Monthly Archives: February 2014

Convent of Kinks

In The Convent of Pleasure two of the central characters, Lady Happy and the princess, show illustrate a tale of deception and the strange nature of romantic desire. At first when the princess first arrives in the play we think little of it, she appears to be just another woman of royalty who seeks to live away from the societal infrastructure of of men. Perhaps an oddity of her behavior is that she pledged a deep fealty to Lady Happy in a way that demeaned the once princess to a servant role, but this was an easily permissible action given the inherent oddities of the convent. In the section of the play where the members of the convent are putting on a their own plays is when we first may begin to think there is something amiss with the princess. In each scene she is cast into the masculine role. There are other hints along the way, but ultimately it is revealed that this princess was in fact a prince who had snuck into the convent. Yet after this is revealed we hear little from Lady Happy and the convent comes to a quiet end.

The Kinks’ 1970 hit song “Lola” tells a similar tale of destruction, but with slightly different gender assignments that change the entirety of the reaction upon revelation. The story begins in a club down in Soho where the singer meets a mysterious woman, Lola, who asks him for a dance. Like The Convent of Pleasure the is no reason to believe anything is strange about this situation. Yet as the story continues some oddities about Lola. The singer is squeezed so tight in an embrace that “nearly broke my spine” and at one point Lola “picked me up and sat me on her knee”. These actions are not necessarily the most becoming of a feminine character, but yet the singer still says “when I looked in her eyes well I almost fell for my Lola.” Then shit hits the fan and we get the signature line of the song, “Well I’m not the world’s most masculine man, But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, And so is Lola.” And that is how the song ends, tapering off with repeated refrains of the name Lola.

The endings to both the song and the play are similar because we are given no clear resolution as to the relationship and feelings of the couples in question. Both protagonists (Lady Happy and singer) were happy with their relationship before the revelation that their love interest was of the other sex and in some regard I think we are meant to believe that their relationships continue afterwards showing that their feelings succeeded beyond the bias of gender.

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Somebody to Love

Can anybody find me, somebody to love?

So begins one of Queen’s most famous anthems. In his conversation with Frankenstien, the monster speaks of how he has thought that same thought. All the monster has wanted was to love and be loved, be a part of the human world and have at least one.

The first verse of Queen’s song “Each morning I get up I die a little ; Can barely stand on my feet; Take a look in the mirror and cry; Lord what you’re doing to me; I have spent all my years in believing you; But I just can’t get no relief, Lord!” Upon hearing the monster’s conversation with Franenstein this song jumped to my mind as it echos the same feelings. The monster spoke of how he was disgusted with the image of himself whenever he came across it. For the monster Frankenstein is his sort of Lord. Frankenstien was his creator and the monster be believes that if anybody can aid him in an escape from loneliness it would be his lord, his creator, Frankenstein. 

The monster was granted a life and everything that goes with it by Frankenstein’s experiment. What the monster struggles most with is a loneliness that he attributes to his physical appearance, something for which Frankenstein is to blame. In their conversation the monster entreats Frankenstein to create another, a companion, a mate with whom he could spend time and friendship with. The monster’s existence must be something maddening. To observe from the outside, seeing the beauty of happy comanionship, but shunned whenever he is seen by others. His request to Frankenstein is in earnest in order to end his hellish isolation, but Frankenstein is caught in his own mental anguish which proves to make him an unresponsive and somewhat uncaring God/creator.  “I just gotta get out of this prison cell; Someday I’m gonna be free, Lord!” That is all both Frankenstein and the monster wants, to be free from the prison cell of isolation that they have been stuck in for years.

Chapter XIII: The Monster’s Struggle for Identity

At the end of Chapter XIII, Frankenstein’s monster seems to determine that he (he shall be used for simplicity; she and it are equally valid) is not a man: a monster perhaps, but not a human.

In his narrative to Frankenstein, the monster says, “I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were high and unsullied descent united with riches” (109). He seems to distance himself from Frankenstein’s “fellow-creatures” by his use of your as opposed to our. Perhaps this separation is self-imposed: the monster explains that he has no knowledge of his descent and further no possessions, so certainly no value if graded by the human rubric. As he goes on to note that he “is not even of the same nature as man,” however, it becomes clear that he would prefer to be one with mankind even if it meant being the very bottom rung. Although the differences he lists are in his favor – he is more agile, durable, and imposing in stature – this is not a happy epiphany: “Oh, that I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!” Once again he is set apart from man by his “native wood;” he is not from a village or city or nation, but from the woods. He is driven to agony by his knowledge and awareness, elevated to heights otherwise reserved for humankind, and seems to resent his status as close but not close enough.

