Thursday, July 16, 2009

130. Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

May 2008
History: Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18 and finished when she was 19. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the second edition, published in 1831.
Plot: Frankenstein begins with the epistolary technique of a correspondence between Captain Robert Walton and his sister. These letters form the framework of the story in which Walton tells his sister the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creature as Frankenstein tells it to him.
Walton sets out to explore the North Pole and expand his scientific knowledge in hopes of achieving fame and friendship. Unfortunately, the ship becomes trapped in ice. One day, the crew observes a being in the stature of a giant man in the distance on a dogsled. Frankenstein was in pursuit of his monster, when all but one of his dogs from his dogsled died. He broke apart his dogsled to make oars to row an ice-raft toward the vessel. Hours later they find Frankenstein, weak and in need of sustenance, near the ship. Saved by the kind occupants of the ship, Frankenstein starts to recover from his exertion and recounts to Walton his story, warning Walton of the wretched effects of allowing one's ambition to push one to aim beyond what one is capable of achieving. Victor Frankenstein begins by telling Walton of his childhood. Frankenstein was raised by a wealthy family, and was always encouraged to seek a greater understanding of the world around him (but not science), whilst remaining in a safe environment surrounded by loving family and friends.
Frankenstein grew up with close ties to Elizabeth Lavenza, his orphaned cousin brought to his family who is raised with Frankenstein like a sister, and his friend Henry Clerval. As a young boy, Frankenstein becomes obsessed with studying outdated theories of science that focus on achieving natural wonders. He plans to attend college at Ingolstadt, Germany when a week before departure his mother dies of Scarlet Fever. The whole family is in grief, and Frankenstein views it as his first misfortune. At college, he excels at chemistry and other sciences and discovers the secret to imbuing the inanimate with life, in part by studying how life decays. He also becomes interested in galvanism, a technique discovered in the 1790s.
In contrast with later film adaptations the monster in the original novelization was not created from dead body parts. In fact Frankenstein himself concedes that he later found that reversing death was impossible. While the exact details of the monster's construction are left ambiguous Shelley's depiction of the monster is akin to that of a golem. Frankenstein explains that he has been forced to make the monster much larger than a normal man, in part because of the difficulty in replicating the minute parts of the human body. After giving the monster life, Frankenstein, disgusted by and fearful of the monster's appearance, flees. Henry Clerval comes to Ingolstadt to study with Frankenstein, but ends up nursing him after his exhausting and secretive efforts to create a human life. Frankenstein recovers from his illness in a fortnight. He determines to come home, for his five-year-old brother William has been found murdered.
After several harsh encounters with humans, the monster becomes afraid of them and spends a year living near a cottage and observing the family who lived there. Through these observations he becomes educated and self-aware and realizes that he is very different in physical appearance from the humans he watches. In loneliness, the monster seeks the friendship of the family of cottagers(the De Laceys). The family was previously wealthy, but is forced into exile when Felix De Lacey rescues the father of his love, Safie. The father, a Turkish merchant, was wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to death, obviously because of racism. When the man is rescued, he promises Felix the hand of Safie. But, he loathes the idea of his beloved daughter marrying a Christian and flees. Safie comes back, though, eager for the freedom of European women. Eventually, the monster tries to befriend the family, but they are afraid of him, and this rejection makes him seek vengeance against his creator. He travels to Geneva and meets a little boy in the woods. In the vain hope that because the boy is still young and potentially unaffected by older humans' perception of his hideousness, the monster hopes to kidnap him and keep him as a companion, but the boy reveals himself as a relation of Frankenstein, so the monster kills him in his first act of vengeance against his creator. The monster plants a necklace he removes from the child's body on a sleeping girl, Justine Moritz, the Frankenstein's trusted servant who is like a member of the family. She is found with the necklace and knowing she is not guilty, admits to the murder. She then is put on trial and executed.
When Frankenstein learns of his brother's death, he returns to Geneva to be with his family. In the woods where his young brother is murdered, Frankenstein sees the monster and becomes sure that he is William's and Justine's murderer. Frankenstein, ravaged by his grief and guilt for creating the monster who wreaked so much destruction, retreats into the mountains alone to find peace. After a time in solitude, the monster approaches Frankenstein. Initially furious and intending to kill it, Frankenstein composes himself upon the monster's pleading. The monster delves into a lengthy narrative of his short life, beginning with his creation, which fashions an impression of him as an initially harmless innocent whom humans abused into wretchedness. He concludes his story with a demand that Frankenstein create for him a female counterpart, reasoning that no human will accept his existence and character due to his hideous outer appearance. He argues that as a living thing, he has a right to happiness and that Frankenstein, as his creator, has the duty to facilitate it. He promises to never reappear in his life if Frankenstein does so.
Frankenstein, fearing for his family, reluctantly agrees and travels to England to do his work. Clerval accompanies Frankenstein, but they separate in Scotland. In the process of creating a second being on the Orkney Islands, Frankenstein becomes plagued by the notion of the carnage another monster could wreak and destroys the unfinished project. The monster vows revenge on Frankenstein's upcoming wedding night. Before Frankenstein returns to Ireland, the monster murders Clerval. Once arriving in Ireland, Frankenstein is imprisoned for the crime, and falls violently ill. After being acquitted and back to health, Frankenstein returns home.
Once home, Frankenstein marries his cousin Elizabeth and, in full knowledge of and belief in the monster's threat, prepares for a fight to the death with the monster. He doesn't want Elizabeth to be frightened at the sight of the monster, so he asks her to stay in her room for the night. Instead, the monster kills Elizabeth; the grief of his wife's, William's, Justine's, Clerval's, and Elizabeth's deaths kills Frankenstein's father. After that, Frankenstein vows to pursue the monster until one destroys the other.
Over months of pursuit, the two end up in the Arctic Circle near the North Pole. Here, Frankenstein's narrative ends and Captain Walton reassumes the telling of the story. A few days after Frankenstein finishes his story, Walton and his crew decide to turn back and go home, since they cannot break through the ice. As Frankenstein dies, the monster appears in his room. Walton hears the monster's sorrowful justification for his vengeance as well as expressions of remorse before he leaves the ship and travels toward the Pole to destroy himself on his own funeral pyre so that none would ever know of his existence.
Review: I don’t really think that Mary Shelley is much of a writer despite her having come up with a great idea for a story. I do think it is amazing that she was only 19 when she wrote it. Apparently written as entertainment for other writers who were all living together one year, as to who could write the best horror story. This has really been a famous story, throughout time. But I did get lost in all the dialogue. The first person is the captain of the ship, who picks up Frankenstein, who is telling his incredible story, then the monster… and on and on. It does get too long and old.
Opening Line: “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
Closing Line: “He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance”.
Quotes: “When falsehood can look so like the truth who can assume themselves certain of happiness?”
Rating: okay

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