The Literary Monster on Film

by Abigail Burnham Bloom

The Literary Monster on Film Author Abigail Burnham Bloom Isbn 9780786442614 File size 2MB Year 2010 Pages 218 Language English File format PDF Category Culture Many monsters in Victorian British novels were intimately connected with the protagonists and representative of both the personal failings of a character and the failings of the society in which he or she lived By contrast more recent film adaptations of these novels depict the creatures as arbitrarily engaging in senseless violence and suggest a modern fear o

Publisher :

Author : Abigail Burnham Bloom

ISBN : 9780786442614

Year : 2010

Language: English

File Size : 2MB

Category : Culture

The Literary
Monster on Film

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The Literary
Monster on Film
Five Nineteenth Century
British Novels and Their
Cinematic Adaptations

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Jefferson, North Carolina, and London


Bloom, Abigail Burnham.
The literary monster on film: five nineteenth century British
novels and their cinematic adaptations / Abigail Burnham Bloom.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7864-4261-4
softcover : 50# alkaline paper
1. Monsters in motion pictures. 2. Monsters in literature.
3. Horror films— History and criticism. 4. English fiction–
19th century — Film adaptations. 5. Film adaptations— History
and criticism. I. Title.
PN1995.9.M6B56 2010
791.43' 67 — dc22
British Library cataloguing data are available
©2010 Abigail Burnham Bloom. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Cover information: Robert De Niro as the Creature in the 1994 film
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (American Zoetrope/TriStar
Pictures/Photofest); (inset) frontispiece to Frankenstein, Colburn
and Bentley, London, 1831 (Engraving by Theodore Von Holst, private collection, Bath, England)
Manufactured in the United States of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640

Table of Contents


Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)
Frankenstein, dir. James Whale (1931)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, dir. Kenneth Branagh (1994)


Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis
Stevenson (1886)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, dir. John S. Robertson (1920)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, dir. Rouben Mamoulian (1931)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, dir. Victor Fleming (1941)



The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H. G. Wells (1896)
Island of Lost Souls, dir. Erle C. Kenton (1933)
The Island of Dr. Moreau, dir. Don Taylor (1977)
The Island of Dr. Moreau, dir. John Frankenheimer (1996)



She, by H. Rider Haggard (1887)
She, dir. Lansing C. Holden and Irving Pichel (1935)
She, dir. Robert Day (1965)




Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)
Nosferatu, dir. F. W. Murnau (1922)



Table of Contents

Dracula, dir. Tod Browning (1931)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, dir. Francis Ford Coppola (1992)



When my son was a teenager, he delighted in watching horror movies. He
wanted to see as many as he could, and I frequently accompanied him. I had
never watched many before, and I was amazed by the manner in which the
monster was an aberration from ordinary life and unconnected with the main
characters. Often there was no motive involved in the murders committed by
the monster, or the explanation was given so quickly that I didn’t get it. In
Child’s Play (1988), Chucky, a “good guy” doll, destroyed those around him
without any reason whatsoever. A character like Michael Myers, whose monstrousness stems from insanity, remained unconnected with his victims. Sometimes, as in Scream (1996), the explanation for the murders was much more
forgettable than the machinations involved. The Blair Witch Project (1999) presented disappearances from no coherent cause. Monsters could also be created
by scientific mishap, as in Godzilla (1998), but the monster remained an outsider, a threat to anyone in its path and unconnected with the protagonist.
Then there was Hostel (2005), in which the torture and murder was done for
the pleasure of torture and murder alone. The monsters in these films are generally unacquainted with the protagonist and drawn to murder a victim for no
particular reason. Interest in the film comes not from who is murdered or why,
but how and in what manner.
These horror films struck me as completely different from the nineteenthcentury horror novels that I read and taught. Within these novels, the monster
is a manifestation of the protagonist or intimately connected with him.
Frankenstein and his creation are doubles of each other. Dr. Jekyll develops
Mr. Hyde as a means of behaving as he likes while maintaining his reputation
in society. The monster reflects what is wrong with an individual or even within
society as a whole. These monsters reminded me of what kind of person I should
and shouldn’t be.
I began to watch the films adapted from nineteenth-century horror novels
as I wondered if they showed the monster as unconnected to the victim or the
protagonist, as in most of the modern films I had seen. I observed that many
different means of connecting the monster with another character were used
by filmmakers. For example, connections were often made through the parallel