As the monster learns about human reproduction, the pain of this estrangement increases: “I heard of the differences of sexes; and the birth and growth of children; how the father doted on the smiles of the infant . . . But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days” (110). The monster’s lack of a creator, of parents, is lamented for more than just his lack of a noble ancestry; it is a primary reasons for his status as an outsider: “I had never yet seen a being resembling me.” These musings about his place in the world climax with the topic question of the chapter – “What was I?” The monster did not know then, but he will soon decide. He will decide that he is indeed, as he has been referred to throughout this blog, a monster. He will be forcefully rejected by his one hope for acceptance within humanity, and this denial of fraternity drives him to terrorize those that refused to give him a chance.

Frankenstein- mother/father/creator?

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is a wealthy, curious science nerd who becomes passionate about creating life.  Frankenstein does in fact succeed in doing so and without much thought he pulls together all of the greatest limbs of dead people he can find so that he can give life to a living person.   He succeeds.  Frankenstein is a brilliant thinker, scientist, creator, but when his creation comes to life, there is one role that Frankenstein never considers and that is father.  Frankenstein finds that his creation is hideous, this is not his child but instead a “monster”.  Frankenstein abandons the monster and it is not until later in life that he is forced to deal with how his monster-neglect has actually  created a monster.

At first I felt sympathetic for Frankenstein who knew not any better than to bring a new life into this world but then I thought about motherhood as I have witnessed it and concluded that Frankenstein is doing a very sorry job with little effort.  First I thought about how Frankenstein’s immediate reaction was to abandon his creation because it was ugly.  Frankenstein did not even know that true nature of the “monster” before the monster’s yellow skin made him fear for his life and run away.  What does Frankenstein think he looked like as a new born?  He was probably a few different shades of yellow, blue, purple, and red, was covered in blood and gunky yellow stuff, had a tail coming about of his belly button and had no teeth! Yet, his mother did not abandon him out of fear because he looked different.  Eve did not abandon her first child when it did not look like her or Adam.

Men as child bearers make for lonely families.  Though Frankenstein did not oppose creating a companion for the monster because of the birthing pains (which he probably would not have considered), he does refuse to give the monster a companion.  Even after promising to give Frankenstein another monster lady with whom he can roam around with, he recants this decision after tormenting thoughts of all that could go wrong.  This, of course made the monster incredibly angry and drove him to seek vengeance.

It seems to me that much of Frankenstein’s plight was because of his marriage to the idea that his job was to simply create life and then sit back, hands-free, and let it take its course.  Frankenstein had no idea of the sacrifice and work that it would take to bring life into this world.   So, of course he was preoccupied with distress when he did not do this job as a creator/mother/father and decided to suffer rather than to love and teach his creation.

I know a woman who gave birth to a monster of sorts and she had a much different approach- Bella Swann Cullen.  In Breaking Dawn Bella gets pregnant.  The father is a vampire so this means that Bella will be having a little blood-sucking vampire.  Vampires are real monsters.  It is in their natures to kill people, they do not necessarily have souls, and they are thirsty for human blood.   Bella’s pregeancy was perilous and though she human, she had to drink human blood to feed her baby.  Though Bella’s baby Renesemme was flawless and beautiful, Bella still had a child with the possibility she would have a blood thirsty baby.

Both Frankenstein and Bella are crazy but raise questions for me.  What does one need to know before having a child?  What kind of responsibilities are necessary for a mother/father to have without leading to child neglect?  How can a creator see past the horror he or she has created to locate its potential for growth and love?

Evil vs. Nurture

Even though Frankenstein lived a miserable, agonizing life after his decision to create another being, I could not help but be frustrated with his character. He created a new life, and then completely abandoned him simply because of his appearance. The creation was left to fend for itself and find its place in the world with no guidance or care from a single person. What Frankenstein did was quite similar to abandoning a child. Children who grow up in the foster care system are statistically more likely to commit crimes than those who were raised by their own parents. This is speculated to have a lot to do with rebellion after feelings of abandonment and isolation. The monster had a “desire to claim their protection and kindness” and “yearned to be known and loved”. After constant rejection and heartbreak, he gained feelings of “rage and revenge”.

The monster’s transformation got me thinking about whether nature or nurture leads people to crime. The article “Evil: Nature or Nurture” reports on a case study of a man who is in jail for two murders. A lot of the man’s commentary is viscous and cold, but his description of his childhood offers insight into why he is so cold-hearted. The man describes being lonely and misunderstood as a child, and continues to say, “Something just never felt quite right to me — this internal pain — and I always felt that no one else feels my pain. But I can give you a small taste of it … a small taste. If I hurt you … that pain you feel … can’t compare to mine. And I am not alone anymore.” The criminal’s explanation reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster’s build up of bitterness that evolved into an evil quest for vengeance. Frankenstein eventually came to the conclusion that he should have cared for the beast he created, revealing that “In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature, and was bound towards him, to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and wellbeing.” All creators are bounded towards their creations and have a duty to nurture them. I believe people are born good. When they are abandoned and come to know pain as the overriding emotion in their lives, evil develops. Mary Shelley provides an underlying message of the importance that creatures are nurtured by their creators. Both in the situation of the criminal in the article and in Frankenstein’s case, evil developed as a response to exposure to tremendous pain and isolation.

