Percy Frankenstein/Victor Shelley

When a novel like Frankenstein appears to come out of the blue and change the world of literature forever, finding the inspiration behind it can keep scholars and enthusiasts busy for centuries (yep, we hit year 200 of Frankenstein publication this year!). Finding the inspiration for the troubled and deeply problematic figure of Victor Frankenstein is one of the primary areas of interest. A pretty popular, and generally accepted theory of the doctor’s origins is that he is partially based on none other but Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (yes, I blew the reveal in the title).

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some of the cornerstones of the argument:

Victor was Percy’s Pen Name ¹

Percy used the pen name Victor in a collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth (writing as Cazire). You can read Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire on the internet archive. Check out the link in the references.

Percy Played with Electricity²

Percy took a keen interest in science since his early school days. His interests included astronomy, chemistry and… electricity. His interest was kindled by an assortment of teachers and tutors and he kept up to date with new developments in the scientific community, including the experiments of Erasmus Darwin as touched on in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein³.

Antiquated Science and the Occult ⁴

In Frankenstein; Or the Modern Day Prometheus, Victor explains that at the foundation of his love of science is the, now outdated and viewed as occult, authors Agrippa and Paracelsus (see The Mortal Immortal for more on Mary Shelley and Cornelius Agrippa). Percy Bysshe Shelley was also familiar with the works of these specific writers and had more than a passing interest in their more outlandish hypotheses. He spent a good deal of money on books of witchcraft and magic when he was young, and you can certainly see that reflected in his poetry.

The Illuminati Connection⁵

It seems that Mary sent Victor to Ingolstadt University which was known for a particularly atheistic movement headed by Prof. Weishaupt. A group was founded called … GASP The Illuminati in 1776. This group advocated for a more enlightened state not run by the government of their day or by the religious establishment, or some mix of the two. As you can imagine these ideas were fascinating to a radical (for his time obviously) atheist like Percy Shelley. So is the locating of Victor’s formative years in the Bavarian Ingolstadt a nod to Percy’s enthusiasm for the Illuminati? Possibly not, but it’s a nice idea.

Hubris⁶

It could be that Percy’s atheism was troubling Mary. She was more orthodox in her beliefs than Percy. It’s entirely possible, in fact probable, that Mary thought this desire to view the world without God was to greatly overestimate the role of human autonomy. The hubris associated with atheism and ideas behind self-determination certainly lends itself to a Frankenstein narrative when viewed through the lens of typically 19th century English sensibilities.

Grief⁶

Similar to Mary’s despair at Percy’s dismissal of the role of a God as an omnipotent creator, was her dismay at the apparent indifference he demonstrated after the death of their first child. This is demonstrated in her letters to others. She felt the grief intensely but Percy seemed willing to leave the whole devastating business behind them without moarning as she did. This ability to shut out the tragedy of their first child’s death could potentially be seen as being echoed in Victor’s rejection of his creation.

There a few other points of commonality that I am not going to get into here include; family structure, education and Percy and Victor perhaps sharing an Oedipal complex, that last one is really interesting, but I have plans for that topic!

But there is also an argument that the poet was the inspiration for Henry Clerval more on that another time.

These theories are not mutually exclusive, it is entirely possible that Mary Shelley put a little of Percy in every guy she wrote. He was the main adult male person she spent time with for years after all.

Inspired by:

Legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu. (2018). PercyModel. [online] Available at: http://legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu/crunyon/CE/Frankenstein/Name/Prometheus/percymodel.htm [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

References

  1. Archive.org. (2018). Full text of “Original poetry by Victor & Cazire (Percy Bysshe Shelley & Elizabeth Shelley) Edited by Richard Garnett”. [online] Available at: https://archive.org/stream/originalpoetryby00sheluoft/originalpoetryby00sheluoft_djvu.txt [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
  2. King-Hele, D. (1992). Shelley and Science. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 46(2), 253-265. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/531637
  3. Shelley, M. (2018). Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg.
  4. Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
  5. Vickery, M. (2018). The birthplace of the Illuminati. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171127-the-birthplace-of-the-illuminati [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].
  6. CARSON, J., & Carson, J. (1988). Bringing the Author Forward: “Frankenstein” Through Mary Shelley’s Letters. Criticism, 30(4), 431-453. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/stable/23112085
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Something I learned about Frankenstein from Bette London

This is an article written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern Day Prometheus and Mary Shelley.