placement of actors or by cutting back and forth between characters and actions.
Telling the story from the point of view of the monster added to identification
with it. However, the identification of monster and protagonist was seldom as
sustained as in the novel.
I believe the differences between the portrayal of the monsters in the novels
and the films occur for several reasons. People of the nineteenth century had
the leisure to absorb the meaning of what they read. Books can be put down
and read slowly; readers expected novels to have a moral message that they
could apply to their lives. In today’s world the movie must deliver an immediate
visceral punch. Movies seek to make the viewer react emotionally rather than
intellectually. They evoke a relentless fear aroused by watching an unstoppable
monster bent on destruction. Whereas readers of horror novels feared they were
like the monster, the watchers of horror movies fear they will be the monster’s
victim. By examining nineteenth-century horror novels and adaptations made
from these novels, I seek to examine the monsters within and without ourselves.

An uncontrollable creature who slaughters innocent people in his search
for revenge, a man who maims and murders for pleasure, an all-powerful and
exquisitely beautiful woman with eternal life, a doctor who creates men from
animals, and a vampire who has made his home amongst us— all five monsters
arouse fear in the reader. This fear may come from many things: surprise, disgust, fear of harm to characters in the novel, and ultimately a threat to our own
safety. We fear both becoming the victims of these monsters and that we are
these monsters.
During the nineteenth century most people believed in original sin, the
sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which is transferred
to each individual at birth. Since mankind was conceived in sin, each person
must be protected from the evil within himself. If all goes well, if a child is
restrained and educated correctly, eventually the child will grow up and can
overcome, or at least repress, the evil within himself or herself. In the nineteenth
century the source for monsters is within the ordinary human. The most frightening part of nineteenth-century novels comes from the discovery of our own
similarities to the monster. By the time films were routinely produced in the
twentieth century, most people believed that people are basically good and born
innocent. In twentieth century films, the monster, for the most part, does not
know his victims and seeks to destroy one person rather than another by chance.
No longer is the monster intimately connected to his victim. Horror in movies
evolves from how different the monsters are from us.

Rationale of This Book
In this work I will examine five British nineteenth-century horror novels:
Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, She, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Dracula. Although She is more like an adventure novel, and The Island of Dr. Moreau
is closer to science fiction, all of the novels contain a monster who disrupts the
world of the novel. In each of the five novels, the monster bears a distinctive
relationship to the protagonist. In looking at the monsters in nineteenth-cen3



tury novels, I have chosen to discuss novels that I consider great, that have been
read continuously since their publication, and that have been made into numerous cinematic adaptations.
Following my discussion of the novel, I will consider two or three film
adaptations of each novel. I look at films which are works of art, are enjoyable
on their own, are celebrated by many people, portray an unusual conception
of the monster, and were commercially released in theaters rather than being
made for television. Within my discussion of each novel and film I will examine
the world at the start of the work, the connection between the monster and his
victims, the threat the monster creates, the nature of the evil, how the monster
is destroyed, and how the world of the novel is returned to normality — if it is.
“The World at the Start of ” each work details the world before the coming of
the monster, the world that is threatened by the monster. I think of this as the
normal world, the world that we read about at the beginning of a novel or see
on the screen at the start of a film. This world is a given for a particular work
of art against which changes can be measured. The second area of discussion,
“The Monster Within and Without,” presents my reflections on the tendency
within the protagonist or his victims towards the monstrous. There is always
evil in the world, but it comes to the fore for different reasons. The next section,
“The Threat of the Monster,” reveals the process by which the monster is created
and how he intends to destroy his victims. “The Threat of the Monster” is followed by “The Nature of the Evil,” which reveals what is monstrous about each
individual monster. Indeed, often it is not the creature initially thought to be
the monster that is the true monster of the work. For example, in The Island of
Dr. Moreau, the Beast Men physically resemble monsters, but the real monster
is Dr. Moreau. He longs to be a god and to dominate his own realm. After the
monster and his intensions are identified, the monster is defeated, usually
through a flaw in itself. The “Monster Destroyed” section chronicles the process
of the monster’s death. The last section, “Normality Restored,” indicates how
the characters will continue to live and how their view of the world has changed
since the start of the work.
Mary Shelley’s Creature from her novel Frankenstein (1818) is intimately
connected with his creator and is a doppelgänger for Victor Frankenstein. The
creature in James Whale’s film Frankenstein (1931)1 is the product of an insane
scientist, Frankenstein, who is brought back to his senses through the love of
his father and fiancée. The presence of an insane scientist or creator in a film
suggests that the monster is unconnected with the protagonist, as the insanity,
which the viewer does not identify with, is responsible for the monster. Ironically, this film, which shows only an occasional connection between the creator
and his monster, has caused confusion about the name Frankenstein — which
is sometimes understood to be the name of the Creature itself. Some of the
Frankenstein adaptations complicate the relationship between the monster and
the protagonist. For example, Kenneth Branagh, in his film Mary Shelley’s



