“Frankenstein” is a seminal work of science fiction and horror that explores the limits of scientific exploration and the ethical implications of creation. The novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox experiment, leading to tragic consequences for both the creator and the creation.
Book Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Date of Reading: April 2023
Victor Frankenstein’s narrative begins with his childhood in Geneva. Born into a wealthy family, he grows up surrounded by loving parents and Elizabeth, an orphan adopted by his family. Victor develops a passion for the secrets of nature and life.
Victor’s fascination with science intensifies as he reads works of alchemists like Agrippa, though his father dismisses these as outdated. His desire to understand and manipulate natural forces grows, laying the foundation for his future experiments.
Victor leaves for the University of Ingolstadt, where he immerses himself in scientific studies. He becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life, dedicating himself to unorthodox experiments in secrecy.
After years of research, Victor discovers the secret to animating lifeless matter. He becomes consumed with assembling a living being from parts of deceased bodies, driven by the potential of his groundbreaking work.
Victor succeeds in bringing his creation to life but is horrified by its grotesque appearance. Overcome with fear and regret, he abandons the creature, setting off a chain of tragic events that haunt him.
As Victor struggles with the consequences of his actions, he receives news of his brother William’s murder. He becomes tormented by guilt, suspecting his creation is responsible.
Victor returns to Geneva, where he encounters his creation in the wilderness, confirming his fears. He grapples with guilt and despair, realizing his scientific ambition has unleashed a malevolent force.
Victor’s family servant, Justine, is falsely accused of William’s murder. Despite her innocence, she is found guilty and executed, deepening Victor’s anguish over the repercussions of his experiment.
Victor becomes increasingly tormented by the knowledge that his creation is responsible for the tragedies affecting his family. He isolates himself, consumed by guilt and grief.
The creature begins narrating his own story, recounting his earliest memories. He describes the confusion and sensory overload of his initial experiences, his gradual understanding of the world around him, and his initial encounters with fire, food, and shelter.
The creature continues his story. He discovers a hut and observes a family, learning language and human behavior by watching them. His awareness and understanding of human society grow, but so does his realization of his own outcast state.
The creature deepens his understanding of human society and emotions by observing the family in the hut. He learns to read and discovers books, which further educate and emotionally affect him. He starts to help the family anonymously, hoping to win their affection.
The creature learns more about the family’s history and the reasons behind their current state of poverty and suffering. He empathizes with them and continues to secretly assist them, still longing for human connection.
The creature finds Victor’s journal in his clothing, learning about his own creation. He confronts the family, hoping for acceptance, but is met with fear and rejection, deepening his feelings of loneliness and bitterness.
The creature seeks revenge against humanity, leading to the accidental shooting by a man while trying to save a girl. He then strangles Victor’s brother, William, and frames Justine Moritz for the murder. The creature implores Victor to create a mate for him to end his loneliness and despair.
Victor Frankenstein, under the creature’s threat, begins the daunting task of creating a female companion. Despite his deep reservations and the horror of repeating his grim work, he commits to this endeavor, driven by the fear of further retribution from his first creation.
Victor travels to England, accompanied by his friend Henry Clerval, to gather information for his new task. This journey marks a significant phase in his life, mixing his scientific quest with the backdrop of his ongoing moral dilemma.
In England, while Henry enjoys the beauties of the landscape, Victor remains tormented by his task. His work consumes him, and he struggles with the implications of potentially unleashing another monstrous being into the world.
The chapter sees Victor grappling with the magnitude of his undertaking. He ultimately destroys the female creature he was creating, fearing the consequences of her existence. This act sets the stage for further tragic events, as the creature vows revenge against Victor for denying him a companion.
There was a considerable difference between the ages of my parents, but this circumstance seemed to unite them only closer in bonds of devoted affection.
I was their plaything and their idol, and something better —their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by Heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery, according as they fulfilled their duties towards me.
No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me—my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only.
When I look back, it seems to me as if this almost miraculous change of inclination and will was the immediate suggestion of the guardian angel of my life—the last effort made by the spirit of preservation to avert the storm that was even then hanging in the stars, and ready to envelope me.
“The ancient teachers of this science,” said he, “promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted, and that the elixir of life is a chimera.
But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places.
They ascend into the heavens: they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”
“I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body.”
I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me.
