Thursday, February 18, 2016

BookMarks #10: Frankenstein

Title: Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus) 
Author: Mary Shelley 
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror 
Setting: Europe primarily Switzerland 
Published: 1818 

The story is told in the form of letters written by Captain Walton, who is exploring the Northern Seas, to his sister Margaret, back in England. Captain Walton narrates the tale of a man named Victor Frankenstein, whom his crew had rescued during their expedition in the Arctic Ocean. The crew had also spotted a gigantic figure moving along on the ice earlier. 

Victor begins telling Walton his story and how he came about to be on that icy landscape. He tells Walton about his family in Switzerland, his friends and early life. Then he went to university where the subject of chemistry and natural philosophy interested him the most. He develops a fascination for giving life to non-living things. He creates a large being to replicate human life and his experiments are successful. The “creature” as he refers to it comes into life. However he is repulsed by the creature’s hideous appearance and runs away. When he comes back the creature is missing. 

Victor falls ill from the results of his toils. However, his friend Clerval manages to nurse him back to health. Victor decides to go back to his family in Geneva. He then learns about the murder of his younger brother William and how the boy’s companion Justine has been implicated in it. On visiting the site of the murder, Victor spots his creature lurking around. He is convinced of the creature’s involvement in his brother’s murder and of Justine’s innocence. However, he is unable to stop Justine’s hanging. 

On a trip to the mountains, the creature corners Victor and then tells him his story. The creature has learned to speak and read from observing a family living in a cottage. His earlier interactions with humans had not gone well and he stayed in hiding in their cottage for some months while observing the family. Finally he mustered enough courage to meet the family but his intentions are mistaken because of his monstrous appearance. The frightened family runs away. The creature is angered by this reaction and sets the cottage on fire. Then he sets out in search of Victor, his creator. He also admits to the killing of William. After telling his story, he asks Victor to make a female companion for him, otherwise he would continue troubling Victor’s family. Reluctantly Victor agrees to this but seeks time. 

Victor and Clerval set out for England together. On reaching Scotland they separate. Victor sets to work on creating the female companion. One night he finds the creature watching him. Victor begins to doubt the monster’s promise and proceeds to destroy the female he was building. The creature is angered by his betrayal. He kills Clerval and implicates Victor in the murder. Victor is acquitted of the crime and he returns home. 

Victor gets married to his childhood friend Elizabeth, promising to tell her everything about his worries on the day after their wedding. On the wedding night, the creature comes and kills Elizabeth. Victor is enraged and vows to pursue the monster and destroy him. The pursuit takes him across the world and finally to the Arctics where he meets Walton. 

Fearing that his end is near, Victor makes Walton promise to destroy the monster. Walton agrees. Meanwhile the ship gets trapped in the sea ice. Walton’s crew is reluctant to proceed any further and although Victor argues otherwise, Walton is convinced to drop off the pursuit and return home. 

Victor succumbs to his illness. Walton finds the creature in mourning over Victor’s body. Walton hears the creature’s remorseful pleadings. The creature promises to destroy himself and end his own misery. Walton then watches the creature drift away into the sea. 

Who is the monster here? Victor Frankenstein or his creation. While the creature commits the murders, he justifies himself due to him being abandoned by his creator, being rejected by the human society and his attempts at friendship being discarded all because of his hideous appearance. Certainly Victor is the one to blame for abandoning his creation. And also for keeping his family and friends in dark about this constant danger that he had created. 

Its a common misconception that the monster’s name is Frankenstein (although many may argue that Victor is the real monster in the tale), the creation is unnamed throughout the tale being referred to as creature or monster. 

Mary Shelley's original draft
Previously on BookMarks: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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