Rereading Frankenstein

I've been rereading Frankenstein the last couple of days because I'm going to teach it in my Imagining Science course next term. I've taught the book before, but never well, I suspect because I never managed to enter into its imaginative universe until now. The book is a bundle of narrative  implausibilities & the science, as Shelley of course knew, is risible, but it is an imaginative whole, I now see. I think I'm going to present it to my students as a book about education & its risks & disappointments. Viktor's education leads him to create a monster, who turns out to be an autodidact, for all the good it does him.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

6 thoughts on “Rereading Frankenstein

  1. joseph, this is liquid paper. relate it to blade runner by san francisco bay area’s philip dick. rachel is the most wonderful character in the film. she comes to the awareness of herself, and she will live forever while the blade runner himself is time limited. i have written poems on mannequins and transgenders and on changing even your whistle. this is ripe ripe for development. it is so improtant: how we change, how we learn, how we are autodidacts.
    take the heart from the fire. edward mycue

  2. Ed, you inspire me. We’ll definitely do Bladerunner. Isn’t it interesting that one of the first things that Frankenstein’s creature does consciously is plunge his hand into a fire.

  3. Viktor is also a bad father. He never acknowledges his “child”, which is the cause of much of the mayhem in that tale. He didn’t even name his child.

  4. The role of education in Frankenstein is also engaged powerfully in Alasdair Gray’s retelling Poor Things — I’ve taught Gray’s novel along with Frankenstein for the past couple of years and met much more success than I expected when assigning such a “difficult” novel.

  5. Pablo, that’s right. It is one of the stranger moments in the story, a huge gap left unexplained. Perhaps VF’s horror would have been more comprehensible to a Romantic imagination, but I’ve never understood why the creator is so suddenly revolted by his creation. He makes a point of telling us earlier that he is not easily revolted. Of course, I understand that he has crossed some fundamental metaphysical line — one that seems less clear to a modern reader — but surely he would have thought at least a bit about this during the months he worked on his monster.

  6. I think Viktor revulsion is due to the monster’s sudden presence: throughout the novel, it’s always in solitude that Viktor pursues his experiments and secret knowledge. When Henry arrives, he casts aside all thought of his work, and again when he travels with Henry to England and Scotland. So like a mirror, the monster immediately reminds Viktor that he isn’t alone in the world and there are social consequences to his work.

    The novel seems in a way to be a critique by Mary Shelley of the romantic solitude championed by her husband, and a warning about education and discovery performed in isolation. That’s what makes the framing narrative of Walton’s colonial Arctic desires so powerful (for me, anyway) and so prescient.

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