Now that Frankenstein has started narrating his own story, his character isn’t what I was expecting. All I really had to go on before this were TV references to the re-animation scene in the movie, where he just looked like a mad scientist, but knew there’d probably be more complexities to him in the book. He does seem a lot nicer though. Even after being plucked out of a certain death situation and still obsessed enough to continue into the cold climate, he’s a very polite guest on the ship, and finally gives the captain to someone to talk to.
Frankenstein’s family history is a very interesting one. His father was also really wrapped up in his work from a young age, but eventually decided he wanted a family before it was too late. He sounds like a more successful version of Frankenstein because first of all, he worked in politics instead of raising the dead and also knew when to ease off on the career. Frankenstein obviously didn’t do the second part soon enough and now has to spend the rest of the story worrying about what his quest for knowledge has created.
I also never knew that he was going to marry his cousin. The 1831 version of the book changes it to her simply being an orphan taken into the family, but I’ve got the original where she’s the daughter of Frankenstein’s late aunt on his father’s side. In both versions she’s brought to live at the house because Frankenstein’s mother, Caroline, plans to have them marry in the future. I think that’s supposed to connect to the monsters creation in that they both defy what’s really supposed to happen. The monster was originally a bunch of dead parts who’s fate should’ve been to stay in the ground, because most people in the story are on the same page about undoing death being a bad idea, and being planned since childhood, Frankenstein’s fate should’ve been to marry Elizabeth (his cousin).
Frankenstein takes an interest in biology at a young age and reads a lot of older literature on the subject, which his professors later told him gave very inaccurate views on how things work and fantastic promises of what could be achieved. This probably played a large part in his attempts at things like reanimation since the writers of those books didn’t see any limits, where as the modern biologists had set up clear rules what was and wasn’t possible. Since Frankenstein had no mental restrictions like low expectations, he never stopped trying. In his mind it was like climbing a mountain, very difficult, but there is a top to be reached if he just tries hard enough.
My English literature class recently started reading Frankenstein, and I’ve got some mixed feelings about. I really like horror stories and this is the first one I’ll be reading as a class assignment, which is really good since I’ve been meaning to reading it at someone point and now have no excuse not to, but have trouble adgusting to older English in which it’s written. The same problem happened with Wuthering Heights, but it’s kind of like a water balloon fight. The writing is difficult to understand at first, but after a while you get used to it and it’s a great read, like how the initial coldness of the water might make you recoil but you eventually start having fun.
I never really knew how the story started so the beginning was a little confusing. Epistolary novels are often a little harder for me to follow, and the first letter of this one not saying who the writer is first gave my visualization of the events kind of a clumsy start since I didn’t know who to picture speaking.
The story starts in an interesting way as it’s first four letters from an explorer, Robert Walton, to his sister as he heads North to explore the arctic and picks up a stranger along the way. The stranger was stranded on some ice, half dead and with only one sled dog still alive, but asks the crew members on the Walton’s ship if they’re heading North before he agrees to hitch a ride. This was very strange as you’d think someone almost dying in such a harsh climate would want to get out of it, but it’s explained by him also asking if they saw someone else going around the area on their voyage. The character obviously really wants to catch whoever this person is to keep stalking them even after getting so close to death.
It’s also interesting to see how Walton interacts with the stranger, as he made it clear earlier in his letters that he needed a friend. After being told the point of the trip is to find out amazing new things about the arctic, the mysterious guest admits he also has a hunger for incredible, and dangerous to obtain, knowledge. It’s eventually revealed that the stranger is Frankenstein and the man he’s chasing through the deadly landscape is his monster. I think this was a much better way of introducing Frankenstein than just starting with him and an omnipotent narrator.
That way of telling it probably would’ve been easier to follow, but Walton explaining the events as him just happening upon a strange man on the ice creates a lot of suspense. It also sets up an interesting comparison between Walton and Frankenstein as they’re both men in pursuit of knowledge while facing terrifying risk, which works to make it a sort of cautionary tale.
Another thing that supports it being that kind of story is “or the modern Prometheus” being included in the title. The story of Prometheus is about a god who gives knowledge of fire to humans and faces a terrible punishment for it. This connects very well with the story of Frankenstein because as a scientist who’m the common people look up to as a source of knowledge and explanations about how the world works, kind of like the way followers of a certain faith will look to their God for the same things, he crosses the line and gives knowledge of something never meant for humans to know. As fire became a destructive force when introduced to humans by Prometheus, Frankenstein’s bringing back the dead created a monster that would go on a killing spree.
I know I’m jumping pretty far ahead by mentioning the murders when this is supposed to be about the beginning of the story, but that’s really where the meat of it is, so it’s bound to come up in discussion of almost any part of the book, even with the title that calls to mind another story of forbidden knowledge doing a lot of damage for everyone. I’ll get more into the relationships of the not undead characters tomorrow.