Frankenstein (1994), establishes a connection between the creature and Frankenstein when the Creature is shot and Frankenstein finds a wound corresponding
to the Creature’s gunshot wound on himself. Frankenstein literally feels the
pain of the Creature. In this film, where the Creature is given more voice to
tell his own tale, it is Frankenstein who becomes the monster of the work.
Robert Louis Stevenson in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) created the character Dr. Jekyll, who becomes the monster Mr. Hyde when he drinks a potion.
What becomes clear in Stevenson’s tale is that each of the major characters in
the novel is similar in many ways to Dr. Jekyll. Each engages in hypocrisy in
order to keep his reputation untarnished within society; consequently, the novel
becomes a condemnation of Victorian society as a whole. The films directed
by John S. Robertson (1920), Rouben Mamoulian (1931), and Victor Fleming
(1941) all emphasize the division between Jekyll and his friends, and between
Jekyll and Hyde. They build up the goodness of Dr. Jekyll so that he has further
to fall downwards, showing him as a unique individual unconnected with us.
In H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887), several of the characters are reincarnations, and Haggard continued writing their lives in other books about Ayesha
or She-who-must-be-obeyed. Reincarnation is a means of producing a double
for a character. But characters also take characteristics from the society in which
their authors lived. In part, Ayesha represents the Victorian man’s fear of
woman’s power and the place of Britain within the empire. As with Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau, Victorian concerns about evolution
and de-evolution are present in the novel. The film adaptations of She that I
will discuss, Lansing C. Holden and Irving Pichel’s film from 1935, and Robert
Day’s adaptation from 1965, present the unusual image of a beautiful monster
and focus on the adventure aspect of the plot. Although the character of She
remains very close to that of the novel, in these films her relationships with her
victims have been changed, reflecting the attitudes during the eras when the
films were made.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), by H. G. Wells, includes creatures who
have been formed from animals to become human beings. Wells’ novel, based
on knowledge of evolution and a sense that all men have evolved from animals,
suggests the horror of vivisection in Victorian England and satirizes man’s opinion of himself as a species. In film adaptations of this novel, the science has
changed, as well as the representation of men and animals. Island of Lost Souls,
directed by Erle C. Kenton (1933), and The Island of Dr. Moreau, directed by
Don Taylor (1977), indicate everyman’s ability to escape from the monstrous
and return to a normal life. The conflicts are more complicated in John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), in which all men are capable of behaving badly, and some of the Beast Men are more violent than the humans, while
others are more moral than the humans.
The title character of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) comes from Transylvania to England, bringing a scourge from the East to the West. The vampire



brings out the sexuality of his victims, and in so doing, he reveals the fin-desiècle fear of the New Woman. F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film shows vampirism as a
plague, coming from the East into Germany, that can be stopped by a person
who is pure of heart. In Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation of Stoker’s novel,
Dracula is a charming foreigner and a threat from outside rather than connected
with his victims. At the same time, Dr. Van Helsing is shown as having many
parallels with his nemesis, Count Dracula. Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram
Stoker’s Dracula (1992) presents a vampire who feeds on others and a man who
seeks eternal love, causing the viewer to connect with his human side while
being repulsed by his monstrousness.

