April 10, 2004

1. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

A. The Culture Theme

Our book group recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Nobody disliked it, but nobody was enthusiastic about it either. It seemed rather gloomy: several characters say, “no one in the history of the world has ever been as miserable and unhappy as I am.” One character, Victor Frankenstein, has discovered the secret of making a living being, or reviving a dead person. But good people are continually dying, and none of the deceased are revived. One has little sense of distinct characters: one is told that a character is full of virtues and talents, but one never feels that he is a distinct person, a 3-dimensional character. When you finish the novel, you say to yourself, “I can understand why it’s a well-known novel, a respected novel, but I can also understand why it isn’t considered a top-notch novel, equal to the novels of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.” Frankenstein’s reputation is an accurate indicator of its merit (as often happens); it has a high reputation (and deserves it), but it doesn’t have a very high reputation (and doesn’t deserve it).

As I read Frankenstein, I was impressed by the teenage author’s excellent prose. I was also impressed by her broad education, and by her love of culture — especially literary classics. Even the monster, though raised in isolation, manages to obtain a good general education. The monster eavesdrops as a tutor (Felix) instructs a student (Safie):

The book from which Felix instructed Safie was Volney’s Ruins of Empires.... Through this work I obtained a cursory knowledge of history, and a view of the several empires at present existing in the world; it gave me an insight into the manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth. I heard of the slothful Asiatics; of the stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians; of the wars and wonderful virtue of the early Romans — of their subsequent degenerating — of the decline of that mighty empire; of chivalry, Christianity, and kings.1

Later the monster begins to read the classics himself. He finds a satchel in the woods containing Plutarch’s Lives, Paradise Lost, and Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther.

The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories.... In the Sorrows of Werther, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment.... Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages.... I felt the greatest ardor for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice.... [Paradise Lost] moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting.2
Doubtless Mary Shelley herself received a similar education from her father, the philosopher and novelist William Godwin.

If the monster has a good general education, his maker, Victor Frankenstein, has an even better education; Victor’s friend, Walton, says “on every point of general literature [Victor] displays unbounded knowledge, and a quick and piercing apprehension.”3 Victor’s friend, Henry Clerval, is also well-educated; while Henry is living in London, he “desired the intercourse of the men of genius and talent who flourished at this time.... His mind expanded in the company of men of talent, and he found in his own nature greater capacities and resources than he could have imagined himself to have possessed while he associated with his inferiors.”4 Thus, social life overlaps with the life of the mind; doubtless this was also true in the Godwin-Shelley circle.

So Frankenstein presents two channels of culture: books and social life. It also presents a third channel of culture: travel. The reader is continually hearing about new places in Europe, places that are notable for their history or their scenery. For example, the author speaks thus of Oxford:

As we entered this city, our minds were filled with the remembrance of the events that had been transacted there more than a century and a half before. It was here that Charles I had collected his forces. This city had remained faithful to him, after the whole nation had forsaken his cause to join the standard of parliament and liberty. The memory of that unfortunate king, and his companions, the amiable Falkland, the insolent Goring, his queen, and son, gave a peculiar interest to every part of the city, which they might be supposed to have inhabited. The spirit of elder days found a dwelling here, and we delighted to trace its footsteps. If these feelings had not found an imaginary gratification, the appearance of the city had yet in itself sufficient beauty to obtain our admiration. The colleges are ancient and picturesque; the streets are almost magnificent; and the lovely Isis, which flows beside it through meadows of exquisite verdure, is spread forth into a placid expanse of waters, which reflects its majestic assemblage of towers, and spires, and domes, embosomed among aged trees.

Mary Shelley’s education made her receptive to travel, and also to nature. Though she admires the mountains of Switzerland, she prefers the scenery along the Rhine:

The mountains of Switzerland are more majestic and strange; but there is a charm in the banks of this divine river, that I never before saw equaled. Look at that castle which overhangs yon precipice; and that also on the island, almost concealed amongst the foliage of those lovely trees; and now that group of laborers coming from among their vines; and that village half hid in the recess of the mountain. Oh, surely, the spirit that inhabits and guards this place has a soul more in harmony with man than those who pile the glacier, or retire to the inaccessible peaks of the mountains of our own country [i.e., Switzerland].

