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Book retrospective: Frankenstein

Rob Fehily argues the genius of one book is hard to rival, and laments popular cultures banal adaptations.

There is only one book I have yet read powerful enough to stain my cheeks with tears. Recently I have been fortunate enough to blindly stumble upon a copy of a 'Wordsworth Classics' edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which was purchased for a laughable three Euro. I declare now with un- wavering conviction that I shall most likely never again gain so much intellectually and emotion- ally from anything which costs the same as warm chicken roll on cam- pus.

The traditionally Gothic epistolary form of the novel plays a vital role in bridging the often gaping void between a book's characters and its readers. I often felt as though Vic- tor Frankenstein, Robert Walton and the Dæmon were speaking to me directly. Shelley seamlessly writes these individuals into exis- tence with compelling skill; Frankenstein, and most notably the Dæmon are completely believable, three-dimensional, multi-layered hubs around which the reader can explode in a cathartic freshet.

A strikingly powerful theme ex- plored by Shelley in the novel is human nature. Alternatively called The Modern Prometheus, it exam- ines the common human disposi- tion to rebel against the governing system. Frankenstein himself is a perfect embodiment of this as he stubbornly and incessantly strug- gles, against the advice of his col- leagues, to 'bestow animation upon lifeless matter.' His genius reminds us of another figure in classical myth. Icarus allowed his ambition to drown out the warnings of Daedalus and when he flew too close to the sun he tumbled to his death. Frankenstein's situation mir- rors this scenario except instead of a pair of wax wings, his creation was another person: the Dæmon.

I have never before connected so strongly with any character in any

book. The Dæmon is the very epit- ome of tragedy; he is a walking embodiment of the awesome power of the human brain yet also a witness to the diabolical 'barbar- ity of man'. This paradoxical dual- istic nature of barbarity and ingenuity is explicitly manifested physically and mentally in the Dæmon. On one hand, his outward appearance is monstrous, yet his emotions and compassion for the DeLacey family reassure us that Frankenstein wired up his brain flawlessly. The truly awful aspect of the book is made clear when we see the way in which he is treated by his fellow men.

Called by no other name than 'dæmon', 'wretch' and 'monster', his account of life on this earth is one of the most poignant and moving narratives I have read. This 'filthy dæmon' we learn is in actuality a marvellous and astonishingly beautiful creation. Teaching him- self how to read and write in a hovel and learning how to feel love and compassion by merely observ- ing other people screams to us that this creature is very special. Yet his report of his constant and callous rejection proves to us that every- body else, including his creator, are unable to see past his physical ug- liness into the unexplored universe of love and benevolence locked away in his heart and brain. The sense of loneliness with which the Dæmon describes his miserable existence is unforgettable. Upon reading Paradise Lost, he con- cludes that even 'Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to ad- mire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.' With the distinction between appearance and reality holding so much weight in Western philosophical debate over the centuries, the despicable treatment of this unfortunate mar- vel is inexcusable. One could eas- ily be lulled into thinking that the philosophies of Plato's Cave or Descartes' Brain in a Vat argument

constructed a stable investigative plateau on which the true nature of our reality could be debated. This is certainly neither the case in the novel, nor, as I advocate in the final paragraph with reference to how the Dæmon is portrayed in contem- porary culture, the real world.

The sense of tragedy increases manifold when this inexcusable treatment causes the Dæmon to in- dulge in the more vengeful aspect of his nature. The heinous actions of those around him eventually penetrate the penumbra and tap deep into the dark shadow of his character. I will not say more for I am aware that some of you may not yet have read it, but what I will say is that the suffering of the Dæmon is reflected back upon the initial instigators of said suffering, especially Frankenstein. Whether or not the tragedy adds up in equal measure on both sides by the end of the tale is a particularly interest- ing subject.

What struck me with formidable force having read the novel is the way in which the Dæmon, as a modern cultural figure, has been obscenely misrepresented. The 1931 film directed by James Whale starring Boris Karloff is equally as abominable as the way in which the society of Shelley's book is so unjustly prejudiced against the Dæmon. He is not some bumbling idiot who stupidly stumbles around and communicates through animal- istic grunts and growls. This could not but infuriate and embitter a true fan of the book who understands its message. He is in reality so much more beautiful and compli- cated than that. The criminal brain used by the Fritz character in the film was the cause of the Dæmon's evil nature, whereas it is impera- tive to understand that in Shelley's novel his decision to act badly was a conscious one, but influenced im- measurably by his hideous mal- treatment, the hateful nature of man, his 'curse that shut up every avenue to enjoyment.' The 1994

September 28th 2010 Smashing Hits

The Script: It had been a while since I’d listened to their first album so I lis- tened to it again and realised I didn’t give their songs enough credit in the past. They’re jolly good.

Caramelised red onions: They’re ab- solutely unreal. I’m addicted.

The Papa Zitas: Played in my local re- cently; another cracking gig. There is just something wonderful about their sound.

Louis Walsh: He tends to be treated as a bit of a joke and doesn’t get half of the attention he deserves because he just can’t be taken as seriously as Simon, but he does crack me up.

The Inbetweeners: Clunge.

Auto-tune: First X Factor and now Glee. It makes me sick.

Jeremy Kyle:Who does he think he is? I mean a direct attitude is often to be admired but his is repulsive, ab- solutely sickening to the hilt.

Singing chavs: They certainly do not have the X Factor, despite what Cheryl says.

Underage discos: Between 23.30 and midnight, the streets are flooded with 16 year old girls walking around bare- foot, heels in hand, and 14 year old guys with one oversized diamond in their ear and a big ole smile on their face because they got the shift. Kids are just so frickin cool.

Explosions: They seem to be a neces- sity for all films and TV shows these days. Even Peggy Mitchell turned into a right little James Bond a couple of weeks ago.


Kenneth Branagh version starring Robert DeNiro also leaves a lot to be desired, particularly with regard to a laughably inaccurate final meeting between Victor, Elizabeth (Victor's wife) and the Dæmon.

To date, this reviewer remains re- sentful and disheartened that this extremely complex and wonderful character has been so unforgivably misunderstood and misrepre- sented. That said however, I be- lieve

that the real-world misrepresentation of the Dæmon is

a testament to what Shelley wrote about: that the human senses are 'insurmountable barriers' to a proper understanding of the world. Is it really that challenging to know that a stick really isn't bent when the light rays which bounce off it are refracted underwater? Or that the Müller-Lyer arrows are in fact the same length? Frankenstein pro- vides us with enough evidence to believe that we are, alarmingly, not as able to conquer our prejudices as we might think.

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