Frankenstein: I Have Suffered Great and Unparalleled Misfortunes

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While in the midst of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, and discussing bits of it on Twitter, I mentioned to Frances and Thomas that the first time I read Frankenstein I was much more sympathetic to the monster. Now, at this rereading, I seem to have lost my patience with him. For it is not just the monster who endures terrible suffering due to a lack of human connection.

From the very beginning, Captain Walton expresses  in a letter to his sister “one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy…”: that of a friend.

You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans.

This longing for connection, and the suffering that ensues from the lack thereof, dwells in all of the main characters: Captain Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and especially the daemon himself.

“Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow creatures, who owe me nothing? They spurn and hate me…Shall I not then hate them who abhor me?

Does being hurt, being an outcast, being angry at one’s creator, warrant hate or consequent murder?

The monster tries to explain his position:

“My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and when wrenched to misery by vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of change, without torture such as you cannot even imagine.”  

The violence of change. Changing from innocence to knowledge, from love to hate, from man to monster. Surely change has been an unsettling constant for centuries.

Mary Shelley includes a few lines from her husband’s poem in this novel, without giving him credit, yet these lines bring an insight into the concepts she is trying to express about the power of change; about our lack of control:

We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;

We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;

We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;

Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,

The path of its departure still is free:

Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;

Nought may endure but mutability!

~Percy Bysshe Shelley

But, the insight which I like best of all is how Henry Clerval reminds his friend Victor Frankenstein, “Those maxims of the Stoics, that death was no evil, and that the mind of man ought to be superior to despair on the eternal absence of a beloved object, ought not to be urged. Even Cato wept over the dead body of his brother.”

And what might Cato himself say to the suffering monster? Perhaps this couplet would have offered a piece of important wisdom:

If you can, even remember to help people you don’t know.
More precious than a kingdom it is to gain friends by kindness.

(From the publisher: “A towering masterpiece of Gothic fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein birthed the horror and science-fiction genres and spawned countless cultural offspring. In fact, its cultural progeny is so pervasive that we forget how radical, insightful – and, yes, terrifying- it is. In our Restless Classics edition, award-winning novelist and critic Francine Prose breathes new life into the book with a brilliant new introduction, Mexican artist Eko offers twenty-six harrowing full-page illustrations, and University of Pennsylvania English professor Wendy Steiner presents insightful online videos. Find out more about the series here.”)

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22 thoughts on “Frankenstein: I Have Suffered Great and Unparalleled Misfortunes”

    1. The theme of suffering was one that stood out so significantly to me, and then, what do we do with our suffering? Our loneliness and isolation, our pain and accusation, are no reason to lash out against our creator in my opinion.

      It sounds so very trite to say kindness is the answer, but I hold a lot of stock in the message of Christ to “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Tom, I am so discouraged with this post because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted…didn’t know how to phrase my thoughts without sounding as if I was standing on a pulpit, but for goodness sake! How did Victor think that he could play the role of God, be a Creator, and get away with it?! To me, more than anything else (suffering and being harrowed included) this novel spoke of Christian themes. What could be more scary than to turn what is natural into something that is not?

      Yes. I was harrowed. To the core.

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    2. I was thinking more of the illustrations, which specifically promise a harrowing. But I am glad you felt that way about the text – it still has its magic, doesn’t it?

      I know the answer to your question. Victor thinks he can be a God, and turn the natural into the unnatural, or vice versa, because he is under the influence of a number of 18th century Enlightenment ideas, scientific, religious, and aesthetic. Also, he is a psycho.

      Frankenstein’s insanity really stood out for me this time, his evil that he cannot recognize as evil.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Hey, Bellezza! You brought a new light for the novel, when you quoted Cato: kindness as a proper response to suffering and fear. Yes, you are right, both Victor and the monster lack kindness, and are deeply in need of it. And both try to play God, hunting each other. It was hard for me to empathize with them.

    Thank you for hosting this readalong, it was a strong incentive for me. 🙂

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    1. Really, I just jumped on the wagon which was driven by Frances and Audrey, but I’m glad you jumped on with me. There is so much here, in a novel that was conceived of 200 years ago, that is applicable today. I guess the themes are timeless: change, nature, our free will and where it can take is, the consequences of choices made. I could talk about it round a table for hours; writing about it was far more difficult in this particular case.

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    1. The illustrations within its pages are by the same author, and they are truly excellent. They bring a 21st century feel to a 19th century novel. Which is timeless in itself, actually.

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  2. All you need now is to pick up a little Milton and you are deep in thought for the rest of the summer. 🙂 Or just let it rest at the psycho/monster conclusion and call it a day because I think you and Tom are correct on both counts. A monster creates a monster. Rereading the novel really had me almost laughing at the ease with which Frankenstein alludes to (but never fully divulges) his deep of night forays for human body parts and what not. Surprisingly forthright and without shame for such creepster activity, right?

    I’m still thinking through this reread and planning on a couple or three more short posts. Thanks for reading with me as always!

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    1. For as much (over)thinking as I was doing to write this post, I was quite pleased to arrive at the obvious conclusion with Tom: Frankenstein and his creation were both monsters. The End.

      Seems a bit obvious now, but that’s part of the joy in blogging about books: synthesizing one’s thoughts with others.

      So glad that you and Audrey thought of this plan, love reading with you.

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  3. Yes, Victor’s “materials”! The second round is especially hilarious – he and his pal go to London, where Victor spends his time grave robbing. Then they tour England – ah, isn’t Oxford lovely – while apparently dragging around a crate or two of lady corpses, unknown to Clerval. “What’s in the box, old chum?” “Materials.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trust you to look at all aspects of a novel and find the humor in this especially dark one. You comment makes me laugh, the bright spot in all of this calamity and woe.

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  4. Isn’t it interesting how our sympathies and impressions of certain characters can change with age and life experience? It’s something than often surprises me when I revisit particular books. Thank you for a very thought-provoking post.

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    1. It’s so interesting how one’s feelings and thoughts can change, especially in rereads after a few years have passed. (That happened to me with The Thorn Birds, a novel I once loved, and upon its rereading was disappointed.) Thank you for reading this post, one I feel still doesn’t quite capture what I was thinking; maybe it’s my thoughts that are unclear more than the post. There is much more substance to this novel than I thought. Perhaps I should have just posted a series of Eko’s illustrations like Literary Hub, and left it at that.

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  5. I’ve always felt as if both Frankenstein, and his creation, are narcissistic to an extreme. They both see their needs and their desires to supercede anything else.

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  6. I was harrowed by Mary Shelley’s style. Phew, what a challenge it was when I read it.

    And yes, Victor is a psycho with no conscience whatsoever.
    As Rabelais wrote “Science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme.” (Science without conscience ruins one’s soul)

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  7. It’s always interesting to hear or read other people’s perceptions and perspectives on such a classic novel. I have to disagree with you about losing your patience with the ‘monster’. I did a post about this very issue on my blog
    if you’re ever up for some healthy debate 😀 Great blog by the way!

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