When our book group discussed Frankenstein, I talked about the prominent role of culture, and I said that contemporary writers don’t discuss culture in this way. Our society has lost this conception of culture, this conception of general education, this conception of the classics. Our society doesn’t have a leisure class, a class for which culture is a serious occupation. Someone in the book group said that they feel guilty when they read the classics; they feel that there are grave problems in the world, and they feel guilty when they turn their back on those problems, and bury themselves in the humanities. That comment enlightened me, it made me realize that people today don’t respect culture, don’t take the humanities seriously, because they believe that we have an obligation to society, an obligation to help the needy, an obligation to “get involved,” to circulate petitions, to be politically active, to have a social conscience, etc.

A couple years ago, Columbia University inaugurated a new president. At the ceremony, the guests of honor were the Mayor of New York, and the Secretary-General of the U.N. The theme of the new president’s speech was “get involved” — get involved with the city, get involved with the world. If we devote ourselves to the humanities, we should feel guilty. The idea that has been at the heart of Western civilization since the time of Pericles, the idea of self-culture, self-development, Bildung, is now giving way to the idea of “giving something back to society.” Hoffer seemed to perceive this change, and deplore it; Hoffer wrote, “How much easier is self-sacrifice than self-realization!”5 Goethe, the great champion of Bildung, said he feared that “the world will turn into a vast hospital in which everyone will be the devoted nurse of everyone else.”6

B. Godwin on Solitude vs. Society

We chose the Norton Critical Edition of Frankenstein. Usually I enjoy the critical essays in this series, but this time I didn’t. Perhaps Frankenstein is too popular with contemporary critics, with critics who view literature from a political or feminist perspective. Though I didn’t enjoy the critical essays, I did benefit from the bibliography, which lists various studies of Frankenstein. I found two interesting essays in this bibliography: a 1965 essay called “Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein,” and a psychoanalytic study of Frankenstein. The 1965 essay called to my attention a 1959 essay. I greatly enjoyed these three essays — more than I enjoyed Frankenstein itself. Readers of Phlit have heard me say this before, have heard me say that I enjoyed the critical essays more than the book itself. I could almost say, “I don’t read critical essays in order to understand novels, I read novels in order to understand critical essays.”

The first essay I read was “Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein” (1965).7 This essay points out that one of the purposes of Frankenstein (according to Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley) is “the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue.” There are indeed many passages that describe “domestic affection”; for example, Victor’s description of his childhood:

No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. When I mingled with other families, I distinctly discerned how peculiarly fortunate my lot was, and gratitude assisted the development of filial love.

Mary’s father, William Godwin, also wrote novels that stressed “the importance of companionship and the social affections,”8 and Godwin’s novels were a major influence on his daughter’s work. The theme of Frankenstein is that those who follow a solitary path in the hope of reaching a lofty goal will come to grief; Frankenstein contrasts the happiness of family life and friendship with the misery of solitude. This theme plays an important role in Godwin’s philosophy. Thus, Frankenstein can be described as a philosophical idea in fictional form. We’ll follow this train of thought further when we discuss the second essay I read, the 1959 essay. First, however, a couple points raised in the 1965 essay deserve mention.

C. Locke’s Sensationalism and Frankenstein

As she was writing Frankenstein, Mary was studying John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke argued that there are no innate ideas, all ideas come from sensation (and from our reflections on our sensations). Locke’s argument influenced the French materialists and the French Encyclopaedists, such as Condillac; these French thinkers, in turn, influenced Godwin. Locke’s theory is known as sensationalism, and it found its way into Frankenstein. “Mary Shelley presents the process whereby consciousness dawns, objects are differentiated and are given intellectual significance, and language develops.”9

Here is how the monster describes the first moments of his life: “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.”10 The monster’s final words are also imbued with Locke’s sensationalism:

I shall no longer see the sun or stars, or feel the winds play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness. Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustling of the leaves and the warbling of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is my only consolation.”11

Thinkers who subscribed to the theory of sensationalism, like Godwin, took a keen interest in education. Since they believed that the mind is a blank slate, a tabula rasa, they thought that man had an infinite capacity to be molded, educated. And if all young people were sent to free schools, then the world’s problems could be solved, and the Golden Age would come again. For radicals like Godwin, public education and democracy were the great hopes for the future.

