Contents Index

The Ambivalence of Frankenstein

Robert Wexelblatt

Arizona Quarterly, 36 (1980), 101-17

Frankenstein as Synthetic Myth

[{101}] Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first published in 1818, has become a modern myth. The basic story is one that almost everyone knows, and thus the tale is likely to be alluded to on all sorts of occasions, just as are the old Greek stories of gods and heroes. What everyone knows is that Frankenstein is the story of a scientist who seeks to create a man and instead makes a monster who ultimately destroys his creator.

Though Frankenstein functions as a myth, it was not created as most primitive myths probably were, as explanations of natural phenomena or elaborations of actual events. In modern times we have history to record actual events and science to explain natural phenomena. Instead, Frankenstein is a synthetic myth about science itself, a symbolic story that appeals deeply to the modern imagination as containing some truth. But this truth is not just about science; it is also about the imagination to which it appeals and about all human creativity -- that of writers as well as researchers, of Mary Shelley as well as Victor Frankenstein.

Shelley, who was not yet twenty when she wrote Frankenstein, seems to have been entirely conscious of the mythic dimension of her story. She demonstrated this awareness by giving her novel the subtitle "The New Prometheus." This is in itself a mythic allusion, of course, and a highly suggestive one. The titan Prometheus' most famous act was to steal fire from Mount Olympus and give it to man. In the various versions of the Greek story that have come down to us, especially that of Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound, it is clear that this heavenly fire stands for the light of reason and, more particularly, technological reason and {102} skill. Yet to the Romantic poets of Shelley's time -- for two of the best of whom she made up this story -- Prometheus stood also for artistic creativity and liberal revolution. Her husband Percy wrote a drama after Aeschylus, Prometheus Unbound, on these themes. Yet two other aspects of the Prometheus myth are used in Frankenstein: the tradition which identifies Prometheus as the creator of the human race, and the motif of Prometheus' extraordinary punishment by Zeus for his daring benefaction to mankind. As Frankenstein remarks toward the end of the book, "I am chained in an eternal hell" [Walton 3]

But this allusion is equivocal, referring not only to the chaining of Prometheus to a mountain in the Caucasus, but also to the punishment of the rebellious angel Lucifer, who was thrust into the Abyss. At least as important a component of Frankenstein as the Prometheus legend is another favorite source book of the revisionist English Romantics, Milton's Paradise Lost. Beginning with the epigraph to the novel, Milton's epic is alluded to again and again by Shelley.

Paradise Lost actually tells two stories of which Mary Shelley makes use. One is the account of the fall of the archangel Lucifer, the brightest of the heavenly host who, through the sin of pride and rebellion against God, becomes the prince of Pandemonium, Satan. The second story is that of the creation of man and his fall from grace and natural innocence, a catastrophe brought on in large measure by Satan's envy of the happiness of Adam and Eve.

As with much else in Frankenstein, there is ambiguity about the uses to which Shelley puts Milton's poem. For instance, Frankenstein from time to time sees himself as resembling Satan: that is, as a blessed and talented young man who grew up in a Swiss Eden, but whose ambition and hubris have led him to usurp the proper work of God and Nature. He too believes himself to be, after a fashion, damned, or at least fallen. Just as often, however, it is the monster who sees himself as Satanic, as an initially good and virtuous being who, because he is rejected and abused by mankind, becomes an envious fiend, devoted to vengeance {103} and the principle that misery enjoys company. The whole literary education of the monster consists of Plutarch's Lives, Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (de rigueur for the period), and especially Paradise Lost. He himself tells Victor of the ambivalence with which he heard the English epic:

I often referred the several situations . . . to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence. . . . Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me. (Chapter 15)
The third element of the synthetic myth is another old story which deeply animated the era in which Shelley wrote, the story of Faust. Faust, who sold his soul to gain forbidden knowledge and power, can be seen as a protoscientist as well as a "professor mirabilis" and black magician. Victor Frankenstein is in part modeled on Faust -- especially in the Ingolstadt episodes. Even his first scientific enthusiasms connect him to the legend, for it is the old alchemists who attract him to the study of nature. Both Victor and Faust are men who seek to challenge limitations set on experience; neither is seduced by evil, but by knowledge both are tempted to transgression. Both can be said to have chosen their damnation. Indeed, forms of damnation occur in all three mythic sources of Frankenstein, one of the themes of which is a redefinition of damnation itself.

