Books, Musings

Beware Of Ambitions Bearing Dreams

Man as both both creator and created, it seems, is cursed to seek the very formula of creation. Take the case of Victor Frankenstein, Creator, in Mary Shelley’s book of the same name. (Revelation for me, it’s not the monster who’s named Frankenstein). Bent on creating life, he brings to the world a freak both terrifying and thrilling. Unlike the Good Lord who looked upon his creation and saw that it was good, Frankenstein fled his own handiwork. Poor thing. He then determines to destroy what he had brought forth (rather like The Man Upstairs with Noah’s Flood). So begins the struggle between the “Good” and the “Bad” although it’s soon clear that the Good isn’t all good and neither is the Bad all bad. There’s a section in the book when the pitiable creature tells its own story and one’s heart fills with pity.

The novel itself is in the form of a letter written by a young explorer, Robert Walton, to his sister in which he describes his mission to “traverse immense seas” to a land where the “sun is forever visible”. Why? He wishes to “confer on all mankind” his discoveries and he is sure that “success shall crown my endeavours”. Madness? “There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand”. Whereas the adventure in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon was pursued out of curiosity, young Walton seeks to “make a name for myself”. The omens are not good when he picks up Frankenstein from the icy seas where the latter had almost frozen to death while out hunting his daemon.

I think the usual focus on Frankenstein’s creature misses the point of the novel: that what we get after we achieve our dreams may not turn out in any way to be what we dreamt. In fact it could turn out to be much worse. We know this of course. The Greek stories are our perfected examples. But do we learn? Perhaps the question should be: can we learn when there’s often, and maybe always, something in our souls that we do not comprehend willing us on? According to the Introduction in my Puffin version, Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s entry to a ghost story competition that included her husband, the famous poet P.B. Shelley and other friends among whom was Lord Byron. Ah, with friends like these. She clearly won. It’s not the greatest novel ever written but certainly one of the most original and, for its time likely along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the most chilling. Read it and then go fulfil your dream.

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