The Nineteenth Century
The nineteenth century was the heyday of the genre of the novel. A novel
examines the development of a character against the backdrop of a society. It
is more than the story of an individual, it is the story of the individual shown
against other people. Before one can understand oneself as an individual, one
must see oneself in relation to other people and see oneself in other people.
Many of the protagonists in nineteenth-century novels are young people who
are developing, leading to the mature integration of the self. When the characters look at the people around them, they see some aspect of themselves in
others and some aspect of others in themselves. They learn and adapt from
their observations. We, as readers, learn from their experiences as well. Through
our reading we develop sympathy, empathy, and identity.
The alter ego, or doppelgänger or other, is a complicated psychological as
well as literary concept with a basis in folklore and psychology. The novels I
am examining concern characters who are so intimately connected with a monster that the monster can be seen as their double or as part of themselves. The
monster becomes a doppelgänger, a double who suggests an aspect of the main
character. In Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the main characters seem
incomplete, and their creations are the part of themselves that lead them to
destruction. The characters never become fully integrated themselves, but their
experiences may give us, as readers, an idea of how we can live our lives. Nineteenth-century novels generally provide a moral or a meaning for the experiences they relate.
British nineteenth-century society admired nothing so much as an unruffled surface. People sought to be like others, maintaining a calm demeanor and
an established routine. No reminder of difference or of non-conformity was
openly tolerated. But beneath the surface another reality lay hidden. Within
each person was a range of emotion and feeling that might burst out at any
time. The ugly thoughts that everyone entertains were repressed until they
could not be held back any longer. In the nineteenth-century horror novel these



negative emotions are just beneath the facade of each character. At times of crisis, these emotions find a physical embodiment. Because the monsters come
from within a person, they are portrayed as intimately connected with that
individual. The monsters represent the negative potential of each human being
and the ills of society as a whole. They force us to realize that we also harbor
within ourselves the ugliest of thoughts and possibilities.
We fear being unlike others, being the outsider, not fitting in, not finding
love, not having a fulfilling life. We worry about the reaction that others have
to us. We worry about our origins. We fear people will see us as monsters.
Being near a monster causes people to feel a physical sensation of horror, and
we worry that we will induce this in others. Frankenstein feels faintness, rage,
and horror as he sees the creature approach (65). Enfield says of Mr. Hyde,
“There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce
know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point” (11). People respond with fear
toward monsters because they are abnormal, “disturbances of the natural order.”
The response to monsters is often caused by what has been called the “interstitial” condition of the monster, that it belongs to no clear group and defies
expectations (Carroll 16). There is something abnormal about the monster,
something both human and inhuman. They are a hybrid; their humanity makes
them believable, but the introduction of something non-human makes them a
monster. And this is our fear for ourselves as well.

As Robin Wood has written, the formula for horror is normality threatened
by a monster (“An Introduction to the American Horror Film” 175). Rising
from the Gothic tradition, the nineteenth-century novel reveals many elements
of horror in the form of monsters who threaten the world at the start of the
novel. These monsters contain aspects of the main characters and are often
doubles of the main characters. Evil comes from within the individual, seeping
outward to destroy society. Monsters are often representations of the problems
of society which must be dealt with by the heroes of the novel and by the readers
as well: selfishness in the case of Frankenstein, the desire for a spotless reputation
in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the desire for immortality in She, the position of
man within the Animal Kingdom and evolution in The Island of Dr. Moreau,
and the fear of the outsider in Dracula.
The film adaptations of the novels, for the most part, depict the horror as
coming from outside, as separate from the characters. The monster in films
becomes an aberration to society. Rather than using the monster to reflect the
evil in the characters and in all of mankind, the monsters are an uncontrollable,