Frankenstein and its Era: The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters

Frankenstein was written in the second decade of the nineteenth century and set in the final years of the eighteenth. There are good reasons why such a tale should have emerged from the Western imagination at just that period of history.

From the philosophical point of view, the most fundamental of the many revolutionary changes that occurred m the latter part of the eighteenth century was a reversal in the idea of the human. From the Greeks to Kant, philosophers had assumed that reason was the distinctively {104} human trait. Concurrent with the Industrial, American, and French revolutions, however, this apparently self-evident opinion began to change radically. The definition of the human, like many other slippery but essential concepts, is best understood as being achieved negatively; that is, the human is defined by the inhuman, the human becomes clear when we see what threatens it. Before the Industrial Revolution and large-scale urbanization, it was perfectly obvious that the "human" was threatened by wild animals and barbarians. To be human was to be, literally, civilized -- included in or connected to those precious enclaves and reason, cities. Artifice, the man-made world, not nature, was the true abode of humanity. Even the apparent exceptions to this cultural generality of the ancient world and the Renaissance prove the point. What could be more civilized or artificial, for instance, than the tradition of pastoral poetry? Utopianism too was a completely positive form of daydreaming up to the end of the eighteenth century. Plato, More, and Bacon dreamed sweetly of societies which wouid be wholly rationalized and thus fully human. These were fantasies of islands of sanity, more perfectly artificial worlds to be inhabited entirely by intellectuals, humanists, and those willing to be controlled by them. But when the dream began to become practicable on the mainland, as soon as rational utopianism could be conceived as a vast engineering project, modern antiutopianism was born. In short, intellect began the struggle with intellectualism.

The application of technology to the means of production and the consequent shift of population from countryside to city caused a revision in the idea of the human because they redefined the inhuman. What now threatened humanity was not un-reason, but reason and reason's flood of products. Rousseau's contrast between the health and virtue of the simple Swiss peasant and the corruption and decadence of the hyperartificial Parisian aristocrat set the tone for the English Romantics. The pilgrimage to Switzerland became a requirement; and it was in Switzerland, not surprisingly, {105} that Frankenstein was both written and largely set. The new cultural emphasis on the nonrational laid out a good deal of the agenda of the nineteenth century. The end of the Age of Reason began the Age of the Buried, eventually giving us not only Romantic art but also modern psychology and anthropology -- the two modern sciences most dedicated to digging up things other than artifacts.

Frankenstein reflects these cultural movements fairly exactly, even in its characteristic ambiguities. For instance, the origin of all the Satanic overtones in the book can be located in the consuming scientific and rationalistic ambition of Victor Frankenstein, who does the digging. On the other hand, the monster itself is what has been buried. Along with the fine sentiments of the "good heart," the novel portrays the dangers of the nonrational.

The defeat of reason is always a highly ambivalent victory. When Kant made the Will -- that is, the nonrational element in personality -- primary, he insisted that it was still reason which must discipline that Will into goodness. But what if reason should go to sleep . . . ? For that eventuality we have Goya's famous drawing, The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters. This phrase would make a succinct account of Mary Shelley's novel. For the Romantics, inspiration, like the human, needed to be redefined. What earlier artists had thought of as coming from the outside and from on high, the Romantics redefined as coming from the inside and from below. The matrix of poetic imagery was the Unconscious. "Writers have always known about the Unconscious," Freud would say. Recalling her search for a story and her inspiration in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein Mary Shelley wrote:

When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me. [Introduction 10]
The unconscious elements of Frankenstein we will get to presently. First there are the many conscious ones that require attention, for the book did not leap fully whelped from the repressed wishes and fears of an eighteen-year-old {106} girl. The half-waking nightmare had to be given form; light had to define the dark.

First of all, there is the genre of Frankenstein. The work can be classified as a Gothic novel, but it is a rather special example of the Gothic. The Gothic novel is an English invention, the earliest example being Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764). But the Gothic did not become a truly popular form until after the French Revolution. Life had to catch up with art; or, conversely, the theme of terror caught on in literature only after it caught on in Paris.

