February 1st, 2013
Loathsome Creature in a Lovely Place
It can commonly be assumed that deplorable acts occur in decrepit places, and that excellent incidences take place in exceptional places. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the exception to this well-known notion. She places her characters all over Europe, ranging from the Frankenstein home in Switzerland to the icy slopes of the Arctic, where the final scene culminates. The scenery, as described by the characters, is captivating and mesmerizing. The story itself, however, is something horrific and malignant. The viciousness of the actions taking place within the story deeply contrasts with the magnificent beauty of where it all transpires. From the very beginning, the scenery in the story plays a crucial role. Walton’s letters to his sister are sprinkled with bits and pieces of imagery, with Walton declaring, “There…the sun is for ever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon, and diffusing a perpetual splendor. There…sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. ” (1) Walton is enamored with the prospect of journeying to the Arctic and beholding all its wonders. He gives detailed descriptions of all the things he sees, and the scenery affects his all around demeanor. The Arctic landscape is the first glimpse the audience receives into how much the setting of the story will play into the story itself. The Frankenstein family is from Switzerland, a land known for its natural beauty and serenity. This is the first ironic device placed in the novel. Such a horrific turn of events, the entire contents of the novel, seem more likely to occur in a more vicious setting, not the sunny, languid hills of Switzerland. One could say that the environment is a foil for the story, both playing off each other in a magnificent way. Victor Frankenstein, the titular protagonist of the novel, mentions the beauty of the world throughout his narration, early on mentioning one of his childhood memories: “…[the Frankenstein family] witnessed a most violent and terrible thunder-storm. [...] I remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight.” (22) From even the early age of fifteen Frankenstein is fascinated by the power and danger of nature, watching it with wide-eyed fascination and reverence. That changes as he goes deeper into his scientific pursuits, once saying, “It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage: but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.” (33), making it clear that even though he was preoccupied with his quest, he was still very aware of the beauty around him. It is severely ironic that he is committing such a grotesque act in such a vibrant area. He is piecing together his own creature, sewing skin on it and calling it “human”, while around him, the sun is shining and the flowers bloom. It makes for a very dramatic story, playing with the idea that even something as beautiful as nature can hold dark secrets. And it brings up another interesting contradiction within the story: the growth and reality of nature against the harshness and unnaturalness of what Frankenstein is trying to do. Right outside his window, leaves are budding and alive, while inside he using his knowledge to create something wholly unnatural and bring it to life on his own. His actions go against nature itself to create this being of such a horrific design. Frankenstein finds solace in his surroundings, gaining strength from its beauty after realizing the horror that he has unleashed. After hearing of his younger brother’s murder and he returning home, he scales a nearby mountain, eager to relish its view so as to forget his transgression. On beholding the landscape, he proclaims, “My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy….” (67), feeling his spirits lifted with such a majestic view. He wants to revive his weakened spirit after suffering to much toil, with the murder of his brother and the execution of Justine, both inadvertently his own fault. It is ironic that now, after all is said and done, he turns to nature, when before he spurned it as a waste of time while he grinded away at his creation. And now, when he can truly see the error of his ways, now does he turn to the natural world, but now it is far too late. Right after Frankenstein finds solace, he encounters his creature, who had been in search of him. The creature explains his journey after he had run away from Frankenstein’s’ laboratory. Even the creature is not immune to the beauty of nature, and during his travels he finds himself cold and alone, completely bewildered by his sudden situation. However, upon beholding the beauty of the moon, the creature is immediately revived, articulating, “Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure. I started up and beheld a radiant form rise from among the trees.” (71) He was once despairing, but now he is somewhat inspired to move forward into this very confusing world. Later, after being rejected by so many people and on the precipice of a very violent reaction, the creature once again finds comfort in nature, it cheering him “even by the loveliness of its sunshine and the balminess of the air. I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, that had long appeared dead, revive in me…. I allowed myself to be borne away by them; and forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy. Soft tears again bedewed my cheeks, and I even raised my humid eyes with thankfulness towards the blessed sun, which bestowed such joy upon me.” (101) He is raised from these depths of such pain and hate to a place of such exalted joyousness that be even begins to cry; that is how much of an impact nature is having on him. Moments later the creature is thrust back into an angry rampage, but for a brief point in time he was once again innocent, simply enjoying his existence and the world around him. Even secondary characters find inspiration within natures vibrant beauty. Henry Clerval, Frankenstein’s best friend, is completely infatuated with his surroundings during his trip with Frankenstein. Frankenstein says of his friend, “He was alive to every new scene; joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise, and recommence a new day.” (112) Clerval is in a mood of joyous rapture over the beauty of the world, and his spirit enlivens Frankenstein, who is in a very depressed mood, knowing his creation his roaming free, possibly committing horrid deeds. Each time a character finds himself in a state of distress, he turns to nature, the earth reviving him from his weakened condition. The irony of this is that Frankenstein turns away from his horrid, unnatural creation to the natural world, something he rejected earlier. The creature turns to nature to hide from the cruel world, painfully aware of what a monster he is and how very artificial he is in a natural setting. Both the creator and the creation find comfort in ordinary land, trying to forget that one has done something unnatural while one is something unnatural. They both try to escape into the hills and bask in the sun, but in the end, nature can only get them so far. The natural beauty of the world plays against them, making the story itself completely unnatural. The setting plays the biggest role of all, playing into the characters lives and affecting their all around demeanor. The characters mention their setting everywhere they go, clearly aware of the impact the sun is having on their emotions. The entire story spins on the peak of how much nature influences the decisions or the dispositions of everyone within it. Such a horrific turn of events taking place in an area that is constantly reiterated as “joyous” or “gentle” is the most ironic device of all, showing a beautiful setting sun while the disturbing creature lopes through the foreground. The beauty is offset by the horror taking place within it, making the entire novel a beautiful horror show that depicts the violence that can take place regardless of the heavenliness of nature.