unrecognizable evil that threatens the characters and their society. Instead of
being a doppelganger of the character, the monster is unique and apart from
mankind. Because the film adaptations of the nineteenth-century novels were
created during a different time, they reflect attitudes of their directors and
aspects of the era in which they were made. This monster does not have its
source within the characters themselves; consequently, the monster seems less
of a threat to us. Ultimately the film characters must defeat the monster in
order to reunify society. Frequently the endings of horror films do not contain
a moral message, but just the release of triumph over evil.
Films often do not indicate the evil within good characters; they tend to
show characters as being more black and white than novels. There are many
reasons for this. Ron Bass, a screenwriter, has stated, “Books are about what
happens within people. Movies are about what happens between people” (qtd.
in Joslin 3). There is a difficulty in showing interiority in films. A monster, as
in the film Alien (1979), can be literally within the character, and yet it is just
inhabiting the space; it is not connected with the character in any other way.
Yet connections are frequently made between monsters and characters in the
films. Characters can be doppelgangers, like Van Helsing and Count Dracula
in Browning’s Dracula. The director may cut back and forth between characters
or events to create similarities or contrasts between them, as in Murnau’s Nosferatu or at the mill in James Whale’s Frankenstein. Characters may find themselves in the same situation, the same place, or sharing the same experience as
the monster, as at the end of the 1965 film She. In the 1994 Mary Shelley’s
Frankenstein a physical connection is made between the Creature and Victor
Frankenstein; while in Bram Stoker’s Dracula there is a psychic connection
between Dracula and Mina Harker. In many different ways, directors have found
means to suggest connections between the protagonist or other characters and
the film monster.
Although there has been a recent rise in movies with monsters as victims,
films rarely show an interconnection between the monster and the victim.2
Nineteenth-century novels were written to teach a moral lesson that may take
the form of a warning against hypocrisy or an attempt to increase the reader’s
sympathy through identification with the characters. We frequently recognize
ourselves in the characters and often in the monsters. The films blame the creation of monsters on an outside or uncontrollable force, such as the insanity
of a character or unsafe scientific practices. We, as viewers, enjoy a sense of
pleasure resulting from experiencing fear in a controlled environment — watching it on the screen. The monster is far from us and unconnected with our lives.
Watching a horror film, we don’t have to confront the monster within. We can
enjoy the spectacle of something from outside of ourselves threatening the

Creator and Monster
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein raises unanswerable questions about the nature
of evil and the monstrous. Is the Creature innately evil or does he become so
because of his situation and lack of nurturing? Is Frankenstein himself to blame
for the evils that the Creature commits? Who is the monster? Thinking about
these questions brings out the importance of the intricate connection between
Frankenstein and the Creature. In this novel they are doubles whose lives are
intertwined. Both Victor Frankenstein and the Creature are narcissistic and
think primarily of themselves. They claim to have started life with benevolent
intentions, and yet they rail against their situations, blame each other for what
has gone wrong, and fail to take responsibility for their own actions. Ultimately
both are responsible for disrupting the well-being of society.
In the Introduction to the Third Edition of Frankenstein in 1831, Mary
Shelley compares herself to Victor Frankenstein. She describes the events leading
up to her first thoughts of the novel, which she began writing during the summer
of 1816 at a villa near Geneva. Mary Godwin, her future husband Percy Bysshe
Shelley, Lord Bryon, and Lord Byron’s doctor, John Polidori, read ghost stories
to each other and advanced to writing scary stories. She imagined a medical
student who created life and then became horrified by what he had done. He
sleeps but later is awakened to see the eye of the Creature watching him. Shelley
describes her vision:
His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious
handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight
spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which
had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter;
and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench
for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked
upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes;
behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and
looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes [172].


