‘Frankenstein Or The Modern Prometheus’ speaks to you directly, showing you with its wintery-cold hands the myth through the lens called life.
Call it a myth, an experiment, a mistake, it retells, at the same time approaching the same unknown vision, the story of Victor Frankenstein – a man who humbly tries to be god.
The novel retells, and is still retelling like a folktale in the air, how Victor Frankenstein’s passion for alchemy, chemistry and natural philosophy acted as a catalyst for his many experiments on lifeless frames he gathered from cemeteries.
Long, maddening but exact and taciturn, expeditions, not to a far off land (not as of now), but inside the laboratory, expedition to the depths of knowing the dead and undead, to the threshold of unruly desire and undue greed, greed to dominate.
“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, 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.
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?”Chapter 5, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The creator fled away from his creation forgetting that the two are now tied to each other by a thread – a thread stronger than creator’s own shadow, voice and thoughts. Victor created a monster, not on that ‘dreary night of November‘, but over a period of time. Absolute neglect and abhorrence left the monster no choice but to be one.
Even when he learns the ways of the world – living in a hovel, grasping in silence what a family life means, secretly helping people around, picking their language and deciphering meaning in what he could read – he faces rigid rejection to whomsoever he turns to.
Shunned, he questions his existence and finds the winter weather leaping away after answering him with a static silence.
Fear fosters fear and with such weakness and anger the monster acts, brutally he acts, making sure that his master hears all about it. The monster kills Victor’s younger brother William and thus begins the downfall of both the creator and the monster.
Darkness and gloom overpower Victor and with the deaths of his best friend, fiancé and his old father, he becomes as lonely as the monster.
The pure white snow at the North Pole, that appeared to be engulfing the earth and the sky alike, could not make the monster anything less than what he had become – he was a curse, told Victor to his new friend, Robert Walton, an explorer and closed his eyes forever, hoping that in death he may find victory over his loathsome creation.
And this once Victor was right, the monster decides to put an end to his grotesque life too.
A little bit of gleaming sunshine, valley fresh flowers and joy too may feel subdued in this novel by the inky rainy nights and foggy, grey skies, but that is because it stays true to its core – a tragedy, but a modern one where the hero nurtures his flaw, unaware yet certain at first, lamenting and regretting later, truly owning it as a dead man.
Victor Frankenstein borne the brunt of such a curse that no one may ever dare to face, even in the advanced world, maybe only by mistake, but not as a determined goal and even if one did, in the times to come, such a creation will know what happened to Frankenstein’s monster and will know it only too well.
Until then, Frankenstein will continue to live, in our memory, for the sake of the curse and so will his monster.
When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.Author’s introduction, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, London 15th October 1831
At 18, when she began writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley had thought of it to be a tale no longer than a few pages, at 20, the novel, after initial rejections, got published anonymously – customary for most female writers of the period – with a preface by her husband, P.B Shelley.
Some thought P.B Shelley or his father-in-law, the philosopher writer William Godwin, to be the author of this phantasmagoria and Mary Shelley surely was influenced by both, but her close encounters with death that tortured her, but kept her alive, very much like the Titan god of fire, Prometheus, made her who she was.
Mary Shelley wrote in her diary – “Dream that my little baby came to life again – that it had only been cold and that we rubbed it by the fire and it lived – I awake and find no baby – I think about the little thing all day.”
Mary got her name from her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist writer, who died soon after giving birth to her. Even though deprived of this pious golden bond, Mary Shelley nurtured it solitarily, just like Frankenstein’s creation.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s world became her world when she, at 16, fled with him, well aware that the journey ahead will be more perilous than it ever was. Percy, then 20, was already married, penniless and somewhat on the run from his creditors. After his first wife’s death, the couple got married and just for a few shy years they happily lived together.
Too strong a wave, was Mary’s beloved, for he rose to meet the light on a stormy night on the sea and drowned unabashedly. Mary Shelley kept the remains of his heart as keepsake and continued to edit and publish his poems posthumously.
Patience of deep sea grew in Mary Shelley and she decided to live – for her only son and her pen. She wrote novels, short stories, travelogues and biographies both to earn a living and stay close to the phantasmagorical world of stories.
The idea of Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley in a half-waking nightmare in the summer of 1816. She had been staying with her husband and Lord Byron on the shore of Lake Geneva when at Byron’s suggestion they were all challenged to make up a ghost story.– Frankenstein (Penguin Popular Classics)
The summer of 1816 later came to be known as ‘the year without a summer’ because of the eruption of Mount Tamboro in Indonesia that sent clouds of volcanic ash throughout Europe, North America and Asia.
Torrential rain and grey gloominess filled the sky, it must have, when Mary Shelley sat down to write Frankenstein. And this only favoured her, even if she didn’t realise it, as she managed to breach the measurements of time in presenting a vision, hideous and terrifying, but intact and alive.
And so, it walked, with our desires and knowledge meeting, it walked – Frankenstein’s monster walked.
But what’s he up to now?