Frankenstein is the prototype for every “monster” story that combines a very real external threat with psychological self-loathing. Victor Frankenstein created the monster partly out of scientific curiosity and partly as expression of his tortured personality. Strangely, Victor doesn't appreciate the monster’s ugliness until it comes alive, and then he abandons it. The monster feels rejected as any child would, and the novel is partly a series of anecdotes where the creature educates itself and tries to decide whether it loves or loathes humanity. Then, there is a protracted struggle between Victor and his disaffected creation.
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Frankenstein was famously written as part of a story-telling challenge in 1814 between Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, John Polidori and Lord Byron. Polidori produced the only other finished work, The Vampyre, which is very short, but has a monster who exhibits similar alter-ego characteristics.
Frankenstein was written as a series of letters. Some see that as a wordy barrier to the main point: the murders perpetrated by the monster. But the series of stories within stories creates the impression that you are delving closer to the “truth” as layers of narrative are peeled away.
Victor Frankenstein thinks he is saving his fiancée, Elizabeth, from the angry monster he created. Actually, Victor does everything in his power to ensure the monster kills her. Elizabeth is adopted into the Frankenstein family as a playmate for young Victor. The two are raised as brother and sister, but the mother’s eventual dying wish is that they marry. Unfortunately, Caroline Frankenstein is oblivious to the psychological damage that causes. She even asks Elizabeth to raise the younger Frankenstein children —in effect demanding her son marry both a sister and a mother. Later, when Victor dreams of kissing his fiancée, Elizabeth mutates into the rotting corpse of his mother. Victor and Elizabeth can’t bear the thought of disappointing Caroline, but neither can they tolerate a sexual relation with someone they consider a sibling. So they delay the horrible consummation. Victor goes to university for six years, not returning home until news of his younger brother’s murder makes it unavoidable. Elizabeth writes saying she entirely understands if Victor has fallen in love with someone else, almost begging that he be the one to break off their engagement. Of course Victor doesn’t realize it, but he creates his famous monster to extricate him from this trap. He subconsciously manipulates the creature into killing Elizabeth. This is done by destroying the female monster he constructed to keep the original creature happy. Victor says he did it to avoid the possibility of a second generation of monsters. Of course, he could have prevented procreation by giving the female creature golf balls for ovaries and a shoe box for a uterus. Really, Victor wanted the monster to reciprocate by killing his future bride. In short, the novel is about a protagonist who has no idea what he truly wants, and so suffers theatrically. Readers recognize the emotional masochism as something very modern.
Book Reviewed by Mark Thomas
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