“Evil: Nature or Nurture” can be found at http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=3359185&page=1

Who is to blame?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is quite a disturbing novel. All the creation of life from old body parts, monsters, and death aid in creating this effect. Shelley has several themes circulating throughout this book, but I find the themes of creation and guilt perplexing, especially in how they relate to each other. I understand Victor’s guilt over the murder of his brother and the wrongful execution of Justine, due to the fact that he created a monster that led to both of their deaths. However, I never thought about the religious connotations surrounding this guilt. I did not realize that there was a possible connection between creation, life, death, and guilt until I watched one of my FAVORITE  Youtube subscriptions, Thug Notes.* The creator of this Youtube channel, Sparky Sweets, PhD. gives unconventional summaries and analyses of various pieces of literature. As it turns out, Sparky made a video on Frankenstein, which I watched of course. Towards the end of Sparky’s video he mentions the religious references in Shelley’s book and whether the fault lies with the monster or his creator.

Revisiting chapters 5, 7, and 9 I found several instances of Victor’s guilt. The first disturbing instance occurs in chapter 5, shortly after the creation of the monster. Victor imagines seeing Elizabeth, kissing her, and then her turning into the decaying and worm ridden body of his mother. Gross. Shortly thereafter, Victor falls ill with a terrible fever, obviously a result of massive amounts of fear, stress, and GUILT. The guilt that Victor feels stems from the creation of the horrifying living corpse and from the realization that he has neglected his family in Geneva. The neglect of his family is emphasize by the dream of dead Elizabeth and his dead mother and then the appearance of Henry Clerval whose “presence brought back to [his] thoughts [his] father, Elizabeth, and all those scenes of home so dear to [his] recollection.”

The next instance occurs in chapter 7, when Victor realizes that his monster has (supposedly) murdered his younger brother William and then that Justine is being tried for his murder. Once more Victor goes through some violent bodily reactions, “I shuddered at the conception…my teeth chattered, and I was forced to lean against a tree for support.” In chapter 8 we learn that Justine is convicted and executed. At the very beginning of chapter 9 Victor expresses his guilt and remorse, “a weight of despair and remorse press on my heart which nothing could remove…I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible.” Victor basically continues to deteriorate physically and mentally from all of the guilt that he feels.

Getting back to Sparky Sweets and the religious overtones present throughout the novel: Going back through the novel I saw several references to Dante’s Inferno, “filthy daemons,” the devil, absolution, God, etc. I firmly believe that Victor is at fault for all of the tragic events that occurred after the creation of the monster. When Sparky Sweets poses the question of whether the fault lies with the monster of his creator, you then have to wonder whether Victor is truly at fault. One could argue that Victor’s loss of his family is a form of punishment from God for trying to imitate Him by creating life. This claim could also be supported the severe illnesses Victor suffers from and his slow mental and physical deterioration. However, the evil that Victor has done is also the product of his own creator, God. Is the monster to blame? No. He’s just a creepy thing made out of dead bodies. What do you expect other than weirdness and death? Is Victor to blame? Yes? But by that same token God is to blame as well…?

*link to the Thug Note video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcApm_xETqI *

Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus?

The alternative title of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. This title carries a hefty weight, alluding to a modern interpretation of the Greek mythological hero Prometheus. So how are the two stories related?

The story of Prometheus is one that is well known in literature. Prometheus was a titan god who lived on Mount Olympus with the other gods and goddesses. The name Prometheus means forethought, and Prometheus was said to be very concerned with the future. He went to live amongst the men of the Earth and found them living in dark and hunger. He wished to give fire to these people in order to aid their suffering. Zeus, the king of the Gods, didn’t want to give people fire as he thought that it would inevitably lead them to revolt against the gods. Prometheus disregarded Zeus, and snuck fire away from Mount Olympus to the people. Zeus found out about this, and Prometheus was doomed to have his innards eaten out by crows everyday for eternity.

So what does this have to do with Frankenstein?

Our protagonist, Dr. Frankenstein, creates life from pieces of dead beings. This creation of life could be considered analogous with Prometheus giving fire to the people. Both actions could be considered against the will of the god(s). In the story of Prometheus, Zeus strictly forbids Prometheus from giving people fire. In the story of Frankenstein, creating life could be seen as an act against God, that the creation of life is sacrilegious and unnatural.

