Hello everyone. Happy Halloween. I can’t believe that it is the end of October. The month has flown by, and I hope that you have all enjoyed #spookyseason.
I hope that you all have a fantastic Halloween, have fun, stay safe, and always beware of the headless horseman.
Let’s dive into October’s #bookofthemonth discussion all about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
I am going to start this discussion by elaborating some more on why I chose Frankenstein as October’s Book Of The Month. Over the past few weeks, I have been embracing the Halloween spirit here on Katelovesliterature.com and I have spoken a lot about gothic literature, subversive literature, and the horror genre.
Now, I think that it can be argued that it is easy to assume that Frankenstein fits into the horror genre, and in many ways it does because of course there have been many horror movies based on, and about Frankenstein. I think it would also be fair to say that many people would associate the name Frankenstein with the image of a monster, but I think that Shelley’s text is far more complex than being just simply a horror story. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a gothic, romantic novel that presents a very layered plot that depicts some very complex and nuanced themes, which is why I decided that I wanted this text to be October’s Book Of The Month.
In many ways, Frankenstein is a very romantic text, because Romanticism (always with a capital R), is very interested in the idea of wonder and curiosity, and in this idea of embracing the unknown and the unexplainable. In Frankenstein, it is wonder and a scientific curiosity that drives Victor Frankenstein to experiment and attempt to do what has not been done before.
Let’s talk about form. Frankenstein is an epistolary novel. When a novel is written in epistolary form, it means that the novel is written in a series of documents. This is an interesting form to use because somewhat similar to the third-person perspective, epistolary form allows the novel to present different points of view, but because letters and diary entries and newspapers etc., can make a story feel more grounded, it could be said that using epistolary form makes the story feel more realistic.
Another interesting thing to note is that in Frankenstein, there is a cautionary tale within the story as the writer Robert Walton is exploring in the hopes of expanding his knowledge. He reaches the North Pole where he sees a sled being pulled by a huge creature. Walton wants to find the huge creature and discover who or what it is, but instead he finds the scientist Victor Frankenstein who has nearly frozen to death in his pursuit for that same huge creature. Victor sees some of himself in Robert, and so he tells Robert his tale, which is in fact, the creature’s tale, and thus, the true plot of the novel begins.
From a very young age, Victor was obsessed with science and experiments but his ideas were considered extremely outdated. His mother’s death caused him to bury himself in his work in order to deal with his grief. Victor explains how he excelled at chemistry and through his very intense studies of science, he discovered a way to give life to non-living matters. Victor becomes obsessed with the idea that he can give life back to a nonliving thing, and so he decides to perform an experiment, and he begins to create a humanoid. Victor selects the pieces for his creation, but he does not properly think about proportions, and even though he selected things with the intention that his creation would be beautiful, instead he creates a tall, hideous, terrifying looking creature. This creature is appropriately called the Creature, and it is important to remember to capitalise the name if one is speaking of the Creature from this point forward, for that is the character’s name. Victor is repulsed by his creation and so he abandons it in the lab. When he returns later, the Creature is gone. Now even though this is a #bookofthemonth discussion, I am not going to discuss the plot in much greater detail because I don’t want to spell out the story for those who have not yet read the book but may decide to later on.
Let’s now talk about themes because Frankenstein presents many thought provoking themes, and the layered, nuanced themes are the primary reason why I love this text.
The first theme is of course the notion of wonder. Without wonder, Walton would not be exploring, and without wonder, Victor would have never experimented. Both characters had an insuppressible desire to discover, to expand knowledge, to learn the unknown, and this theme is one that I love because I think it further complicates the tension between romantic writing and enlightenment writing, because romantic writing is about wonder, nature, curiosity, and the unknown. It is about the idea that not everything can and should be measured because not all things can be, like feelings for example. Feelings are very often not rational, but that does not mean they are not real. Enlightenment writing is about the idea that all questions can be answered with logic, reason, facts and figures, and if one was to think about the Gradgrind approach in Hard Times by Charles Dickens, if it cannot be measured then it cannot be real, so there is a tension between romantic writing and science, but the notion of wonder depicted in Frankenstein complicates this tension even further because I would put forward the question, can someone experiment if they have not had an idea? Would this desire to do something that has not been done before not be considered original? Does this then mean that all ideas have to be sparked from some form of creativity, highlighting the importance of creativity?
I said at the start of this discussion that Frankenstein is a very thought provoking text and I meant it.
An extremely prominent theme in this text is the idea of nature vs nurture. This text presents that famous question, is one born evil or made evil? A point that I would like to make before I expand on this theme, is that when I discussed The Great Gatsby, I spoke about how this text had a prominent place in popular culture because when one hears The Great Gatsby, images of grandeur, decadence, champagne and flapper dresses spring to mind, and I think it is important to mention that Frankenstein has a similar place in popular culture. Many people hear the title Frankenstein, and they think they know the story, but they do not actually know the story. Frankenstein has been adapted many times, and some versions stray away from the original text completely. Some people even call the Creature by the name of Frankenstein. I think it is fair to say that the thing that many people associate the word Frankenstein with is the image of the green, monstrous looking zombie, with bolts in the side of its neck, and it is a monster that can hardly speak, the work of a mad scientist who wanted to create such a monster. This is not the case. The Creature looks human, but it is grotesque because of how huge, hulking, and disproportionate he is, and because the parts were stolen from the dead. Another extremely important thing to note is that the Creature is very intelligent. Victor Frankenstein is not a mad scientist, but he is a misguided one.
