Frankenstein’s Basic Desires

I enjoyed this scene; and yet my enjoyment was embittered both by the memory of the past, and the anticipation of the future. I was formed for peaceful happiness. During my youthful days discontent never visited my mind; and if I was ever overcome by ennui, the sight of what is beautiful in nature, or the study of what is excellent and sublime in the productions of man, could always interest my heart, and communicated elasticity to my spirits. But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be – a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others, and intolerable to myself.

Surrounded by the majesty of nature, Victor Frankenstein briefly self-reflects on a troubled time in his life. Victor lives while his younger brother and housekeeper are dead, complies to his own creation that causes him grief, and walks with the bitter knowledge of his creation that only he understands. In essence, Victor is disillusioned. Although he believed his pursuit of knowledge was worthwhile, his inherent personality traits twisted his fate. Despite his past experiences, Victor cannot overcome his excessive desire for great status and independence.

In the following lines, Victor’s description of his life as a youth can be seen as incongruent with the reader’s knowledge. He was “formed for peaceful happiness” and that the “sight of what is beautiful in nature” or the “study of what is excellent and sublime” comforted him (Shelley 165). Without context, it might be assumed that Victor lived a carefree, scholarly life and occasionally peered out the window. But the events of his life are far different. Although Victor’s parents appropriately taught him to show love to his siblings, Victor’s thirst for knowledge gradually separated him. Since his father was not scientific, Victor taught himself the subjects of electricity and galvanism (42). His journey towards the valley of Chamounix provided him “relief from [his] intolerable sensations” despite Elizabeth’s plea to “stay true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty” (96-97). His great diligence in studying human physiology was based more on seeking individual glory and reputation. He admits that even he was “surprised, that among so many men of genius,” he discovered the creation of life (53). It is also important to note that instead of using boredom, Victor uses “ennui” to describe a feeling. By definition, it shows a lack of interest, but it can also suggest superiority to others who don’t do anything useful. Victor did find solace in nature and his work, but it was true only on a surface level. To be more accurate, Victor was formed around peaceful happiness. His family was supportive and when tragedy struck, they made the necessary sacrifices for the good of the group. Victor doesn’t follow this belief and willingly leaves, highlighting how different he is from the rest of his family. His dangerous devotion to his interests even forces his isolation in pursuit of scientific glory. His family does not tell him to follow this path; rather, Victor considers his goals above his own family and chooses to become more important. In this way, Victor has lived a life rooted in selfish, egotistical reasons.

Victor then calls himself a “blasted tree” (165). In comparison to the “blasted stump” in Volume 1, Chapter 2, this metaphor shows that Victor was not completely ruined but still affected nonetheless (42). Before, Victor made the fundamental shift away from the teachings of Cornelius Agrippa and turned towards mathematics and related sciences. It is also at this point that he felt souls were “bound to prosperity or ruin” (43). Instead of souls, however, Victor is bound by his own personality traits. By comparing himself to a blasted tree, his desire for independence and self-importance is revealed. A tree stands in isolation, growing as it can, until it’s unable to or met by force. By some chance, unlike other trees, the tree is struck, differentiating it from the rest. Now, being a blasted tree, Victor is the one who warns wanderers that decide to take a walk through the wilderness; he essentially becomes important. Victor knows he cannot escape the lightning strike because of his own inherent personality. His own ambition and unwillingness to reconsider the consequences of his actions has now set him the task of remaking another creature.

In the final part of the passage, Victor states that he is “a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others, and intolerable to myself” (165). This final condemnation drives the point of his own personality faults affecting his fate. In other words, Victor considers himself to be a distinctive display of failure as a human being. His desires have completely turned to its worst possible case. His grueling creation will now only make him infamous and with the fiend constantly overhead, he cannot even have an ounce of freedom. This is why Victor states he is “intolerable to myself” as his core desires have now been taken away.

While the reader listens to Victor’s narration, his words and actions convey someone who is selfish and self-important. His personality drives him to terrible consequences even when he realizes his faults. Yet, Victor, unlike Robert, does not change course and accepts his fate.