The Literary Monster on Film

She describes Frankenstein as an artist, a creator much like herself. Her horror
at the thought of the Creature is similar to that of her protagonist; but unlike
Victor Frankenstein, Shelley seized her subject and wrestled with it in order to
create the novel. The scene described above occurs in the novel as Frankenstein
awakes to see the Creature looking at him from behind the bedcurtain, “his
eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me” (35). Frankenstein attempts
to disallow any humanity to the Creature whatever as he wonders if the Creature’s eyes can even be called eyes.
Frankenstein immediately denies his connection with the Creature. He
avoids caring for his creation in any way. He refutes the possibility that the
Creature has the highest of human attributes. For if the eyes are the window
to the soul, and if the Creature does not have eyes, he cannot have a soul. On
the other hand, Mary Shelley was aware of her similarity both to Frankenstein
and to the Creature.3
Like her characters Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein, Shelley sought
fame and reputation for her accomplishment. At the end of the Introduction,
Shelley writes, “I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper” (173). When
Mary Shelley refers to her “hideous progeny,” she acknowledges her vision
which ignited her creative spark, the Creature that developed in her imagination, and the novel to which she gave birth. The creation of her novel parallels
the creation of the Creature by Frankenstein, yet she wants her novel to prosper
and sell, while Frankenstein seeks the destruction of the Creature and decides
against creating a whole race of monsters. Through the association between
Mary Shelley and her characters, and between Frankenstein and his Creature,
Shelley indicates a connection with her readers as well. She writes so that we
may learn a lesson from their actions which her main characters could not.
Frankenstein’s Creature appears monstrous because of his hideous looks,
but his creator behaves even more monstrously than the Creature himself. In
chapter 1 I will discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his Creature as doubles
who are intimately connected with each other. The film Frankenstein (1931),
directed by James Whale, shows the creature as external and unconnected with
the creator up until the climax of the film. Although the creature acts innocently
at first, he creates mayhem with his destruction. Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) shows the connection between the creator and the creation, and comes much closer to presenting the Creature as a monster from
within. Ultimately Frankenstein repeats the creative process that made the Creature in order to bring Elizabeth back to life. Through this act Frankenstein
becomes more monstrous than the Creature in his selfishness.

The World at the Start of Shelley’s Novel Frankenstein
Within a novel that deals with the impossible, Shelley takes care to create
a world that is somewhat ordinary. In Frankenstein the normal world is present

1. Creator and Monster


in the frame that surrounds the story of Frankenstein and his creation. This
frame consists of letters written from Robert Walton, an explorer, to his sister4
that tell his own story of finding a ship and sailing north. This world, although
fraught with the possibilities of disaster, provides a contrast to the horror of
the story that lies ahead. The letters then relay the tale that Frankenstein relates
to him, Walton’s decision to return to civilization, and finally Walton’s own
encounter with the Creature.
Walton’s letters fascinate, in part, because of their exotic setting in the
Arctic waste. Walton and his ship’s crew are in danger of having their ship
frozen in the ice. Although the situation is hardly normal, it is believable because
the nineteenth century was an era of travel and exploration. Amid the solitude,
it is startling for Walton to record first the appearance of one sled and then the
arrival of Victor Frankenstein on another.
Walton perceives Frankenstein’s superiority to other men, particularly
through Frankenstein’s love of nature:
The starry sky, the sea and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions,
seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man
has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial
spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures [16].

Walton sees a halo around Frankenstein, the sign of an angel. He admires
Frankenstein’s elevated soul, and believes that Frankenstein lives on a lofty
platform from which he is isolated from earthly woes. In fact, the very factor
of feeling himself above the rest of humanity has led to Frankenstein’s creation
of the Creature, which has consequently led to his all too human misery. Following the creation of life, Frankenstein no longer enjoys nature as he did
before, which is evidence of his fallen state. Frankenstein, like many Romantic
heroes, considers himself above the laws of mankind. He creates new life without thinking about the consequences. Frankenstein’s creative power is cut off
from moral and social concerns.
Walton’s presence in the novel serves two major functions: it makes the
story more believable, and it provides a moral lesson for the novel. Walton
begins the story in the present; Frankenstein’s tale is a flashback to what has
already happened. If Frankenstein were to tell his own tale, the reader would
have no basis for believing him. Walton verifies Frankenstein, having first seen
the two parties arrive on sled, listened to the story from Frankenstein, and
then heard it again, confirmed, from the Creature. The basic tale is fabulous
and unreal, but it is made believable. Here is a man, Robert Walton, who has
seen the Creature from afar and who then transcribes Victor Frankenstein’s
story. The first application of Frankenstein’s story will be as a warning to Walton.


