Today I would like to talk about one of the most well-known classic horror stories, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I’m going to warn you straight up I have strong feelings about the main character in this story that I struggle to get past.
This story is presented in an almost inception -like manner, or if you prefer a Woman in Black manner, that being the narrative within a narrative. The novel is presented as a fictional correspondence between Capt. Walton and his sister Margaret Savile. Walton is exporting the North Pole by Sea when he and his crew spot a gigantic person on a dogsled and several hours later rescue a gentleman by name of Victor Frankenstein.
Once onboard, Victor is only too keen to tell Walton the story of his entire life beginning with his childhood including his parents’ adoption of Elizabeth Lavenza, the orphaned daughter of an Italian nobleman with whom Victor falls deeply in love with. The family also adopt another orphan Justine who becomes a nanny for the other children. During this telling, Victor makes clear his interest in the sciences and is not shy about praising his ingenuity. Victor goes off to university at Ingolstadt, shortly after his mother’s passing, and to deal with the grief he buries himself in his experiments and becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing life to non-living matter.
Victor creates the Creature, an eight-foot-tall humanoid, who is described as beautiful although has very unusual eyes. The eyes are so unusual that when they open Victor freaks out and flees, abandoning the Creature. In his flight Victor collides with a childhood friend who takes Victor back to his university apartment, fortunately for Victor, the Creature has fled. Victor is so traumatised by the events that he falls extremely ill, so much so that it takes four months for him to recover.
Victor receives a message from his father that his brother William has been killed in Victor returns home. However, on the journey, Victor collides with the Creature near the crime scene and he makes the gigantic leap that the Creature is responsible for William’s death.
Justine is convicted of the crime as William’s locket is found in her pocket. During her trial and subsequent confession and execution, Victor remained silent, too fearful of the replica himself to rescue the woman who grew up alongside him. Victor later meets the Creature, and we begin the Creatures narrative.
The Creature is incredibly articulate and intelligent in its depiction of its early life, living alone and being shared by all who see him. The Creature tells of its experience living under a family’s porch, developing a connection to them and their subsequent rejection of him. After this rejection, the Creature travelled to Victor’s estate murdered William and framed Justine. The Creature demands that Victor create a companion for him, and Victor agrees when the Creature states that the two will disappear into the wilds together and threatens Victor saying that if he does not do as the Creature asks.
We resume with Victor’s narrative at this point, as Victor travels, with Clerval, to Scotland to create the second Creature however Victor does not go through with this as he realises that simply making a companion is no guarantee that the companion will like the Creature, or even worse at the companion will like the Creature too much and they will breed a whole race of super Creatures. The Creature is greatly upset by this and promises Victor that he will be there on his wedding night, Victor takes this as a threat to his own life rather than Elizabeth’s and attempts to dispose of his instruments however he falls asleep in the boat and ends up in Ireland. When he eventually reaches sure he is arrested for Clerval’s murder (the Creature strangled him). Victor suffers a mental breakdown in prison before being returned home.
As Victor prepares to marry Elizabeth, he armed himself with a pistol and a dagger. After the wedding he goes hunting the fiend, however, the Creature kills Elizabeth while he is away, Victor was never the target. The grief of Elizabeth death also causes Victor’s father to die and Victor starts his pursuit of the Creature.
We then returned to Captain Walton’s point of view, during Victor’s exceptionally long story the ship has become trapped in ice and the crew wish to return south as soon they are freed stating as too dangerous to continue. Victor tries to convince them to continue but Capt. Walton agrees to return south. He has learned from Victor’s failing that sometimes going too far is just dumb stop Victor throws a small temper tantrum and decides to continue north alone as he still wants to murder the Creature. However, Victor shortly dies and tells Walton to seek happiness and tranquillity and avoid ambition. It is at this point that the Creature reveals itself, already on the ship, and states that Victor’s death has not brought him peace. The Creature indicates that it will end its existence and leaves.
My god, this was so frustrating.
I struggled with this book, I found Victor to be a thoroughly awful main character, he’s self-centred to the point of lacking all empathy with anyone who isn’t himself. A great example is when Justine is being tried and convicted of a murder that Victor knows she did not commit, and he stays silent. If that wasn’t bad enough Victor spends the entire trial lamenting about how hard this is for him. His future bride, Elizabeth, is unbelievably upset that Justine, who she is close to is being treated in such a manner (Elizabeth doesn’t think Justin committed the murder either) and Victor cannot even comfort his future bride, he’s too busy feeling sorry for himself.
Another great example of Victor’s utter lack of empathy is his abandonment of the Creature. Later, in the story, the Creature demonstrates that it is intelligent and articulate, showing it has great potential, had Victor behaved with a shred of decency then the Creature could have been marvellous, a true gift to society. It only becomes a monster because of ill-treatment, which starts with Victor.
I believe that my utter disgust with Victor has tainted my enjoyment of the story. I could not bring myself to feel a shred of sympathy towards him, even when I tried. I tried to feel some compassion for him as he slowly watched those, he loved die around him, (they wouldn’t have died if Victor weren’t an arse hole) by some myself unable to, as even when the Creature flat-out says that it will kill everybody Victor loves Victor still only thinks the threats are on his own life. The Creature could not have been clearer in its intention, yet Victor cannot imagine the Creature being focused on anybody but himself.
I am usually a fan of flawed characters; however, the flaws must be balanced with some redeeming qualities and for me, Victor Frankenstein has no redeeming qualities. He is just a self-centred jerk.
My hatred for the main character aside, I can appreciate how the story was very much ahead of its time, is in some respects heralded as the very first Science Fiction horror. And the imagination of Mary Shelley is an incredible thing.
The story plays on our instinctive fears of death, and our desire to overcome it and the consequences of trying to do so. It also plays on our fear of monsters, though in my opinion, Victor is more of a monster than the Creature. As the Creature is a victim of circumstance, though at a stretch I suppose you could say Victor is to, is after all a victim of his upbringing. I just find it extremely hard to understand how somebody can be praised as being so intelligent and yet still be so very stupid.
Overall, I find this extremely hard to recommend just because I found Victor so utterly distasteful. I found it exceedingly difficult to be sucked into the story when I wanted the main character to end. I feel the story would have been better had Victor learned from his mistakes, and become more self-aware as the story progressed, realising that his inability to see beyond himself is what made the Creature a monster, not the science.