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Chasing Infinity

The characters of House of Leaves do not live extraordinary lives. Zampanò, as described by Johnny, lives a very austere life. Johnny works as a tattoo shop assistant and the Navidsons are more concerned with living in an idyllic household than pursuing a fabled lifestyle. It is only when Will Navidson, along with several others, realizes the spatial disparity of the house that they devote their time in investigating its seemingly unending hallways. The idea of pursuing infinity or describing something that has no end is interspersed throughout the novel. In earlier parts of the Navidson Record, Zampanò makes statements regarding reality as being “infinitely more patient” and that “physics depends on a universe infinitely centered on an equal sign.” There are even direct symbols of infinity as seen in the formula for resonance frequencies and explicitly used by Douglas Hofstadter. Despite knowing that the house may never have enough answers for its questions, the characters willingly attempt to deal with the infinite in the belief that nothing was completely immeasurable. Part of the attractiveness of infinity is because of its challenge. Navidson and Holloway both expect a “great deal of fame and fortune” for surveying a staircase that could have no end. For Holloway, his life devoted as an explorer, the house is the ultimate challenge and could finally give him the “recognition the house seemed to promise.” Another part is the unfamiliarity. Although infinity appears throughout the novel, the idea of infinity is better represented through time and space. Looking at the index, there is only one reference to the Infinite Corridor, but if one looks at the page numbers with time and space, it is sometimes paired with “finite” and “infinitely”. It is interesting to note that despite Will Navidson’s interest in recording familiar slice-of-life moments and Holloway’s lack of humor and penchant for conciseness, they are the ones who look the most forward in exploring the house. However, it is neither the challenge nor unfamiliarity that truly makes these characters commit to the unending task. Although critics have noted how the house shapes to the person’s perspective, the characters embark on exploring the infinite nature of the house because they know that it will change them. Given their ordinary lives and the possible lack of fulfillment they may have developed, dealing and pursuing goals that are possibly unceasing forces them to reevaluate themselves despite the consequences.

Everybody Needs Henry Clerval

In each of the three volumes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Henry Clerval is present, seemingly understated, and, yet, forms one of the most integral parts of the story. Although introduced as a boy of singular talent, Henry can do far more. Besides being a nicer, less sickly counterpart to Victor, free from dealing with the plight of his friend, Henry has helped far more. It is largely because, through his own actions and inactions, Henry Clerval represents the necessity of friendship.

Simply by appearing throughout Victor Frankenstein’s life, Clerval provides company and removes isolation. Going by the second letter, even Robert agrees with the necessity of having someone who would not “despise me as a romantic.” For the years spent at sea, he needed someone who was willing to hear his thoughts and considered its absence a “severe evil.” Even Victor’s creation desires company. After his long tale, the fiend’s sole request is another companion; else, he would cause fear and injury. In some sense, Victor is lucky. When Frankenstein meets Clerval, his familiar face made him felt “for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy.” After spending years toiling in isolation, now Victor’s own spirits are raised, does not become reduced to causing mayhem such as the fiend, nor does he continue towards pursuits that puts his “body to hardship.”

Clerval also gives Victor Frankenstein the will to live and the feeling that he still belongs in society. Physically, Clerval gives Frankenstein the will to live by nursing him from his sickness. In a later chapter, Clerval’s own enjoyment of existence consoles him and “soothes his heart.” In contrast with Frankenstein’s creation, the fiend has no “Henry Clerval”, and the small chance of a possible companion is torn right in front of him. Then, through what may be considered poetic justice, the fiend destroys Frankenstein’s very own will to live.

The Male Ego in Frankenstein

“And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose?”

The first volume of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein takes the viewpoint of Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein, two different men but eerily similar in their desire for glory. Robert seeks fame in geographical exploration while Victor dedicates himself to scientific discovery. Although they start their goals with enough ability, their journeys become fraught with hardship. By turning unbridled ambition into unexpected consequences, the author points out the problem of male hubris.

Coming from similar pasts, both of the male characters have tried to display their importance to the world. In his early years, Robert studied day and night, set his eyes on voyage, and dedicated [himself] to this “great enterprise.” Robert believes that he will bring “inestimable benefit” by discovering the passage near the North Pole and writes that “success shall crown my endeavors.” The constant use of “mine” and “I” in the letters reaffirm his extreme self-confidence. Similarly, Victor often refers to his own abilities as he states, “myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.” Like Robert, Victor also had studied for “days and nights of incredible fatigue.” From isolation to ego, Shelley shows how the characters’ desire for attention blinds them to the consequences of their own actions.

For Victor, his downfall was apparent. The story he tells to Robert is filled with instances of dedicating, achieving, and pursuing the impossible. Yet, tied up in the glory, his final creation had only caused woe to his family through “the work of [his] thrice-accursed hands.” In the letters, Robert states that his dangers were only minor. However, the reader has a limited perspective. It is possible that since he jokes about the “evil forebodings” said by his sister, Robert is diminishing the problems he encountered throughout his journey. Still, according to him, Robert had spent six years since his undertaking and “voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep,” which shows that he had suffered terribly for his pursuits.

While characters such as Justine could be called weak-willed, Shelley’s portrayal of Victor and Robert show that the the men, too, face problems of their own doing. In Frankenstein, Robert and Victor lead the story, but their egos make them fallible.