This is a review of an article I have used repeatedly in my writing on Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus. I will not be providing enough detail to negate reading the actual article. Please seek out Bette London’s article Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Spectacle of Masculinity in its entirety.

Bette London’s article starts by describing the reframing of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s stories by their son Percy. The son was much more conventionally Christian and embarrassed by the risque reputation his parents had garnered. Front and centre of this rebrand of the Shelley story is the statue by Henry Weekes at the top of the article which uses Christian iconography to paint a picture of Mary as a Madonna-like figure to the spectacle of Shelley’s masculine martyrdom.

London then goes on to critique both feminist and nonfeminist readings of Frankenstein and this is the bit where I started to really pay attention. She asserts that the sexless or female reading of the Creature’s gender and even that of his creator as a feminist reading draws focus away from the very obvious spectacle of the masculine form that reoccurs throughout the novel. Emphasis is placed on the physical male form, and it is laid out periodically for others to gaze upon. If we deny the masculinity of Victor and his Creature we deny Mary Shelley‘s deliberately and explicitly masculine spectacle which she artfully constructed to highlight the hubris and deficiencies of this particular brand of masculine creation.

You may notice that I often refer to Mary Shelley as Shelley, rather than adhering to convention and using Shelley as a shorthand for Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is really down to Bette London’s article on the male spectacle in Frankenstein, in which she points out that that the esteemed authoress is always Mary to Percy’s Shelley, even in scholarship surrounding Frankenstein that should give greater deference to the author of the text.

It gets confusing because I am so accustomed to this mode of addressing the poet as Shelley, a la Byron, Keats and Coleridge, that I often slip and have to go back through an article to check how many times I messed up.

This over-familiarity when addressing Mary Shelley, in addition to the portrayal of her authorship as monstrous shows an almost calculated dismissal of her role as one of the most influential gothic, horror and proto-science fiction authors in the English literary canon.

“How could a girl of 18 write such a confronting story?”

FrankensteinDraft
Draft of Frankenstein (“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed …”)

Well, because she is intelligent, imaginative and more than little disenfranchised. She also had a lot of opportunities to flourish that she might not have had if she was not surrounded by “radicals” who had already been prepped for an intelligent, persistent and creative woman by her mother. It’s not that strange when put in perspective, and if we take away those antiquated notions of the fragility of a young maiden. Frankenstein is singular, groundbreaking and monstrous; Shelley’s authorship, however, should not be viewed in similar terms.

Shelley should be regarded as a genius of gothic fiction, rather than a mysterious anomaly. The woman of the 1810s was exposed to her share of gruesome spectacles and overwhelming sorrow, so what, aside from a lack of access to education and the means of publication, was so different between the male aspiring writer and the female?

It is simply a matter of social conditioning and fewer opportunities.

And if we are too busy looking at the monstrous spectacle of female authorship, we’re likely to miss the spectacle of male ego, cruelty and hubris that is right in front of our faces.

We need to talk about Igor…

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod‘s exploration of the cultural legacy of the Frankenstein myth.

When I was little I thought Igor came from the story of Frankenstein.

When I was a teenager I thought they created Igor for the film.

Now that I’m an adult I have no goddamn idea. The “Igor” of the 1931 Frankenstein… was not called Igor, his name was Fritz. So where did this rambling, pivotal, yet utterly disposable character come from? Is he really a 20th century Universal Studios creation or is there something more to this embodiment of the strange, the gatekeeper to monstrosity and unnerving manservant that we call “Igor”.

 

Its an iconic image, the obsessed mad scientist connecting the wires to his creature and the machinery that presumably has something to do with the whole process. He might cackle, he might yell to the heavens, he might even wear steampunk goggles. But in this equation of the isolated man and his dangerous obsession, there is often a third party, someone to flick the switch. Enter Igor.

Or Ygor.

Or Fritz.

His character generally fills at least one of these three roles:

  1. The other that acts as a buffer between the doctor and his creation, such as in the 1931 brain mix up, we can blame almost anything on Fritz in his role as the assistant.
  2. The humanity to the Doctor’s crazed monstrous mania. He is in on the project, and tries to stop the Doctor or appeal to his better nature, in vain.
  3. A human exposition facilitator. In the novel of Frankenstein which features no assistant, the primary story telling of the creation process occurs over a large passage of time and through Victor’s narration. So without an overarching voice narration, an assistant can ask the questions that will allow the Doctor to fill the audience in on what is happening.

