lost among other things), learns French, finds Frankenstein’s journal notes, and learns of his own creation. Upon finding Frankenstein the Monster asks that a companion be created, like Adam’s Eve. The Monster says that being abandoned by his creator at birth has caused him to behave badly and generally be angry at the world. I’m inclined to believe him, in fact by the end of the novel I was rooting for the Monster! The Monster comes to his creator, his father, looking for sympathy and understanding. The Monster describes himself as someone who could have loved had he only been loved. Frankenstein doesn’t even attempt to understand the Monster’s point of view. There is no thought that perhaps he ought to apologize for the way he has treated his creation. No compassion whatsoever – which may be my own understanding of how a 21st century ‘man of feeling’ might react. Granted the Monster is pretty much beyond redemption by this point of the story and Frankenstein’s family and friends are definitely doomed. I hope to get a few more insights into Shelley’s character through the next few lectures because I can’t help but view Victor Frankenstein through my own lens as a parent. And, seriously, Victor Frankenstein is an irresponsible, dead-beat dad who abandoned his child and allowed others to die (quite literally) instead of stepping up to his responsibilities. He may be a nineteenth century Man of Feeling, but I can’t quite get away from seeing him as an irresponsible, annoying, whiny baby!
Friday’s Essay – Victor Frankenstein is an Annoying, Whiny Baby