Frankenstein thought that he was bringing something good to the world, just as Prometheus did. Both characters were looking forward, perhaps being ahead of their time. Prometheus, as mentioned previously, means forethought, and Frankenstein was looking forward to very advanced scientific developments that perhaps the world was not ready for.

Both characters paid for their actions. The monster he created tormented Dr. Frankenstein for the rest of his life, and Prometheus was forced to live in pain for eternity.

Perhaps foresight and defying religious/mythological gods isn’t a great recipe for a prosperous life.

These Frankenstein Women

How does Mary Shelley describe her women when in Frankenstein? Can this be digested from the text? What information can we gather from just the first half of Frankenstein? Women in Shelley’s work are very loving and innocent. For instance Victor’s mother, Caroline, extends her kind heart with the adoption of the Elizabeth and Justine into the Frankenstein family. On the other hand, women in Frankenstein are also passive throughout her writing. For example, Alphonse is described as “a protecting spirit to the poor girl [Carline], who committed herself to his care.”

The women usually remain “silent” through the tale of Frankenstein. Even when the women speak, their voices do not carry any weight. For example, this is evident when Justine is accused of murdering William Frankenstein, who was actually killed by the monster. Even though Justine says she is innocent she knows her voice is not being heard. In response, Elizabeth attempts to stand up for Justine’s innocence. Just the same, Elizabeth voice goes unheard. Shelley allows only the voice of Victor (the voice of a man) to save Justine. At the moment Victor feels guilty because he is responsible for creating the monster that killed his brother William. One would think, Victor would use this opportunity to undo his guilt by saving a life from death (women’s life). But this would mean Victor would have to admit he was responsible for the entire incident. Being the prideful (and shameful) man he is, Victor decides not to speak up and watches Justine face her conviction. Being the helpless women she is, Justine confesses to the murder and is put to death. Victor actions (more like lack of actions), portrays Justine’s death as a sacrifice. Victor makes the selfish decision to sacrifice Justine for cover up his own mistakes.

Since women do not have much influence in making decisions in their lives or others’, why do we need them? One might say, “We need them for reproduction!” Well, Shelley has a clever response to this in Frankenstein. In fact, Victor proves us wrong by being the first guy who reproduces without the need for a woman. How so? He creates a man! Well, there we go. What role do women have in Frankenstein based on the first half of the story?  None!…other then for sacrifice. However, I suspect the second half Frankenstein will provide a different analysis.

Judging a Book by its Cover: Physical Image in Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast

At the risk of only comparing our readings to Disney, I found some similarities between Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Beauty and the Beast.  Though the stories of the monster and the Beast’s creations differ greatly, their lives are markedly similar. Both are cast off from society and forced to live in isolation. Humans are afraid of them because of their unnatural appearance.

Shelley’s monster first discovers that he is different one day when he sees himself in a clear pool. His difference from Felix, Agatha, and the old man troubles him because he wants to be just like the family that he has grown to care so much about. He quickly makes the connection, however, that his looks are why the man in the first hut and the people in the village ran away.

Knowing that his appearance will cause his isolation, the monster hides himself from all people for the year, all the while watching Felix and the family. He learns to speak alongside Safie and is quite well-spoken (though admittedly, his words are told through Robert Walton’s explanation of Victor Frankenstein’s story, who is recounting what the monster said). Still, the monster’s interest in Paradise Lost and his analysis of it indicate a certain level of education and intelligence.

Thus, Frankenstein’s monster is an intelligent creature whose only act of violence (that we know of thus far) was in frustration and anger at the way he was treated. The Beast in the 1991 animated Disney film was less tamed, and his behaviors were similar to that of an untamed animal. He lashes out at Maurice and knows little of human nature.

Alternately, in the original Grimm’s fairy tale (which can be read here), the Beast is similarly eloquent. In fact, when the Beast asked Beauty if she thought he was ugly, she responds in the affirmative but then adds “but I believe you are very good natured.” The Beast, in spite of his short fuse (for he does lash out at Belle’s father when he tries to take a rose from his garden), seems to have a good education.

Of course, that education is due to his status as a prince, and his temper, like Frankenstein’s monster, is likely due to the discrimination against him. Still, it makes me wonder: both pieces were published in the early 1800’s. In both works, it’s clear that there was at least some understanding that appearance was a poor judge of character and that unjust persecution can alter a man’s character for the worse. Why, then, does our society still value beauty and image so much? It’s been over 200 years since the message was published in these two rather popular works of fiction. Why do we scorn those who are different?

(I apologize for my second Disney reference. I promise to try and mature my tastes before the fourth journal entry.)