Another influence on Mary, besides the sensationalism of Locke and his followers, was the primitivism of Rousseau. Mary began Frankenstein when she was in Switzerland with the Shelley-Byron circle. One of their pastimes was visiting places that figure in Rousseau’s novels. Mary’s interest in education corresponds to Rousseau’s interest in education, which is apparent in his novel, Emile. One of the characters in Emile is named Sophie; this may be the source of Mary’s character, Safie.

Before I turn to the 1959 essay, permit me to mention one more point raised by the 1965 essay. I knew that Mary had some interest in alchemy, and had mentioned it in Frankenstein. What I failed to realize is that Frankenstein deals with a central issue of alchemy: the elixir of life. A school of alchemy that seemed to be particularly important in England was Rosicrucianism, and Mary’s father had written novels that dealt with Rosicrucian ideas. When Frankenstein was published, it was condemned by conservative journals as a Rosicrucian heresy.

D. Frankenstein on Solitude vs. Society

Now let’s turn to the 1959 essay, “Moral and Myth in Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein.”12 This essay points out that Captain Walton is ambitious and knowledge-hungry, just like Victor Frankenstein; Walton “has been inspired since early youth to satiate an ardent curiosity about the unknown regions of the earth.”13 Like Victor, Walton is lonely and therefore unhappy. He feels his solitude to be “a most severe evil”; he longs for “intimate sympathy with a fellow mind.... A man could boast of little happiness, who did not enjoy this blessing.”14 When he meets Victor, Walton finally tastes the pleasures of friendship. Victor, however, warns Walton that his pursuit of knowledge will ruin his life, as it has ruined Victor’s:

You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been. I do not know that the relation of my disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale.

Doubtless Mary Shelley intended this “apt moral” for her readers as well as for Walton.

Victor tells Walton how his unremitting study of alchemy and science “secluded me from the intercourse of my fellow-creatures, and rendered me unsocial.”15 Finally, after prolonged effort, Victor succeeds in making a human being — or rather, a monster that resembles a human being. What an achievement! But “the apple of knowledge bears within it the acrid seeds of punishment.”16 The monster destroys, one by one, all of Victor’s friends and family members. Though Victor curses the monster, he admits that his own curiosity, his own quest for knowledge, is responsible for the deaths of his friends and relatives. He feels as if he has “committed some great crime.”17 The author of this essay, Milton Goldberg, quotes Jung: “every step towards greater consciousness is a kind of Promethean guilt: through knowledge, the gods are as it were robbed of their fire, that is, something that was the property of the unconscious powers is torn out of its natural context and subordinated to the whims of the conscious mind.”

We recall that the title of the novel is Frankenstein; or, the modern Prometheus. Is every intellectual a Frankenstein, a Prometheus? Is every quest for knowledge accompanied by a feeling of guilt? Mary Shelley’s novel is a warning to intellectuals: don’t pursue knowledge at the expense of fellow-feeling.

Walton and Frankenstein are both preoccupied with knowledge, and neglect fellow-feeling, love, sympathy. They start out with benevolent intentions, but they end with “misguided pride, a selfish pursuit aimed at self-glory.”18 Their sin is different (according to Goldberg) from the sins depicted by the Greeks, and the sins depicted by Milton. They don’t sin against God, they sin against society. This sin is characteristic of Mary Shelley’s time, and it’s described by other writers of her time, such as Byron and Percy Shelley. “In Byron’s Manfred, for example, an analogous ‘quest of hidden knowledge’ leads the hero increasingly toward a ‘solitude... peopled with the furies’.... Shelley’s prefatory remarks on Alastor or, The Spirit of Solitude indicate that ‘the Poet’s self-centered seclusion was avenged by the furies of an irresistible passion pursuing him to speedy ruin.” 19

Shelley argued that love is the sole law of the moral world. If one can’t love people, one loves nature. If one doesn’t love anything, “man becomes the living sepulcher of himself, and what yet survives is the mere husk of what once he was.... Those who love not their fellow-beings, live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave.”20

