Friday, February 26, 2010

Close Reading Questions for Shelley's Frankenstein, pp.19-71

(Left: Self Portrait of Goya, image of Victor Frankenstein?)

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Carefully read Shelley’s 1831 Introduction to Frankenstein: how is she positioning the story for her post-Gothic readership (as the Gothic craze by this time had more or less died out)? Also, how might she playing into the conventions of Gothic prefaces written by Walpole and Coleridge?

2. Why do you think Shelley opens the novel with the letters (and story) of Walton, the Arctic explorer? What might he—and the epistolary form—add to the work from the Gothic or the novelistic point of view?

3. The young Victor becomes enamored with the writings of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Magnus, all of whom sought “the raising of ghosts or devils” (47). Why do the Enlightenment figures in the text (his father, his teachers) scorn these books, and what role do they play in his ultimate decision to create life?

4. How might the nightmare Victor has in the beginning of Chapter V reflect on his own psychology in creating the Creature? What might the dream “see” that he cannot—or refuses to witness?


  1. 2. I think that perhaps Shelley began the narrative with Walton's letters as a counterpoint to Victor's egotism in his scientific explorations. Walton does nothing for his own need for godhood, but simply what any of us ask for, fame and fortune. She gives us an anchor into the world that we are about to immerse ourselves in, a stand-in for the reader. Walton represents sanity in the narrative of chaos.

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  3. 3. The men that Victor reads accounts of and by represent his need for conquest and feed his ego and grand perversions. The original alchemist, another occultist, and a holy man, who each in their own way represent what man is capable of and, at the same time, what we dare not speak of, in the case of Paracelsus and Agrippa. The occult must appeal to Victor Frankenstein, because of his desire to make God's design more perfect in his own way, scorning creation for perversion, yet he still enjoys the scientific findings of Magnus. The figures who try to lead Victor away from these readings know the ways he could, and does, read into them, and perhaps his father even knows that Victor is prone to flights of fantasy and neurosis. However, like any true batshit crazy person, Victor lets their comments anger him to the point of doing everything in his power to bring about his own end by ignoring them. He wants to prove that men can surpass our Creator, and casts his lot in with his own imperfect mind and insanity rather than listen to "reason."

  4. Question 2
    I think that Shelley's story begins in the extreme North with Walton for a few different reasons. The explorations of Walton to the arctic put him into the circumstance of "Man v. Nature" wherein a human must struggle with all that he has in order to survive. This is not unlike the drive of many to climb mountains such as Everest--where only the strongest accomplish--and yet they do so, only because nature supplies a 'window' for them to attempt the summit climb. The letter format, encapsulates (not unlike a journey diary) the situation of Victor and his 'monster' as well as tying it together with Walton's struggle to learn about the nature of life and death and the struggle between them. Letters/journal entries is a format that was quite popular in this time frame and we'll see it again in Bram Stoker's "Dracula". The format creates a believeability and encourages a relationship between the reader and the author, and the reader and the characters. The nature of the northern reaches is such that ulimate light and ultimate darkness exist at various times. This location synthesizes the battle between extremes that is shown in Victor's story as well as in Walton's story.

    Question 4
    Victor's dream upon the night of the creature's animation took the living image of Elizabeth in her goodness, purity and most vital time of life and morphed it into the corpse of Victor's mother, who had died earlier in the story. Victor's description of his mother earlier, was such that we see a nearly sainted opinion that he held of her--more angelic than human. This is likewise the way that Elizabeth is described. The dream reveals that much of what Victor struggles with is loss and the decay that is inevitable in death.

    Psychologically, Victor has without a doubt crossed into the realm of psychosis due to lack of reparative sleep, which contributes to the vividness of the images that he faces in his dreams. His revulsion of his creation could be due in some part to this condition as well.

    Victor's dream reveals his inability to accept the inevitable and his work is the manifestation of that inability to grasp that control is the ultimate illusion. He cannot control life. He cannot control death. Even when he comes close to what he believes to be control--he finds that nothing is as he had
    hoped it would be. This is the latent content of his dream: what Victor sees as the beauty in the world, the heavenly, the angelic, the perfect will inevitably end and he cannot do anything to overcome that.

    The image of his love, Elizabeth, becoming his mother could likewise be an Oedipal complex playing out (Freudian concept) in which the son
    loves the mother so intensely that he is then forced to "bond" with the father to overcome the associated guilt complex. In Victor's case--the Oedipal complex is never dealt with because Victor is never able to relate to or bond with his father (or with his professors that are in authority figure placement) in a way that is healing and nurturing. Victor feels inferior even in his greatest accomplishment of learning, and so the Oedipal complex never having been dealt with, his love(and therefore his loss) goes on without closure. The morphing of Elizabeth to the
    mother image, illustrates his fear of loss once again and of unending suffering that accompanies loss.

  5. 3) I think that Victor persues the readings of these men as a way to cheats life and even death. All of these men(Agrippa, Magnus, etc.) endeavored to find the mystery of life and solve the problem of dying and Victor loved the idea.
    He starts out by taking his find(Agrippa) to his father where in turn he is shot down and told that that nonsense is "sad trash"(pg.23)(in my book respectably)where he then decides to read more instead of listen to his father much like a young child does when they are told not to do something. His teacher Mr. Krempe also tells him to not read such silly works. Hearing these remarks from several people show us how people of the time were viewing nature and creation as an already explored and understood subject that didn't need anymore study let alone overimaginative fantasies. Victor's obcession with the creation of life though does stem from this abhorance of Agrippa and so on causing Victor to as he stated "continued to read with the greatest avidity."(pg. 23).

    4) In VIctor's dream, he is looking at the image of Elizabeth when her features suddenly turn into the gross image of his mother's rotting corpse. When he gave life to the "monster" he was taken aback by the shear ugliness and horror of it exclaiming that it was a catastrophe, wondering how this could happen when he took such care in "select[ing] his features as beautiful!"(pg. 39) His nightmare is a mirror of what he has done with this creature and what he thought he was doing as good became a disaster. This in turn in a way bringing his worst fear into light which is the loss of Elizabeth to the same fate as his late mother.
    Here Victor hopefully realizes that one cannot play "God" in the way that he has tried to do, and he must come to an understanding that, pardon the parody, "Nothing Gold can Stay". We grow old and we can't stop that no matter how beautiful or good. Undoubtedly he will understand this too late and loose the thing that matters most to him(Elizabeth).

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