 

Presumption; Or the Fate of Frankenstein (1823)

Richard Brinsley Peake’s stage adaptation would set up some the more outlandish and comedic elements of the modern Frankenstein myth. In this play Victor’s friend Henry Clerval from the novel and the new character invented for the play, Fritz, assist him in his experiments. This allows for a broad distribution of blame for the subsequent events rather than all the responsibility lying at the feet of Doctor Frankenstein. Fritz also functions as an audience surrogate or even narrator in many parts.

 

Frankenstein (1931)

Dwight_Frye
Dwight Frye in A Strange Attraction 1932

Fritz (Dwight Frye) is definitely a scapegoat and entirely expendable. The criminal brain mix up is a game changer, it takes the blame away from Frankenstein, and places the emphasis on nature rather than nurture. He is a low stakes victim and by virtue of his cruelty towards the Creature and unfortunately due to his appearance. The ablist judgements at play in portrayal of Fritz and his successors give the audience an excuse to dislike the assistant right from the outset, which I think we can all agree is an issue and deeply problematic.

 

Son of Frankenstein (1939)Son_of_Frankenstein_movie_poster.jpg

We are introduced to Bela Lugosi’s Ygor. Ygor also has a physical impairment which was the result of an attempt to hang him for grave robbing. The former blacksmith can control the “Monster” making him a formidable opponent for Frankenstein’s son. The cultural othering of Ygor or the assistant as being a different nationality and therefore strange.

 

mcdyofr-ec003_h.jpg
Marty Feldman as Igor

Young Frankenstein (1974)

This time played by Marty Feldman, and named Igor, this comedy portrayal of the assistant would shape our understanding of the character forever. His exaggerated and unnerving appearance combined with Feldman’s incomparable and unsettling performance has buried the “Igor” deep into our collective cultural understanding of the Frankenstein myth.

 

We will be watching Victor Frankenstein soon. I’m excited to see how Daniel Radcliffe deals with the somewhat intangible legacy of Igor.

The Virtual FrankenPod Murder Board January 2018

Chronicling the links between potential tangents and my slow/rapid? descent into madness.The-FrankenPod

IT’S ALIVE! 💥 Frankenstein 

Listen via website or copy this link into your podcast app.

Listen via YouTube Maybe… If I can work out the bugs.

This is our pilot episode in which Brent and I stumble through the disparate plot points of the 1818 gothic novel Frankenstein or the Modern day Prometheus by Mary Shelley and the 1931 movie Frankenstein directed by James Whale and adapted by James L. Balderston.

The differences between the novel and the movie are so numerous that listing them in detail would take forever.

But here are the 10 most notable differences we touched on in our podcast.

10 Differences Between the Book and the Movie of Frankenstein 

Frankenstein_poster_19311. Victor vs. Henry

The 1931 movie changes the name of Doctor Frankenstein from Victor to Henry. Maybe in an effort to make him more appealing? They take other steps to redeem the mad scientist, Fritz, for example, is the manifestation of some of the traits that don’t make the transition from the Victor of the book to Henry of the film. Because he is animating his creature somewhat in the open in the film he doesn’t need to be as duplicitous as he is in the novel. He also doesn’t sully his hands with a lot of the more gruesome aspects of the creation of his creature and is thus, more acceptable, maybe?

He is, of course, still an awful human being.

2. The Creature vs. The Monster

The movie denies the Creature a voice and denies his the ability to be perceived as an innocent. Whilst the Creature of the novel is depicted sympathetically, with the capacity to learn and love, the Monster of the film still shows some of that potential but as he has no voice and basically no time to develop in any way.  The space and time afforded to the creature through his solitude is key to the relatability of Frankenstein’s creation in Shelley’s novel. But James Whale didn’t have the luxury of a whole novel to develop his Monster’s character, but you can see the humanity of Boris Karloff’s bumbling creature in his confusion, fear and desire to understand and explore the world around him.

 

3. The Fritz Situation

Fritz is the vehicle for all that is distasteful in the creation process. His absence in the novel means that Victor is reliant on his own resources. He also has a bitter and morose internal monologue that would have not translated to screen. An assistant allows him to neatly offload scientific exposition, with the added feature that Fritz is a dislikeable low stakes person for the monster’s first kill.

 

4. Bad Brains

The movie gives us the brain mix up as an easy out to the dilemma that Shelley sets up… to what extent does Frankenstein harbour responsibility for his creatures actions, and to what extent are the frightened humans of the story culpable for what the creature becomes? If we are to believe that a criminal brain is only capable of criminality as posited by Doctor Waldman then surely the monster was only capable of dangerous or criminal behaviour. In one neat action, Fritz dropping the brain gives us a scapegoat and an excuse for dispatching a creature that is problematic.