Godwin believed that “virtue is essentially social.”21 Goldberg traces this view to Adam Smith and the Scottish Common-Sense School, then back to Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, then back to the 17th century. This view was opposed by (among others) La Rochefoucauld, Hobbes, and Mandeville “for whom man was basically selfish and non-social.”22

More than twenty years ago, when I first subscribed to Freud’s theory of life- and death-instincts, I looked for thinkers who had expounded a similar view, and Shaftesbury was one of the thinkers I found. Freud and Shaftesbury felt that man has a life-instinct, that man is naturally social, that man’s instincts prompt him to help others, to help society, to help his species. This argument can be strengthened by looking at other species (ants, bees, etc.) where social behavior is obvious. Freud argued that all organisms, including man, have a life-instinct. Freud complemented the theory of a life-instinct with the theory of a death-instinct; the death-instinct prompts man to be hostile, violent, and unsocial. Godwin and Shaftesbury were probably more optimistic than Freud, and placed more emphasis on man’s social nature.

In his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Godwin argued that “virtue consists in a desire of the happiness of the species.”23 (One wonders, however, how this desire can be considered virtuous if it is natural, instinctive, unconscious, if it isn’t a product of free choice, free will.) Godwin also argued that “even knowledge, and the enlargement of intellect, are poor, when unmixed with sentiments of benevolence and sympathy.”24 This is the theme of Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is a story within a story, within a story; it is the monster’s story within Frankenstein’s story within Walton’s story — three concentric circles. All three stories have the same theme: solitude is poisonous, companionship is essential. “The sympathies of Walton and Frankenstein have been rendered torpid by their monomaniacal pursuit of knowledge which removes them increasingly from a compassionate society; similarly, the creature discovers that his sympathies are perpetually blunted by the misery of loneliness and isolation, estranged as he must be from human kind.”25 The Walton-Frankenstein theme is “knowledge without society is worthless.” The monster theme is “virtuous inclinations, if they have no outlet in society, wither, and are replaced by criminal inclinations.” Whatever deficiencies Frankenstein may have as a novel, it must be considered a most interesting example of philosophy fictionalized.

E. Godwin’s Opponents: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, etc.

What does Frankenstein’s philosophy mean? Why did thinkers at this particular time, and in this particular country, believe that virtue is essentially social? What were the consequences of this belief? In the two centuries since the publication of Frankenstein, there has been an unprecedented effort to improve the lives of ordinary people — to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to cure the sick, to limit the working hours of working people, etc. Our age is the age of the welfare state. (The last two centuries have also seen an unprecedented increase in population, which may be the result of a greater concern with people’s welfare.) The welfare state was originally a Western phenomenon, though its influence has been felt in other parts of the world.

Marie-Louise von Franz, a disciple of Jung, compared Western civilization with the civilization of India; “they are far ahead of us,” she wrote, “in their spiritual and philosophical attitude.”26 But she was shocked to find that people in India have no concern for the welfare of their fellow man: “if you walk through the streets of Bengal you will see numbers of people obviously starving to death; they are in extremis, yet no one takes any notice.... To us Europeans, this social attitude spoils the whole country, for it is revolting to see people starving and ignored.” Von Franz concludes that, while Westerners are too extraverted, and ignore the inner life, Indians are too introverted, and ignore their fellow man.

Perhaps, dear reader, you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. Are you suggesting that Frankenstein created the welfare state?” Frankenstein reflects a widely-held belief, a belief that was held by (among others) Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Byron. This belief may have had an effect in the political sphere, it may have contributed to the creation of the welfare state. Or perhaps this belief was an effect rather than a cause, perhaps this belief (and the welfare state, too) resulted from a deeper-lying feeling, or from the historical circumstances of the time. This belief may have resulted from social leveling, from a rising equality between classes.

What was Godwin (and others) arguing against? What worldview was supplanted by this Godwin-Shelley worldview? We mentioned before that La Rochefoucauld, Hobbes, and Mandeville (among others) had argued that man is essentially selfish and unsocial. But this isn’t the only worldview that Godwin was arguing against. He was also arguing against the old Christian view that a man’s most important relationship is his relationship with God, and that your eternal salvation depends on your relationship with God. Godwin was no mystic. Godwin was arguing against the introverted worldview, against the worldview of India, against the view that what matters most is the state of your own soul.

