We began our discussion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein today with the question: how does the book version of this story differ from the pop cultural representation of Mary Shelley's story? The major difference the class brought up is that the monster cannot be characterized as simply evil; he is also certainly not ignorant or inarticulate, at least not once he teaches himself about history and literature. It was also pointed out that the monster is not himself called "Frankenstein." This point led to a discussion of how, in misattributing the name of the monster's creator to the monster itself, pop culture had actually underlined some of Mary Shelley's points: for one, as Meg Lowry suggested, Victor and his creation share a special bond, even that of father and son, as Luke Jacoby added (so that one could say that the monster is a "Frankenstein"; that is, he's the "son" of Victor and so should have been entitled to Victor's patronym). Maria Weir offered the fascinating suggestion that the creature could be seen as Victor's narcissistic reflection. Until the monster actually comes to life (and thus demands its own rights as an individual), Victor is able only to see his own glory in his creation (for example, the fantastic hubris of p. 82). This comment led to a discussion of whether we could read the monster as, in fact, a manifestation of a side of Victor himself; after all, as Aaron Hause suggested, one might argue that Victor Frankenstein is himself in many ways more monstrous than his own creation. To help set this comment in context I brought up the idea of the doppelgänger, a concept that Mary Shelley herself would have been fascinated with, since it is likely explored in the very ghost stories Shelley claims to have been reading prior to creating her novel. I also began to ask why we are presented the story through such a complex framed narrational structure. Could it be that there is a psychic logic that drives the telling of these tales? In trying to explore this issue, we had a look at the dream that, according to Mary Shelley, initiated the story (364-65); the dream of Mary Shelley's dead child that Shelley records in her journal (11); and finally the dream of Elizabeth that Victor Frankenstein claims to have immediately following the "birth" of the monster (86). Discussion of first-person narration also led to a debate about whether we can trust the tales told by our three disparate narrators (Walton, Victor, and the creature). Each one, after all, is interested in exculpating himself for deeds that could easily be condemned. Consider, for example, the way that Victor tries to excuplate himself for the assassination of Justine (115-6).
We finished by discussing the reason for Shelley's choice of subtitle, "The Modern Prometheus," specifically the ways that Victor Frankenstein is in the analogous position of Prometheus, stealing the fire (of life) from the gods in order to give it to man. I finished class by reading the entire passage in Hesiod about Prometheus' gift to man, which also includes the creation of a new monstrous creature as punishment from Zeus for Prometheus' deed: woman. I finished by asking, "how does this complicate Mary Shelley's choice of subtitle as well as her connection to the Romantic idealization of the Promethean myth?"
By the way, the image to the right and above is of the monster and Elizabeth in bed in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
Next Class Synopsis
BACK TO COURSE SYLLABUS