The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

I will glut the maw of death

I am almost finished with the book Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, an odd story of which I have two copies, one being bundled with Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as one book with an introduction by Stephen King. Unfortunately I cannot get rid of this book because it is currently my only copy of Dracula, "unfortunately" because I don't like Stephen King. And I did my best not to read the introduction, but my eye fell on it and suddenly I was groveling hand and foot in Belial's gripe, like in that Browning poem:
Frankenstein, the most notorious of the three, perhaps, is also the worst written. Penned by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley at the age of nineteen, it is full of a young girl's wide-eyed sophistry and naivete; with its frequent digressions to explore Great Philosophical Ideas, it often resembles a college-dormitory bull session more than it does a tale of gothic horror.

Evidently Stephen King thinks of college as a place in which teenage girls regularly discuss assembling monsters out of human body parts, to which I reply that we should be so lucky. Later on we have this:
Just the fact that [these three books] continue to live a life of their own, quite apart from the assignments of high school and college instructors, makes them worth some careful attention. The Rise of Silas Lapham remains in print because teachers want students to read it; the same could be said of Moby-Dick, Daisy Miller, and a dozen other novels that cut deeper and speak more honestly about the human condition.

Stephen King also thinks of Moby-Dick as a book that people only read because other people make them. To this substitute makes the only possible reply: "Christ, what an asshole."

Actually, I am being unfair, because it's never made clear that Victor Frankenstein assembled his monster out of human body parts. Frankenstein is very circumspect about his methods, and the monster is eight feet tall, and consider for a moment how one would go about building an eight-foot-tall monster solely out of human remains. You would have to find some really big dead people! Here's the monster:
His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!--Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

That's pretty good, but the key is the word selected, which suggests that the monster's features existed as human parts before Frankenstein stuck them together to make the monster, i.e. that they're corpse bits. And you really want them to be corpse bits, because that's cool! Come on, we don't need the flat head and the bolts in the neck, but at least give us big black stitches, huh? --But it's hard to hang such weighty hopes on a single slender verb. And while you might be able to build an eight-foot-tall guy out of corpses of ordinary height, he wouldn't be proportionate the way Victor says the monster is. Unfortunately, it seems most likely that the monster is some kind of golem, and that's not as neat.

Frankenstein does mention corpses, though. Boy, does he:
To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy: but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body. In my education my father had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should be impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition, or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect upon my fancy; and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay, and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain.

That's how Victor figures out how to make a person: he stares and stares and stares at corpses. Who can't relate to that part of the creative process? I sure can. I therefore suggest this term to describe those parts of a project when you're doing the oppressive grunt work and it feels as if you're making no progress: staring at corpses.

It is striking how the monster has no name. It takes Victor two years to make him, during which time the monster just lies there all inanimate and half-formed, and you'd think that in the raptures of playing God Victor would have slapped a name on him, but he doesn't -- or if he does, he doesn't own up. Frankenstein's monster is just "the monster," or "the daemon," or some other generic term like that -- he doesn't get a name, because he alone has no place in creation. I wonder, though, if in his own mind the monster named himself. Wouldn't you have? Hey Frankenstein, you created me, and I'm eight feet tall, and I exist.
"Cursed be the day, abhorred devil, in which you first saw light! Cursed (although I curse myself) be the hands that formed you! You have made me wretched beyond expression. You have left me no power to consider whether I am just to you or not. Begone! Relieve me from the sight of your detested form."

"Thus I relieve thee, my creator," he said, and placed his hated hands before my eyes.

No, Frankenstein isn't a very good book, in part because it probably shouldn't be a book at all -- Shelley should have cut way down on the turgid descriptions of scenery, gotten rid of the weird framing device, and made it a long short story. Also, one gets the feeling that she doesn't realize what a knob Victor is. But it's still an awesome source of metaphor after nearly two hundred years, and that ain't hay. It's kind of a shame it's not better as a book, but for my money the monster putting his hands over Victor's eyes is worth the price of admission all by itself. Everything else is a bonus.
Tags: bram stoker, frankenstein, frankenstein's monster, mary wollstonecraft shelley, robert browning, robert louis stevenson, staring at corpses, stephen king is an asshole, twenty-nine distinct damnations
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