The Godwin-Shelley worldview (the view that fellow-feeling is essential, and virtue is social), though popular in the modern West, has not been universally accepted. Indeed, one could say that there has been a backlash against it. Schopenhauer — who was born in 1788, nine years before Mary Shelley — believed that a great thinker is solitary, and only a mediocre person is popular. Schopenhauer doubted whether true friendship really exists: “True friendship belongs to that class of things — the sea-serpent, for instance — with regard to which no one knows whether they are fabulous or really exist somewhere or other.”27

Kierkegaard, who was born in 1813, seemed to feel the rising tide of “Godwinian fellow-feeling,” and he vehemently rejected the Godwinian position. Like other Christians, Kierkegaard felt that the God relationship should be paramount, the inner life should be paramount. Kierkegaard deplored the present age as a time “when people’s attention is no longer turned inwards, when they are no longer satisfied with their own inner religious lives, but turn to others and to things outside themselves.”28 Kierkegaard perceived that modern man was “other-directed” (to use Riesman’s term).

Kierkegaard tried to remind his contemporaries of the old ideal: “The man who can really stand alone in the world only taking counsel from his conscience; that man is a hero....29 The yardstick for a human being is: how long and to what degree he can bear to be alone, devoid of understanding with others.”30 Kierkegaard not only preached this ideal, he lived it, too.

Man reaches his full potential, Kierkegaard argued, when he stands alone, not when he bands together: “It is quite impossible for the community or the idea of association to save our age.... Nowadays the principle of association (which at the most is only valid where material interests are concerned) is not positive but negative; it is an escape, a distraction and an illusion.... The principle of association, by strengthening the individual, enervates him; it strengthens numerically, but ethically that is a weakening.”31

Nietzsche, who was born in 1844, wasn’t familiar with Kierkegaard’s writings, but he was in complete agreement with Kierkegaard’s conclusions, and he rejected the Godwin-Shelley position even more vehemently than Kierkegaard did. “Flee into your solitude!”32 Zarathustra tells his disciples. Nietzsche says that one who communes with the great writers of the past “has no need of company, except now and then so as afterwards to embrace his solitude the more tenderly; as a substitute for the living he has the dead, and even for friends he has a substitute: namely the best who have ever lived.”33 In Frankenstein, Captain Walton eventually abandons his lofty goals, and turns his ship homeward. But Nietzsche advises against this course: “By my love and hope I entreat you: do not reject the hero in your soul! keep holy your highest hope!34.... Rather despair than submit.”35

Critics of the Godwin-Shelley position could be found in England, as well as on the Continent. As the 19th century proceeded, it became clear that modern man is other-directed, and the solitary hero is only a memory. Hence there was a backlash against the Godwin-Shelley position: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on the Continent, Mill in England. John Stuart Mill, born in 1806, deplored the other-directed tendency of his time, and he would have applauded people like Frankenstein and Walton, who trod a lonely path toward lofty goals. Mill believed in the importance of individuality; Mill argued that without solitary individuals, without eccentric individuals, mankind will stagnate, no matter how many people band together for humanitarian purposes: “There are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would be likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool.”36

Mill and Nietzsche were reacting against the other-directed trend that became increasingly strong as the 19th century proceeded. On the other hand, Godwin & Company may have been reacting against a tendency that existed in the late 1700s, namely, a tendency to pursue a solitary path toward ambitious goals. The arguments of Godwin & Company have little meaning for our time, since in our time, people rarely pursue a solitary path toward ambitious goals. As Nietzsche said, philosophy is the bad conscience of its time, it says what people don’t want to hear, it goes “against the grain.” Since our time isn’t disposed toward the solitary-heroic, we don’t need to be warned (as Frankenstein warns its readers) about the dangers of the solitary-heroic.

