Lectures on Frankenstein

by T. A. Copeland

Introductory "Letters"
Chapters 1-2
Chapters 3-5
Chapters 6-7
Chapters 8-9
Chapers 10-11
Chapters 12-13
Chapters 14-15
Chapters 16-17
Chapters 18-19
Chapters 20-21
Chapters 22-23
Chapter 24



        Most interpretations of this novel are flawed because they are based Victor Frankenstein's own views, which are not confirmed by any other character or by the outcome of the narrative. Victor's grim view of his own career and particularly his creature commences at the moment when the creature comes to life and fails, like any artist's work, to meet the creator's high hopes. By his own admission, Victor has deprived himself of sleep and nourishment, not to mention even the slightest social intercourse such as might have been provided by letters to his family. He is on the verge of a physical and nervous breakdown which overtakes him on the very next day and from which he does not recover for many months. In this condition, when he sees the creature suddenly open its eye and move, and somewhat later smile upon its creator and reach out towards him, its ugliness appalls him, for the labor is now complete and all imperfections are irremediable.
         Mere ugliness is the sole flaw which Victor notices in his work, but that is sufficient to drive him from it and thus to allow it to escape. This mistake is ultimately to blame for the creature's learning to hate mankind. Since Victor has been so obsessively preoccupied with the task of conferring life upon dead matter, he has made no provision for the next step, and the creature is allowed to wander abroad without supervision or care. Victor is totally unaware of its goodness until after that has been crushed by yet more human prejudice against physical ugliness. Indeed, Victor does not hear his creature's side of the story until after the innocent William has died, and it would be surprising indeed if brotherly grief and self-reproach left him capable of recognizing the creature's innocence of evil intent in the death of the child. We know, however, that the creature did not intend to kill the boy in spite of the world's having thoroughly educated him in brutality and hatred. On the contrary, even at that late date he intended to make William his friend, and even after learning his name and determining to make him in some unspecified way his "first victim," he throttled him only to stop his tongue, not take his life.
         Yet Victor cannot accept his true responsibility for having failed to provide for his creature as his own parents had provided for him. Rather, his heavy sense of guilt induces him to shift the blame to the science which led him to create the being in the first place. He calls science "unlawful" for taking him away from the calm and serene enjoyment of his family even though it is clear that his own obsessive-compulsive nature is at fault, and he likewise blames science for bringing the creature into the world whereas its evil was not innate but learned. Parental irresponsibility is simply too heavy a burden for Victor to carry.
         Critics, however, accept his assessment of the situation, especially that aspect of his interpretation which arises when, by a flash of lightning, he catches sight of the creature in the storm and supposes it to be the murderer of William. The fact that this guess is in fact correct is probably why its rashness is not more generally recognized, and once we accept this piece of the speech, the rest of it follows although it is nothing but the most violent hysteria. Beginning with the naive assumption that "nothing in human shape" could have committed so heinous a crime (for Victor hasn't had the benefit of twentieth-century tabloids), he says that the creature had to be guilty, declaring in defiance of all his scientific training that "the very existence of the thought was an inescapable proof of the fact." And from this reckless reasoning he moves on to the fanciful view of the creature as "my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to kill all that I held dear," as if the creature were a kind of doppleganger sent to punish its creator for the crime of having defied the laws of nature by calling it into existence.
         The fact that by understanding those laws Victor has created a being not only more agile and enduring than mankind but also full of goodness is somehow lost sight of, and Victor's own self-loathing is allowed to drive the critics' supernatural interpretation of the events. It is even rare to find any admission that the creature is guilty of only five deliberate crimes: framing Justine and Victor, murdering Henry and Elizabeth, and stealing provisions and dogs for his flight northward. The creature's narrative is sufficient to account for every single detail of its behavior, and yet the idea that it is some sort of preternatural vampire that recklessly lays waste to humankind stubbornly refuses to be displaced. It is time to accept the idea that Victor Frankenstein is deranged and that his life has been ruined not by science but rather by his own frenzy, obsessions, and impracticality.