One of the prisoners freed from the Bastille in July 1789 was the Marquis de Sade. He was the first to use the term "modern novel" and it was to the Gothic that he applied it. Prevailing before the Gothic, and competing with it in Shelley's day, was the domestic and sentimental novel. Shelley alludes to this competition wryly, though a little contradictorily, in the original preface to Frankenstein:

. . . my chief concern . . . has been limited to the avoiding the enervating effects of the novels of the present day, and to the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue. [Preface 2]
In its early days the Gothic novel was revolutionary and anti-middle class. Its very existence constituted a criticism of normality, civility, stability. The Gothic is, in fact, the opposite of the domestic, realistic novel, and it is about anything but "universal virtue." The fact that Frankenstein should contain both kinds of novels constitutes the basic formal or generic ambivalence in the book.

What makes the Gothic, with all its absurdities of plot, appear "modern" is its underlying concern with underlying concerns, with the unconscious and extreme emotional states, with terror, guilt, aggression, anxiety, sexuality. These are the themes of Frankenstein itself, which plays virtuoso games with them all. Generally speaking, the stories of Gothic novels are so silly that they must be treated either as escapism or as symbolism.

Amateur Psychoanalysis

Gothic novels are fantasies. As they are not imitations of reality, something must mediate between reality and such tales. If Frankenstein were not at all a serious book, the mediation might be simply the notion of escape. However the novel is serious, therefore symbolic, and other mediators must be employed.

According to Shelley's 1831 introduction, the author was all her life being dogged by the same question: "How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?" [Introduction 1]. Well, let us suppose that young Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley had not written a novel but instead sought an appointment with a psychoanalyst to deal with an elaborate and recurrent nightmare. How might that question be answered?

We can imagine the analyst beginning with Freud's theory. Dreams must be related to reality by understanding them as symbolic. When the material behind the dream is sufficiently unacceptable to the dreamer's conscious mind, then a censoring device will transform the material symbolically. A concealed and subconscious "reality" -- a netherworld of wishes, fears, anxieties -- is thus transmuted into a set of symbolic images and actions. It was Freud's method to seek the key to such fantasies in the early life of his patient. Is there, then, some reason to think that, always granting her precocious literary skill, Mary Shelley might quite logically have created just such a fantasy as Frankenstein?

Mary Shelley was born in 1797, which must be very close to the year in which Frankenstein is set. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, a very talented woman, a writer and an early feminist, died giving her birth.

Mary's early life was spent with her imposing father, William Godwin (to whom Frankenstein is dedicated), a stepmother, stepsister, stepbrother, half-brother, and half-sister. In the introduction of 1831, Shelley gives some interesting information about the origins of her dreaming among all these hyphenated relatives:

As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given {108} me for recreation, was to "write stories." Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air -- the indulging in waking dreams. . . . [Introduction 2]
Shelley goes on to make an interesting contrast between her writings and these dearer daydreams:
My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator -- rather doing as others had done, than putting down the suggestions of my own mind . . . my dreams were all my own . . . they were my refuge when annoyed. . . . [Introduction 2]
The distinction between the imitative writing and the escapist fantasizing of her childhood resembles that between the domestic and Gothic novels. Moreover, this account of her juvenile creativity suggests that Mary may not have felt herself quite at ease with her family. She goes on to describe the time the family spent in Scotland thus:
. . . my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. [Introduction 3]
It was to Scotland that Mary eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814, at the age of sixteen, causing a scandal. Shelley was married to someone else at the time. In 1816 they were married to each other, only after the suicide of Mary's half-sister and that of Percy's first wife, Harriet. Mary's first child died in infancy; two others, William and Clara, died shortly thereafter.

If Frankenstein, in its unconscious origins, is indeed a kind of dream, then, together with this biographical sketch, one might venture a diagnosis, which is to say a "psychoanalytic" interpretation. For instance, the obsession with the theme of guilt in the novel, in particular the equivocal and indirect guilt of Victor Frankenstein for his creature's depredations, could be ascribed to Mary's unresolved feelings over the death of Percy Shelley's wife Harriet or, more deeply, of her own mother. From the same source one could also derive the symbolic identification of sex and death which constitutes the climax of the book: the murder of a young woman on her wedding night, on her {109} marriage bed. Moreover, an identification of men as killers follows logically enough. One could go still further and suggest that Mary subconsciously played all three parts in that climactic scene: killer, victim, and observer. Lastly, on the evidence, one could speculate that Mary might have repressed a good deal of aggression against her extended family; for the victims of Frankenstein's monster are almost entirely the relations of Victor. They are, so to speak, picked off one at a time.