I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
“I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
When happy, inanimate nature had the power of bestowing on me the most delightful sensations. A serene sky and verdant fields filled me with ecstasy. The present season was indeed divine; the flowers of spring bloomed in the hedges, while those of summer were already in bud. I was undisturbed by thoughts which during the preceding year had pressed upon me, notwithstanding my endeavours to throw them off, with an invincible burden.
At that instant my father entered. I saw unhappiness deeply impressed on his countenance, but he endeavoured to welcome me cheerfully; and, after we had exchanged our mournful greeting, would have introduced some other topic than that of our disaster, had not Ernest exclaimed, “Good God, papa! Victor says that he knows who was the murderer of poor William.”
The appearance of Justine was calm. She was dressed in mourning; and her countenance, always engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful.
Yet she appeared confident in innocence, and did not tremble, although gazed on and execrated by thousands; for all the kindness which her beauty might otherwise have excited, was obliterated in the minds of the spectators by the imagination of the enormity she was supposed to have committed.
“I remained for several minutes motionless with my eyes fixed on the ground, while each stroke drew nearer and nearer. As I saw him, more distinctly, I ceased to fear, or to bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements.”
“The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him.”
I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
The young girl was occupied in arranging the cottage; but presently she took something out of a drawer, which employed her hands, and she sat down beside the old man, who, taking up an instrument, began to play, and to produce sounds sweeter than the voice of the thrush or the nightingale. It was a lovely sight, even to me, poor wretch!
I looked upon them as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future destiny. I formed in my imagination a thousand pictures of presenting myself to them, and their reception of me. I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour, and afterwards their love.
I admired virtue and good feelings, and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers; but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows.
The plot of Felix was quickly discovered, and De Lacey and Agatha were thrown into prison. The news reached Felix, and roused him from his dream of pleasure. His blind and aged father, and his gentle sister, lay in a noisome dungeon, while he enjoyed the free air and the society of her whom he loved.
Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.’
“I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?”
The horrible scene of the preceding day was for ever acting before my eyes; the females were flying, and the enraged Felix tearing me from his father’s feet. I awoke exhausted; and, finding that it was already night, I crept forth from my hiding-place, and went in search of food.
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
His soul overflowed with ardent affections, and his friendship was of that devoted and wondrous nature that the worldly-minded teach us to look for only in the imagination. But even human sympathies were not sufficient to satisfy his eager mind.
I enjoyed this scene; and yet my enjoyment was embittered both by the memory of the past, and the anticipation of the future. I was formed for peaceful happiness.
Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.
How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!
I repassed, in my memory, my whole life; my quiet happiness while residing with my family in Geneva, the death of my mother, and my departure for Ingolstadt. I remembered, shuddering, the mad enthusiasm that hurried me on to the creation of my hideous enemy, and I called to mind the night in which he first lived. I was unable to pursue the train of thought; a thousand feelings pressed upon me, and I wept bitterly.
Those were the last moments of my life during which I enjoyed the feeling of happiness.
“Be happy, my dear Victor,” replied Elizabeth; “there is, I hope, nothing to distress you; and be assured that if a lively joy is not painted in my face, my heart is contented.
The sun sunk beneath the horizon as we landed; and as I touched the shore, I felt those cares and fears revive which soon were to clasp me and cling to me for…. ever.
Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.
What then became of me? I know not; I lost sensation, and chains and darkness were the only objects that pressed upon me.
I trembled with excess of agitation as I said this; there was a frenzy in my manner and something, I doubt not, of that haughty fierceness which the martyrs of old are said to have possessed.
“I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.”
“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
Oh! when will my guiding spirit, in conducting me to the daemon, allow me the rest I so much desire; or must I die and he yet live?
“Frankenstein” is a profound and haunting novel that masterfully explores themes of creation, responsibility, and the consequences of playing God. Shelley’s rich prose and deep philosophical inquiries make it a timeless classic, though its complex language may pose a challenge for modern readers. Its enduring impact on literature and culture is a testament to its significance.
To delve deeper into the themes of “Frankenstein,” readers can explore works on the ethical implications of scientific advancement. Additionally, reading Mary Shelley’s other novels and biographies can provide insight into her influences and the context in which she wrote “Frankenstein.”
The novel’s exploration of ethical dilemmas in scientific exploration has influenced my approach to considering the moral implications of modern scientific and technological advancements.
Reflect on the ethical implications of scientific advancements in our time, and consider how these might impact society and the environment.