F. A Freudian View of Frankenstein

Before concluding these remarks on Frankenstein, I’d like to discuss the third essay I read, a psychoanalytic study of Frankenstein.37 The author, Harry Keyishian, describes Victor Frankenstein as “an intellectually ambitious, moody, willful young man (rather like Mary’s husband Percy, many scholars have observed).”38 Victor has lofty goals, he “dreams of performing unprecedented feats,”39 he creates an ideal self.

Keyishian views Victor through the lens of a Freudian study by Karen Horney. According to Horney, the self-idealizing individual “endows himself with unlimited powers and with exalted faculties; he becomes a hero, a genius, a supreme lover, a saint, a god.”40 His search for glory “can be like a demoniacal obsession, almost like a monster swallowing up the individual who has created it.” The parallel with Victor could scarcely be closer.

Horney continues: “If a man’s thinking and feeling are primarily focused upon the infinite and the vision of possibilities, he loses his sense for the concrete, for the here and now. He loses his capacity for living in the moment.” Doubtless every ambitious intellectual has been down this road. Such people have a special need for Zen, since Zen connects one to the concrete, to the here and now.41 Victor says that his ambitions and labors made him “insensible to the charms of nature.” Here again, it seems that Victor needs a dose of Zen, since Zen sharpens one’s appreciation of nature.

After Victor succeeds in making a living being, he is horrified by the result, “a miserable monster.” Here again, says Keyishian, there is a close parallel with Horney’s self-idealizing individual: “The glorified self becomes not only a phantom to be pursued: it also becomes a measuring rod with which to measure his actual being. And this actual being is such an embarrassing sight when viewed from the perspective of godlike perfection that he cannot but despise it.” While he dreams of high ideals, he keeps bumping into lowly reality: “Because reality keeps interfering with the flight to glory,” writes Keyishian, “the individual grows to hate it, and to hate himself.”

Horney speaks of the “pride system,” and says that “pride and self-hate are actually one entity.” The ideal person and the actual person are in conflict. “Self-hate, Horney says, ‘makes visible a rift in the personality that started with the creation of an idealized self.’” Keyishian says that Victor’s hatred for the monster is a dramatization of self-hatred, a dramatization of the self-idealizing individual’s hatred for his actual self.

So much for Victor’s situation. Now Keyishian turns to the monster, and credits Mary Shelley with skillfully describing the origin of the monster’s vindictiveness. Mary’s description agrees with Horney’s. Horney says that the arrogant-vindictive individual was mistreated early in life, gives up “all hope of being loved,” and longs for “vindication, revenge, and triumph.” The monster, says Keyishian, “was deprived of the experience of total acceptance and uncritical love which is one of the saving legacies of normal infantile development.” The monster has been rejected by mankind, and is consumed with envy, which Horney calls “the emotion... that most contributes to the callousness which vindictive individuals demonstrate toward others.” Keyishian compares the monster to Richard III, who (according to Freud’s interpretation) feels that he has been wronged (he is deformed), and therefore he has the right to mistreat others.

Before the monster trudges off to commit suicide, he tells Walton, “I was the slave, not the master, of an impulse which I detested yet could not disobey.”42 Perhaps many criminals could say the same thing, perhaps many criminals could say that they were swept along by powerful impulses, that they could not have acted differently.

According to Keyishian, each of Mary Shelley’s characters dramatizes an aspect of Karen Horney’s theory: Victor shows the consequences of self-idealization and the search for glory, the monster shows how vindictiveness arises from a “pathogenic childhood environment,” and Walton shows how one can finally turn away from the quest for glory, accept reality, and accept one’s limitations. When Walton meets Victor, he acquires a friend, a wise counselor, one might even say a therapist. “Victor appears in Walton’s life at a point analogous to the ‘most turbulent period of analysis,’ when the patient confronts his central inner conflict: ‘It is at bottom this question: does the patient want to keep whatever is left of the grandeur and glamour of his illusions, his claims, and his false pride or can he accept himself as a human being with all the general limitations this implies, and with his special difficulties but also with the possibility of his growth? There is, I gather, no more fundamental crossroad situation in our life than this one.’”43

One must be impressed by Mary Shelley’s achievement — impressed by her understanding of human nature, and by her ability to express this understanding in fictional form.

