Monday, August 17, 2015

Life in Death and Death in Life: Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein

After reading this novel long ago in college at 19, I approach it now at 45, and see the profound distrust of life in this novel, and the creeping sense that life and death are both intertwined, with horrifying results.

Victor Frankenstein creates his creature from strong dread of death. He creates life, a function reserved for God and women.  What he gets disgusts him to his very marrow, so much so that he flees the creature immediately after its creation.

This sets in motion yet more bizarre actions and reactions.  The creature evolves to be more fully human than its creator, only to be emotionally crushed by the burden of loneliness and rejection.  He then becomes the “demon” in Frankenstein’s terms, an entity to be destroyed.  He too takes life, as he is unable to create it after Frankenstein denies him a mate.

Finally, in grand Romantic style, they pursue each other to the ends of the earth, Frankenstein intent on destroying the life he made, while the creature finds meaning only in the (negative) attention his creator bestows.

Frankenstein is Romantic in the high tradition of the word.  Nature is the abiding substance, but it has a dark, menacing element. There is ice, rock and towering mountains as the backdrop of the struggle between man and his creature.  If nature is Nature, then it is morally blind, indifferent to the struggles of the living.  

So this novel is far more than a critique of human technological hubris, but of the Romantic dream of creation as the ultimate human goal.  With creation comes death. This novel is replete with images of birth, and abortion.  They are all tied together and can’t be torn apart.

Shelly's vision is grand,horrible, and enduring:  we all must live with the entities we create.

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