This approach to the book implies that the "censoring" of unacceptable personal emotions and wishes is carried out by something like a "superego" -- that is, by a set of values including traditional ethics (what Nietzsche would later call "Slave Morality"), Mary's own Rousseauian values, and those learned early in life from the family. What gets censored is the intolerable, the inadmissible, the unacceptable. These are the fears, guilts, aggressions, and anxieties listed above. The result is the nightmare, or rather those sections of the symbolic novel dealing with the monster. It is obvious to readers that these sections are also the most vivid, original, exciting, and best written in the book. They constitute the antisocial and genuinely Gothic portions of the novel. What the unconscious is excited by -- power, willfulness, vengeance, aggression -- is symbolized by the monster. The character of Elizabeth Lavenza is clearly identified with the first set of values, the "enervating" ones that do the censoring. But the monster is just as clearly identified with the literally buried and forbidden. In between, pulled both ways, is of course what Freud called the Ego -- in this case Victor Frankenstein or Mary Shelley.

This pattern can be carried to another level. The "creature" of Victor corresponds also to the "creation" of Mary Shelley, the book itself. Victor is an artist as well as a scientist. This connection appears in Shelley's own introduction (of 1831) where she describes her first half-waking vision of creator and creature, the kernel of her story:

Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any {110} human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. [Introduction 10]
Among other things, the monster can be understood as a representation of the "monstrous" side of Victor Frankenstein and Mary Shelley. On the one hand we have the self that desires to love, wants the family, adores nature; while on the other we have the isolated and accursed self that would destroy -- it is even speculated -- all of human society. Victor is bored by the domestic amiability of Geneva, excited by his work at Ingolstadt. But for that work he is repeatedly punished by mysterious illnesses, breakdowns. The novel shows us a gradual tearing away of all other relationships, ties, affections, until, in the midst of frigid and inhuman landscapes, the two sides pursue each other in a frantic fable of revenge and the ultimate disintegration of personality. From Werther on, Romanticism has always contained its own critique.

A Review of Dualisms

In constructing her novel, Mary Shelley laid out the doubleness of the Romantic imagination as clearly as anyone has done. These dualities are, in effect, the stuff of the book. They can be listed as follows:

The Monster Elizabeth
Extraordinary Deaths Ordinary Life
Murder, Terror Love, Marriage
Gothic Novel Family Novel
"Evil" "Virtuousness"
Excitement Boredom
Disease Health
Ambition Contentment
Loneliness Social Life
Ingolstadt (cell, garret) Geneva (family, home, Alps, lakes)
Prof. Krempe (malevolent) Prof. Waldman (benevolent)
Glacial and Polar Ice Swiss mountains and lakes

Each side stands for a set of duties and values. On the left lie discovery, creativity, striving, duties primarily to oneself; {111} on the right, social duties and public responsibilities. Victor is in the position of having to try to mediate between his own divisions. But the novel inevitably puts the question, which side is the more compelling?

The rudimentary ambivalence of the book derives from the differences between the author's conscious and formal intentions and her unconscious inspiration. Consider again the theme of guilt. The guilt of Victor Frankenstein is in fact a highly complex matter. Consciously, the author portrays Victor's guilt as that of an initially well-meaning young scientist who has let loose a horror on society and cannot quite take responsibility for his action. Unconsciously this guilt is also that of the id in relation to the ego, or that of the revolutionary spirit before the society which has nurtured it and which it aims to destroy.

However, is it truly guilt that Victor or Mary feel? It does not seem impossible that Mary Shelley had a good deal of sympathy for her "monster." After all, she makes him eight feet tall, wonderfully agile, remarkably resourceful, both more eloquent and more intelligent than his creator. Under our amateur analysis the monster is acting out impulses or wishes she has repressed. Momentarily, at least, the monster himself seems to break free of the whole context of this guilt and to speak from an ethical orientation which has nothing in common with the conscious values of civilized life. Toward the end of the book, in his final speech, the monster says, "Evil thenceforth became my good" [Walton 14].

If Victor Frankenstein, like John Faust, is damned, then what is damnation? The answer of the last century is that damnation is a full commitment to the Unconscious, an abandonment of the duties and restraint along with the comforts and pleasant mediocrities of social life. To be damned is to desert one's ordained place in humanity, to ignore ethics, to make a deliberate leap outside the circle. This leap is not necessarily one of faith, as Kierkegaard put it -- though that would be a salvation which looks a good deal like damnation -- but a salto mortello, as Nietzsche had it beyond both good and evil.