The Literary Monster on Film

The Monster Within and Without
Frankenstein suffers because of the magnitude of his creative vision coupled with his selfishness, which is a kind of fatal flaw. The subtitle of Frankenstein, “The Modern Prometheus,” suggests creative genius and the angst arising
from it. Prometheus, in Greek mythology, created mankind and gave him fire,
and for this was subject to eternal punishment by Zeus. Like Prometheus, Victor
Frankenstein has similarly attempted to create a new race and suffers as a result.
Frankenstein is a Romantic thinker who attempts to act as god, and he sees
himself as punished by his creation or an outside force. In addition to acting
as a god, Frankenstein also acts selfishly and does not accept responsibility for
his actions.
From his early years, trouble is brewing within Victor Frankenstein from
what he refers to as “the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny” (21)— his love of natural philosophy. Victor Frankenstein explains to
Walton that his early education was not well directed. Frankenstein has an interest in the works of Cornelius Agrippa, and his father tells him not to waste his
time on reading Agrippa. Frankenstein believes that had his father more carefully
explained to him that the principles of Agrippa had been superseded by more
modern science, he would have applied himself to more modern study and have
avoided the study which led to the development of the Creature. By blaming
his father for his own error, Frankenstein avoids taking responsibility for his
Yet Frankenstein can only see the error of his studies when he looks back.
While he is young, his years present a pastoral idyll enhanced by the adoption
of Elizabeth into his family and broken by a few occurrences. Before Frankenstein leaves for the university, his mother dies: “an omen, as it were, of my
future misery” (24). Frankenstein speaks of this first sorrow in his life as connected with his own unhappiness rather than the sorrow of his father and family,
showing a selfish outlook. The death of Frankenstein’s mother presages later
deaths when other members of his family will be taken from him. But rather
than die of disease, they will be murdered by the being Frankenstein creates.
Frankenstein states that he takes upon himself the creation of a new species
in order to win the praise of his creation, the blessings of a new species, and to
benefit mankind. Through his knowledge, he believes he will “pour a torrent
of light into our dark world” (32). But his actions are more selfish than magnificent. It is while Frankenstein is at the university, away from his family and
friends, that he discovers the secret of creating life. Frankenstein’s isolated situation has led him to a scientific possibility devoid of moral constraints. He
hasn’t considered the ramifications of his actions. Circumstances come together
to lead to the creation and the tragedy it entails. Ultimately Frankenstein
loses his brother, his best friend, his fiancée, his father, and his life due to his

1. Creator and Monster


When he is young, Frankenstein does not show evil within himself, but
he does have unhealthy tendencies. He dwells on his own misery and feels sorry
for himself. He denies his guilt and puts responsibility on others. Then his
attempt to fulfill his ambitions causes him to fall, making him as monstrous
as his own creation. Frankenstein and the Creature are doubles who are bound
together throughout the novel; Frankenstein can never escape his own creation.

The Threat of the Monster
In Mary Shelley’s novel, the Creature’s physical appearance is described in
a general way. Because he has made his Creature of a large size in order to work
more easily in assembling the parts, the Creature has added stature and strength,
and becomes a physical threat to those he encounters. Frankenstein tells how
he attempted to create an attractive Creature, but somehow the end result is
not what he had anticipated:
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 shriveled complexion, and straight
black lips [34].

The Creature’s eyes haunt Frankenstein, frightening him on his first look and
also later in the novel. If the eyes are a window of the soul, the creature’s eyes,
pale and watery, may suggest an incomplete or only partially-formed soul. People judge the Creature by his looks and are immediately afraid of him because
there is a radiating sensation of evil emanating from him, stemming from his
unique means of creation and the resulting unnaturalness of his appearance.
The horror may come from the overwhelming feeling that the Creature is not
human or not a human born in the usual manner. The minute Frankenstein
sees the “dull yellow eye of the Creature open ... the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (34). Frankenstein
cannot cope with the reality of the Creature’s ugliness and existence. Victor
Frankenstein looks normal but behaves outlandishly. The Creature looks different from everyone else but initially does nothing to cause alarm.
After rushing away from the Creature, Frankenstein falls asleep and dreams
of Elizabeth. In his dream he kisses her and finds he holds the corpse of his
mother.5 His dream indicates that with the creation of the Creature, Frankenstein’s prospects of marrying Elizabeth are at an end. His attempt to find love
will bring only death. Although the Creature reaches out to him, Frankenstein
runs away and never accepts responsibility for what he has done nor nurtures

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