© L. James Hammond 2004
visit Phlit home page
make a donation via PayPal

1. Vol. II, ch. 5 back
2. ibid, ch. 7 back
3. vol. III, ch. 7 back
4. ibid, ch. 2 back
5. Reflections on the Human Condition, #107. Nietzsche said much the same thing: “those who now preach the morality of pity even take the view that precisely this and only this is moral — to lose one’s own way in order to come to the assistance of a neighbor.... All such arousing of pity and calling for help is secretly seductive, for our ‘own way’ is too hard and demanding and too remote from the love and gratitude of others, and we do not really mind escaping from it.” back
6. Goethe: The History of a Man, by Emil Ludwig, ch. 7 back
7. “Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein,” by Burton R. Pollin, Comparative Literature, vol. xvii, #2, spring 1965 back
8. ibid back
9. ibid back
10. vol. II, ch. 3 back
11. vol. III, ch. 7 back
12. by Milton Allan Goldberg, Keats-Shelley Journal, VIII (Winter, 1959), 27-38 back
13. ibid, 2 back
14. ibid back
15. ibid back
16. ibid back
17. ibid back
18. ibid, 3 back
19. ibid. When I read Manfred, I felt that Byron was criticizing the sociable “herd animal” and praising the solitary “beast of prey.” Perhaps Byron’s sympathies were divided. Nietzsche was certainly contemptuous of the sociable “herd animal,” and he admired Manfred for expressing the same contempt. back
20. ibid back
21. ibid back
22. ibid. Goldberg also points out that Thomas Paine subscribed to this view. Perhaps this view was widespread among radicals like Godwin and Paine, while conservatives like Hobbes, who were wary of democracy, believed that man is naturally unsocial, and must be restrained by authority, force. In short, the radicals took an optimistic view of human nature, while the conservatives took a pessimistic view. back
23. ibid back
24. ibid back
25. ibid back
26. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, ch. 1 back
27. Counsels and Maxims, 3 back
28. The Present Age (The Present Age was originally published as part of A Literary Review, which is sometimes called Two Ages: A Literary Review) back
29. The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, edited by A. Dru, long version, Oxford University Press, 1938, 1155 back
30. The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard (edited by Peter Rohde, Philosophical Library, 1960) V, 3 (1854) back
31. The Present Age (The Present Age was originally published as part of A Literary Review, which is sometimes called Two Ages: A Literary Review) back
32. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Of the Flies of the Market-place” back
33. Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, 566 (The title of this book is usually translated as Dawn rather than Daybreak. This edition is translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982) back
34. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Of the Tree on the Mountainside” back
35. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Of the Higher Man” back
36. On Liberty, ch. 3 back
37. “Vindictiveness and the Search for Glory in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” by Harry Keyishian, The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 49, #3, 1989 back
38. ibid back
39. ibid back
40. ibid. Quotations from Karen Horney are from her book Neurosis and Human Growth (1950). back
41. Kierkegaard is one who knew how difficult it was to live in the moment: “To make use of the dialectic of the infinite in one’s daily life, and to exist in this dialectic, is naturally the highest degree of strenuousness; and strenuous exertion is again needed to prevent the exercise from deceitfully luring one away from existence, instead of providing a training in existence. It is a well-known fact that a cannonade tends to deafen one to other sounds; but it is also a fact that persistence in enduring it may enable one to hear every word of a conversation as clearly as when all is still.”(Concluding Unscientific Postscript, II, 1, 2, ii) Another Kierkegaard quotation on the same theme: “The religious discourse must... always be a little teasing, just as existence is; for herein lies the teasing, that we human beings have our heads full of great imaginings, and then comes existence and offers us the commonplace.”(ibid, II, 4, 2, A, 3) A third Kierkegaard quotation: “A Wednesday in the Deer Park season. The religious individual has understood himself in the general consideration of the significance of necessary diversion, but it does not by any means follow that diversion is necessary precisely today. Here lies the difficulty of the process of concretion, which remains as long as the religious individual is in the medium of existence, when he has to bring the general principle into connection with this particular moment on this particular day, with these particular moods and states of mind, and under these particular circumstances.”(ibid) back
42. “Vindictiveness and the Search for Glory in Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinback
43. ibid. This is a quotation from Horney inside a quotation from Keyishian. back