Frankenstein and Philosophical History:
Is the monster bad because he is ugly or is he ugly because he is bad?

In depicting her monster, Mary Shelley had the obligation to answer some essential questions of contemporary ethical philosophy, especially the question as to the moral nature of mankind. This was the issue which had animated the philosophy of Hobbes (man is by nature nasty), the contrary views of Rousseau (nature is nice), and the grand synthesis of Immanuel Kant. Somewhat transformed, the same question would be at the basis of Nietzsche's work of ethical "transvaluation" toward the end of the nineteenth century. How then is this question answered in Frankenstein? With stlll more ambiguity.

Once more, there is little doubt about Shelley's intended answer to the question: it is that of a good Rousseauian liberal. Through the monster's own words we are shown that he is initially good, innocent, and well-meaning. He saves a child from drowning; he admires, loves, and aids the DeLaceys. He is filled with heroic benevolence and even feels a touching compassion for the American Indians, those other "noble savages." If he becomes evil, it is only because he is rejected; and he is rejected solely because he is hideous to look at.

The monster's initial contacts with human society show him met with increasing violence and hostility. After staggering out of Ingolstadt he encounters an old man in his hut. The man

. . . turned on hearing a noise; and, perceiving me, shrieked loudly, and, quitting the hut, ran across the fields. . . . (Chapter 11)
The next time it is a village he enters:
I had hardly placed my foot within the door, before the children shrieked, and one of the women fainted. The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country. . . . [2.3.5]
If everyone else judges him by his appearance, the monster himself is by no means immune from the same prejudice. His hideousness turns out to be the source of his self-hatred:
{113} . . . how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. (Chapter 12)
The half-blind old DeLacey accepts him at once. Morally there is nothing wrong with the monster at all. His nature is sound. Indeed, there is a great deal in the book which plays up the general goodness of nature, espcially the Swiss varieties thereof, in the most conventional Romantic terms. In indicting his own obsession with his forbidden researches Victor can hardly find anything more damning to say than that:
. . . my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature. [1.3.7]
Nature is restorative; nature is peaceful and beneficent. The monster is, to begin with at least, far more sinned against than sinning and thus no "monster" at all. His subsequent elaborate fiendishness, his choice to be feared if he cannot be loved, his tendency to act up to his appearance -- all that is really simple "reaction formation." Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. As for Victor, his turning away from the appreciation of nature to its cold-blooded violation is his great sin.

This side of the argument reflects that part of the book which is governed by the awake Mary Shelley, telling us of her ideals and reflecting her reading. But there is another side and it is perhaps more compelling. This is of course to look at the unconscious side of the novel which reflects Mary's inspiration instead of her reading. It is this side which looks forward to Nietzsche rather than backward to Rousseau.

From this point of view, the monster is made to appear ugly only because what he represents is "bad," which is to say unacceptable to consciousness. It was another English Romantic, Coleridge, who said that a man is not afraid because he dreams of a monster; he dreams of a monster because he is afraid. The same principle holds for eighteen-year-old girls. The monster is not bad because he is hideous, he is made to look hideous because of what he is.

The monster's sections of the book are clearly the best {114} from a literary standpoint. His character is the really original triumph of the novel, and it is not surprising that he has, in time, stolen his creator's name. Victor Frankenstein is not only short but quite pallid beside him, just as the "happy" sections of the book are, to adopt Mary Shelley's word, "enervating" when compared to, say, the monster's monologue. Take away the Freudian censor's bargain that the monster will be allowed to destroy the family so long as he appears to be "a fiend" and we have what amounts to Nietzsche's brutal Superman standing head and shoulders above the human and telling him in no uncertain terms:

Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power. . . . You are my creator, but I am your master; -- obey! (Chapter 20)
Perhaps the "Master Morality" of Nietzsche is not so much a pre-Christian, pre-Socratic norm as it is the genuine nightmare of the "Slave Moralist." Nietzsche implies that it is both, in fact. The ambivalence is appropriate: what is buried under civilization is bound to appear at once to have preceded civilization and to have been repressed by it.

