I posted a blog last month about re-instating Frankenstein into my British Literature Survey course 1800-present. With most of our blogs here, that one was more fully formed than what I'm about to post. So, this constitutes my foray into brainstorming blogging rather than essaying blogging:
Well, we just finished Frankenstein and moved to Jane Eyre. Our discussions and my lecture were really inspired by the students -- we moved into this idea that Victor never could express love because he didn't really get a lesson in it. Any type of love. That might return us back to the lack of mother issue (and then there's Elizabeth) but it got us out of the idea that he's only a narcissist, the favored reception of Victor most times that I've taught this novel. This means that each time Victor takes a sabbatical to restore his health, he seems to be searching for something along the lines of Wordsworth's speaker in "Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey." But, Victor never quite approaches the contemplative, soulful reverie with a mansion in the mind or even considering another person. He lives as he dreams, alone (taken from Heart of Darkness). In fact, I see more and more that Victor represents the Modernist or post-Victorian view of individuality than he does the Romantic-era version. Even the Shelley and Byron versions inadequately describe the loneliness of this fella.
Not a single student empathized with Victor -- usually one or two take up his cause. Almost all sympathized with the creature/monster, though he's quite a despicable character.
One scene we discussed closely -- the abortion of the female creature and eventual discarding of the parts -- inspired conversation about Victor's sense of humanity. Victor looks directly at the creature, notes the longing and loneliness on his face as he gazes toward the future Mrs. Creature; but even in the light of this knowledge, Victor is suddenly struck with a conscience and shreds his experiment. Of course this angers the creature, but we were all struck at the violent intentionality of Victor's actions. He says he was acting out of concern for mankind, but it seems he was acting more cruelly than we really notice about Victor.
In the end, Victor didn't even rate up there with Satan as a redeemable character. This might be a bit of a stretch, but by looking at different areas, we were really able to come up with a variant reading, at least variant from what I've taught before.
This saved Victor for me. I'll teach Frankenstein again. Perhaps next time, we'll focus only on the peripheral characters, Clerval and Elizabeth.
Really interesting stuff
Submitted by Roger Whitson (not verified) on
Really interesting stuff Katherine. Your posts over the past semester have inspired me to consider teaching a Frankenstein course perhaps this next summer or in the fall. I'd love to start a course on the "sources" of Frankenstein, move through the novel, then look at adaptations of Frankenstein in film (maybe the recent film Splice), comics, and digital media.
I love your description of Victor's "abortion" of the female creature - since I feel that it really shows how powerful this novel can be when discussing issues of humanity, humanism, etc. It's a scene that really haunts me, and I often spend almost a class period every time I teach Frankenstein going over it. It's perhaps a bit of an indulgence on my part but discussing the "cruelty of humanism" in Frankenstein can really get into several contemporary issues with genetics, fear of the different, etc.