This year, 2016, is the 200th anniversary of the origin of Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein. It was published in 1818, but 1816 was the year she spent her historic night in Byron's castle - high on opium and nursing a broken heart in the midst of a wild storm... ask me to tell you the full story some time - it's one of my favorite things to do.
I'm writing this today (which happens to be the day after the largest mass-shooting in US history) however, not to commemorate that historic night or the young author. This is going to focus on the character who first breathed that night. No, not the Monster. The man, Victor Frankenstein.
Literarily, he is a villain and widely accepted as such. The real bad guy of the story. Not as ugly as the Monster, maybe. Not as horrifying in person, certainly - but bad.
Among the reasons I know this is because I wrote an interactive one-woman show about Mary Shelley, which is till running and in which I performed for over 10 years. During the show, after a summary of the tale (spoiler alert: everybody dies, most of them violently at the hands of The Monster) I asked the audience the question I just answered above. Who is the villain?
Middle-schoolers, red-hat societies, veterans, school teachers, micro-biologists. Those who had read the book, those who had no reference beyond my summary or a quick viewing of even 'Young Frankenstein' agreed: Victor Frankenstein is to blame for the tragedy. All of it.
It's tough to articulate, but I've always believed that Victor's villainy comes from this: His belief that his ability to do what others could not, is strength.
As he digs up the dead bodies in the dark of night he celebrates himself:
"Darkness had no effect upon my fancy; and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm."
As he tortures animals with his experiments he says:
"...I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?"
And as he grows closer to 'success' he says:
"The dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.”
Okay, fun - what's the point, Dawn?
There is an inner monologue that is shared, I think, by the likes of Victor Frankenstein and villains like him: They see a problem in the world to which they have a solution. This solution to them seems so simple - although it involves what the majority will consider 'sinful' 'loathsome' 'disgusting' and 'unacceptable.'
Suddenly, like Victor, a 'light bursts in upon them' that says they are superior because they are not disgusted. They are stronger than we the meek, weak, sheep who are too frightened to simply overpower our antiquated sense of right and wrong to do what is necessary. They are blessed, chosen, special because they are not shackled by our collective, historical aversion to violence and death.
Which is why they tell you they work in secret. Not because they are ashamed - nay, they are proud to be liberated from conscious - but because we, the majority 'wouldn't understand.' We would, they know, criminalize them because we are too stupid to understand their power. We would, they know, stop them with our toothless devotion to peace.
After their act of violence and death is committed, then we will get it. We will see their power, know their strength and celebrate their singular ability.
The fact is, of course, any fucking baby with a favorite crayon understands this 'singular' ability to take what you want and not regret it.
Evil isn't strong or original.
Never has been.
So fuck the bad guys. Love instead.
And why not read Mary Shelley’s novel? The full text is here - among many other places.
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