the romance, the double, the psyche
For all the apparent antipathy between the two, Frankenstein feels himself closely linked to this other self. Immediately after his act of creation Frankenstein takes flight from the Monster, but still feels under its influence: ‘I imagined that the monster seized me: I struggled furiously, and fell down in a fit’. His meetings with the Monster are significantly private: nobody else is present on the Mer de Glace, in the Orkneys, or in his wedding chamber (Elizabeth is dead). That is, these are not so much ‘meetings’ as communings between the two battling parts of the one Self.
And when Frankenstein finally decides to pursue the Monster he swears ‘to pursue the daemon who caused this misery until he or I shall perish in mortal conflict … Let the cursed and hellish monster drink deep of agony, let him feel the despair that now torments me’. This is a very suggestive ambiguity, for Frankenstein is himself the person who has caused (that is, created) all the misery; he is feeling despair and agony, both in his own Self and as the Monster; and he will perish in the conflict between his two Selves.
The results of the pursuit which takes place are couched in similar terms. After months of searching and three weeks traversing the Frozen Ocean, he has his first sighting of the Monster:
Oh! with what a burning gush did my hope revisit my heart! warm tears filled my eyes, which I hastily wiped away, that they might not intercept the view I had of the daemon; but still my sight was dimmed by the burning drops, until, giving way to emotions that oppressed me, I wept aloud.
Quite apart from the watery-eyed similarities between them, we might be forgiven for reading this as Frankenstein’s being glad to be reunited with his Monster, and in one sense he is, for only moments after dying on Walton’s ship the Monster takes his place in the cabin. The evil Self in Frankenstein has triumphed over his good Self and finally usurped it.
And one could push this reading further. Perhaps Frankenstein and his Monster can be seen as one and the same person – just like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dostoyevski’s Golyadkin and his Double, and Poe’s two William Wilsons. It is significant that Frankenstein repeatedly falls ill or disappears in some way at those junctures when evil is to be performed by the Monster. This reinforces the notion that the Monster is Frankenstein’s evil Self and adds the suggestive possibility that Frankenstein commits these acts himself, and has to invoke the Monster as a form of self-justification.
Frankenstein is ill for some time after the creation of the Monster, which gives it the opportunity to murder William. He is adrift in a boat (‘every thing was obscure’) and thinking of the possible murder of Clerval when his evil Self does the job for him. And he is conveniently absent from the bedroom when Elizabeth is murdered. In other words, fictional credibility for Frankenstein’s innocence is created whilst letting an apparently independent other Self commit the crimes.
But do Frankenstein and the Monster in fact exist independently? Almost not – for nobody else in the novel ever sees Frankenstein and the Monster together at the same time. The Monster appears to have an independent existence at the de Lacy cottage, but this whole episode is told to Frankenstein by the Monster during their interview on the Mer de Glace – at which nobody else is present.
That is, it could be seen as an invention of Frankenstein’s. He tells this tale to Walton in self-justification. He is riven by evil passions and in guilt over what these have led him to do, he has invented the fiction of an autonomous Monster to justify himself to the outside narrator.
But even if nobody else in the novel actually sees the Monster (there are only various ‘reports’ of his doings) surely Walton is a witness to its independent existence? Not really, Frankenstein gives up the ghost and dies on board. In Walton’s words ‘his voice became fainter … and his eyes closed forever’ [my emphasis]. This is almost immediately followed by ‘again there is the sound as of a human voice, but hoarser: it comes from the cabin where the remains of Frankenstein still lie’. The Monster and Frankenstein are one and the same person: the evil Self has merely triumphed over and replaced the good Self.
One could even argue that for good measure Mary Shelley has added a reflection of the good Self in the divided Frankenstein in the character of Clerval, a man who does no wrong and acts like a conscience to Frankenstein. As Frankenstein sinks morally in this story, he remarks that ‘In Clerval I saw the spirit of my former self’ and has to get rid of him in order to work on the creation of the female Monster, something about which he feels guilty.
1. Mary Shelley’s own introduction to the novel. Oxford University Press edition (2011) which reprints the 1831 text. All subsequent quotations are from this edition.
2. James Rieger (ed), Frankenstein, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974, which reprints the 1818 text.
3. Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England, Harvard University Press, 1972.
4. Kiely gives an account of this reading, combining it with the Frankenstein/Shelly as Prometheus reading.
Christopher Small, Ariel Like a Harpy, London: Gollancz, 1972, which also covers exhaustively the biographical readings of the novel.
6. Masao Miyoshi, The Divided Self, New York: New York University Press, 1969.
7. Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, London: Hogarth Press, 1962. All subsequent quotations are from this edition.
8. Cited in David Punter, The Literature of Terror, London: Longman, 1980.
© Roy Johnson 2011
Frankenstein – study resources
Frankenstein – Oxford Classics – Amazon UK
Frankenstein – Oxford Classics – Amazon US
Frankenstein – York Notes for students – Amazon UK
Frankenstein – York Notes for students – Amazon US
Frankenstein – Spark Notes for students – Amazon UK
Frankenstein – Spark Notes for students – Amazon US
Frankenstein – Cliffs Notes for students – Amazon UK
Frankenstein – Cliffs Notes for students – Amazon US
Frankenstein – Norton Critical Editions – Amazon US
Frankenstein – 1994 Robert de Niro film – Amazon UK
Frankenstein – 1931 original film with Boris Karloff – Amazon UK
Young Frankenstein – 1974 Mel Brooks spoof – Amazon UK