With that being said, let’s now return to the idea of nature vs nurture. I cannot remember the exact quote, and I don’t know who originally said this, so please forgive my paraphrasing, but I remember laughing when I saw a quote that said something along the lines of ‘knowledge is knowing that there are two monsters in Frankenstein.’ I like this quote a lot, because after reading this text many times, and even studying it in great detail in college, an idea that could be put forward is the idea that the Creature is not the monster but Victor Frankenstein is in fact the monster, because he created this being and then abandoned it, and therefore it is because of circumstances beyond its control that the Creature had to become a monster in order to protect itself from those who wished to kill it, because people were terrified of this figure. Victor gave the Creature life, but nothing else. He abandoned his creation when it was not what he expected it to be, he gave it no guidance, no love, nothing. He abandoned his creation, and so one could argue that the way things played out is Victor’s fault. I think this is really interesting because the novel demonstrates how evil can be made. If something is called evil often enough, if something or someone is an outcast, if they are shunned, if they have no friends, if they are feared, and threatened, then in order to survive, they must protect themselves. The Creature does so, and then becomes the monster that everyone feared he was in the first place and so it becomes a vicious cycle where society creates no other choice for the Creature other than to become monstrous, but then when it does, those people who called him evil all along feel justified and vindicated, and so they continue to do so, and this means that the Creature cannot ever escape this cycle because he is never given the chance to. It is a very complex idea, and I think that it will always be a very relevant idea.
Following the idea of nature vs nurture, mob mentality is another theme in this novel. There is a point in the novel where the Creature finds refuge in a structure that is connected to the cottage of a poor family. The Creature taught itself to speak by listening to them, the Creature discreetly collected firewood for them, and did other kind things such as clear the snow from the path for them. This demonstrates that the Creature was capable of kindness, and that the Creature was thoughtful. This point is really significant because when the Creature sees its reflection in a pool of water, the Creature too is horrified by the reflection. The Creature knows that humans will not ever be accepting because of the way the Creature looks. The only person to ever give the Creature a chance is the father of the poor family in the cottage. The Creature snuck in one day while everyone else was away, and the Creature and the father chatted. It was very pleasant, and this conversation shows that when given a chance, the Creature can be perfectly civil. The catch is that the father of the family in the cottage was blind. He could not see the terrifying looks of the Creature, so he was not afraid of him, when his family returned, they were terrified of the Creature and feared their father was in danger so this novel presents very nuanced ideas about judging a book by its cover, and also it can lead one to think about how appearance based the world can be. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast even touches on this idea of mob mentality and nature vs nurture, because the enchantress curses the prince to look like a beast until he can love and be loved in return, but the cruel catch to her curse was that she asked who would ever learn to love a beast? Everyone was terrified of the beast because of his appearance, and so they never gave him a chance to love or be loved, and when the mob storms the castle led by Gaston, the beast has no other choice but to fight them off, which only further solidifies his terrifying and dangerous status in the villager’s minds, and so again we can see this cycle that I mentioned earlier. People act out of fear, and when the beast fights back they only fear him more, and he was never able to break that cycle until he met Belle.
There is also a tension that exists in Frankenstein between the scientific world and the natural world. This text puts forward an idea about the ethics of science. Victor Frankenstein wanted to experiment but he seemingly put no thought into what would happen after he created the Creature, and when the Creature was not what he expected it to be, Victor abandoned his creation. This decision led to a lot of hurt and danger. The Creature lived a wretched, isolated existence, feared by everyone, and so the Creature became so mistreated by society that it had to protect itself. It reacted when it felt threatened, and the Creature did commit violence and murders. One could ask though, would the Creature have been entirely different if it had not been so shunned and abandoned? We will never know. Some argue that because the Creature was not a ‘natural creation’, it did not matter how he was treated, he still would have been monstrous, but that idea is usually put forward by scholars such as Rousseau. Rousseau believed that everything created by God is good, and then society is what corrupts us, but because the creature was not created by God, if one follows Rousseau’s thinking, then they may also argue that how the Creature was treated did not matter.
There is a moment when the Creature initially comes to life, that it reaches out for Victor, and Victor flees the lab because he is terrified. Now, this moment can be left open to interpretation. One could ask if the Creature was reaching out to embrace Victor? Or was the Creature reaching out to harm Victor? We don’t know, because Victor tells us his account of this moment, so we don’t actually know what the Creature intended to do. We also don’t know how this moment actually occurred. Victor describes it as an ‘escape’ because he was so afraid, but did he just leave immediately without giving his creation a chance? We don’t know, and I love that this moment is so open to interpretation. Personally I would ask the question: what would have happened if Victor had stayed for even five more minutes?
I really enjoyed reading this text again, and if you read it during the month too then I hope you enjoyed it. If you have not read it then I would definitely recommend it. It is one of those texts that I always find something new in. I always think about something different. With each read, something new stands out, and I really enjoy how thought provoking this text is because as I have discussed above, it is a text that is full of layered, nuanced, complex themes.
This has been October’s Book Of The Month discussion. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any thoughts on the novel then please let me know because I would love to hear what you think. Keep an eye out because I will be announcing November’s #bookofthemonth very soon. Happy Halloween!