In terms of philosophic history, Frankenstein is a milestone on the road from Rousseau and Kant at the end of the eighteenth century to Nietzsche at the end of the nineteenth. To Rousseau, mankind is good by nature and "will" is therefore far better, because less artificial, than intellect. It was Kant who gave substance to this sentimental notion of the "good will" through his complex and revolutionary psychological theory. Kant's ethics can be understood as a synthesis of his response to two problems: the epistemological emergency caused by the skepticism of Hume (which reduced causality to a mere "habit of the mind") and the at once troubling and challenging anti-intellectualism of Rousseau. Kant resolved the problem raised by Hume by locating causality within the structure of the mind rather than in the external world, thus laying the groundwork for the expressive esthetic of Romanticism. He responded to Rousseau by becoming our first intellectual with a bad conscience. Intellect would henceforth be good only if it is in the service of "the rights of man."

{115} Kant speaks of the good will as the only absolutely good thing on earth and explains that the goodness of the will comes from acting on principles of duty which are available to every rational creature. Duty, like causality, is located in the mind's structure, in an a priori categorical imperative which can be applied in all situations. It is the job of reason to carry out the application. But these rational guidelines notwithstanding, Kant reinforced the primacy of the will and thus the nonrational elements in personality. He says little about the bad will, let alone the will to power. A century later, following Schopenhauer, Nietzsche would turn all the ethical counters over. Arguing from etymologies from his own view of Darwin, and from a remarkable sense of cultural history, Nietzsche "transvalued values" by simply reversing them. Evil thenceforth became his good. The values of the whole ethical tradition of the West -- from Moses and Socrates to Rousseau and Kant -- he dismissed as a botch, a tissue of wholly imaginary ends, fundamentally out of tune with reality, in sum, nothing more than the revenge of resentful slaves and life-despising weaklings on life and on their natural masters. In Nietzsche's work the primacy of the nonrational will becomes the primacy and the pointlessness of power. Intellect's role is no longer to make the will "good" in the Kantian sense, but only to make it effective. Reason is a good administrator; power sets the policy. Nietzsche tells the truth of Imperialism better than Kipling and just as well as Conrad.

In a Nietzschean reading of Frankenstein, the monster would be "good" while Elizabeth, Clerval, the Frankenstein family, and Victor (save when he is in his garret exercising his own obsessive powers) would be "bad." The monster is indeed the "master," a superman, a new species. Passion deserves to triumph over reason, the Übermensch over the "all-too-human," Dionysus over Apollo. The "savage" monster is not conditioned by being "noble" -- he is noble precisely because he is savage, a "more complete barbarian," as Nietzsche said of his "free spirits." Nietzsche would see in the fiendishness and ugliness of the monster the same process {116} that he said caused the slaves to invent the concept of "evil" out of all the fearsome virtues of their former lords. It is merely slave morality traducing the truth of the will and of nature once again. In other words, Freud's censor is Nietzsche's slave morality internalized.

The story which frames that of Victor Frankenstein and his creature is that of Captain Walton's attempt to reach the North Pole. Of course Walton's dangerous expedition is paralleled to Frankenstein's perilous experiment: both exceed natural limits in a spirit of youthful enthusiasm. Both are consciously motivated by moral considerations, yet both are driven by deeper and less understood impulses to put the lives of others at hazard. Both are "Faustian" -- as the historian Oswald Spengler said our whole culture is. There is an ambivalence about their enterprises which comes out quite clearly in the relations between Frankenstein and Walton. Early in their friendship Frankenstein pleads with Walton to return to port and not to follow his own example; however, during a crisis it is Frankenstein who persuades the crew to persevere. Frankenstein's last words still express the same ambivalence, a modern ambivalence wholly lacking, say, in the final words of Don Quixote, which they otherwise resemble:

Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed. (Chapter 24)
The essential ambivalence of Frankenstein has much to do with what the myth says about modern science. After all, Shelley's novel is our first and still one of our best cautionary tales about scientific research; it is the literary and philosophic equivalent to the crude Luddite reaction to industrialization. The issues of Frankenstein are no different, basically, from those around which public debate on nuclear power, pollution, and genetic research are now centered. The dilemma the novel depicts is significant not only because it reflects Mary Shelley's very interesting psyche and appeals {117} to the popular imagination in the original and innumerable sequels, but also because the young girl's private nightmare is so close to our public ones. Will our good intentions, like Victor's, be frustrated as our means destroy our ends? Can one renounce scientific ambition and discovery because of the risks involved? Can the perilously thin veneer of civilized values and rationality control the dark powers welling beneath them, or our own secret wishes to embrace those powers? And what are the responsibilities of a "creator"? Will Victor Frankenstein's lament continue to be echoed in this century and the next: "I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer" [2.1.4]?