 

5. Elizabeth

Elizabeth still has a limited presence in the film, in the novel she is both an object to be desired and a person Victor can project his mother issues onto. In the movie, however, she is denied even that level of depth. Although Frankenstein does seem to value her more highly than his friend (Victor in the film, Henry in the novel) which is more than I can say for Victor’s respect for her in the novel. Mary Shelley is not unsympathetic to Elizabeth, she advocates for the innocent Justine, despite how deeply affected she is by William’s death. She is loyal, compassionate, intelligent and courageous, all of which seems to be lost on Victor.

 

Whale_and_Karloff
By Universal Studios – http://www.terrortrove.com/happy-birthday-to-james-whale/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42699714
6. The Crimes of the Creature

It takes the creature months to kill someone and a lot of awful things have happened to him, pushing him to the edge. The movie has the Creature killing Fritz within the first day of his existence, then Dr Waldman and then little Maria (the girl whose dad left her by the lake with a cat that is very clearly dead as her companion. There is also a slew of violent attacks including his weird predatory attack on Elizabeth and culminating in his attempt destroy his creator. He is painted as violent, but that violence springs from fear rather than hatred. The novel has the space to complicate and problematize the Creature’s crimes further. His first crime is arson as he attempts to gain some impotent vengeance on the DeLacy family who rejected him, this is the point at which the Creature snaps. From here on he carries out the brutal murder of little William Frankenstein, frames the unfortunate and noble Justine and fixates on bringing about a kind of exquisite suffering on Victor. There is a moment of hope, in which the Creature reaches out to Victor to end his isolation and lessen his suffering. He asks for a companion, why he thinks that introducing another creature to the level of suffering he experiences seems like a reasonable thing to him is one of the most unreasonable and illogical expectations the Creature has. But the destruction of his bride breaks this fraught truce and the Creature then kills those closest to Victor, his best friend Henry and his wife Elizabeth. This is his final crime, although Victor will attempt to blame the death of his father and his own suffering through the subsequent chase on the Creature.

 

7. The Missing Letters

The very effective framing narrative of Walton’s expedition, which sets the tone for the entire novel, is entirely missing from the movie. We come to the movie with only a few minutes of introduction from an announcer giving a monologue or prologue warning of the horror that is about to ensue. This change in framing redirects our attention somewhat away from the ethical dilemma of creation at play and onto the monstrosity of the creature itself. Walton’s doomed expedition primes us for Victor’s obsession, without this framing narrative the focus can be shifted slightly away from the dangerous ambition and self-centred hubris. That is to say that without Walton spend more time beholding the monstrous spectacle of the creature, than the monstrous spectacle of his creator.

 

8. The Outcome

In the movie, the audience can rest safely knowing that the town and the doctor are safe and that he might have learnt his lesson. The creature appears to be dead and everything seems to be tied up in a neat little bow. Shelley, on the other hand, leaves us with a tragic end. Everyone is dead, doomed or miserable. Walton’s men may get out of the icy wastelands alive but that is as close to a happy ending as we get. The creature remains alive but has no desire to stay that way.

 

9. The Swiss Landscape

The Switzerland of the film is villages, lakes and windmills. But the novel is able to give us a more complex look at the Swiss landscapes and their surrounds with the Creature and Victor undertaking vast treks, depicted through sweeping descriptive romantic prose. The Swiss are depicted as a noble society in the novel, but unfortunately, the movie only deals in villager stereotypes and class-based stereotypes.

 

338px-Frankenstein_engraved
By Theodor von Holst – http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/gothicnightmares/rooms/room2_works.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6844740
10. The Moral of the Story

If I was to grossly simplify the message of each text into an easy to digest statement it would probably go thus:

The movie: Creation is dangerous, entities can be born evil and it takes a village and a hero to bring down a monster.

The novel: The cruelty and ambition of man are inherently dangerous and should not be left unchecked.

 

References

Shelley Wollstonecraft, Mary. “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.”

Different editions used listed below

  • Project Gutenberg: http://www. gutenberg. org/files/84/84-h/84-h. htm (2008).
  • Norton Critical Edition
  • Audible Audio book narrated by Dan Stevens
  • Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural
Frankenstein (1931), Universal Pictures. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021884/
Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Frankenstein: A cultural history. WW Norton & Company, 2007.

And a whole bunch of articles I didn’t write down. I promise I’ll do better