Shelley’s lack of narrative sophistication drove me crazy, as it always has. I mean the times when Shelley loses control of her three-level narrative frame, when she forgets Victor Frankenstein is not English (II, 6), or inserts pointless digressions, like the digression on farming (I, 5, “A farmer’s is a very healthy happy life,” etc.), or travelogues, like the idyll in Oxford (II, 5, “The colleges are ancient and picturesque; the streets are almost magnificent,” blah blah blah).
But who is in charge here, Shelley or me? I’m the reader; I’m in charge. It took some work, but I found the novel I enjoyed more. It’s Frankenstein as a doppelganger story, the cousin of what E. T. A. Hoffmann had recently written in The Devil’s Elixir (1815-6) and other stories.
Victor is insane and a) there is no monster, or no monster besides himself, or else b) the monster he creates is somehow a version of himself. He has imprinted his brain patterns on it, or split his personality, or something like that. Like when the Hulk and Bruce Banner are split apart. Like in the Buffy episode where Xander is separated into Strong Xander and Weak Xander. The Victor who narrates is the weak version of himself. This explains why when his experiment succeeds he immediately freaks out and abandons his poor monster, who could use some guidance and training at that point. They need to practice their act (that’s a video link).
Here is the first place I noticed Victor stating this idea directly. His younger brother has just been murdered by the monster – by some monster:
I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect such purposes of horror, such as the deed which he had now done, nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose form the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me. (I, 6)
Victor becomes more openly insane as the novel progresses:
All pleasures of earth and sky passed before me like a dream, and that thought only had to me the reality of life. Can you wonder, that sometimes a kind of insanity possessed me, or that I saw continually about me a multitude of filthy animals inflicting on me incessant torture, that often extorted screams and bitter groans? (II, 6)
The cemetery scene near the novel’s end, which is also the beginning of the final chase, (II, 12) is pure Hoffmann.
I was answered through the stillness of night by a loud and fiendish laugh. It rung on my ears long and heavily; the mountains re-echoed it, and I felt as if all hell surrounded me with mockery and laughter.
Perhaps Victor did build a corpse-monster, but is that what he is pursuing now? The novel turns into a fantasia of motion, a blur of geography and dream.
At the end, as Shelley shifts back to the basic frame, both Victor and the monster, a few pages apart, compare themselves to Milton’s Satan. Victor hoped to be God, but “’like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in eternal hell.’” The monster merely hoped to be Adam:
“I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.”
The novel I read is even farther from the novel James Whale filmed, but it solves, or eludes, the problems with the narration. It is not quite as funny as the more literal Frankenstein.