Creator and Creation

Pagan and Christian myths abound in Gothic fiction, but they are revised and revisioned in this context. The creator is destroyed by his creation, the quest for knowledge becomes a recognition of one's mortal and mental limitations. The spiritual becomes irretrievably secular as the material world asserts its indissoluble boundaries; there is no transcendence.

From Frankenstein, 82-86.

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs . . .

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! -- Great God! . . .

I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room . . .


Joel Porte, "In the Hands of an Angry God: Religious Terror in Gothic Fiction," The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dark Romanticism, (Washington State University Press, 1974): 42-64.

But let us observe what a darkly Calvinist version of Milton's fable Frankenstein is based on: the creator, though presumably "his heart overflowed with kindness and the love of virtue," commits a deed "of mischief beyond description horrible" by bringing forth a creature who fills his heart with "breathless horror and disgust." Predictably enraged at the "vile insect" ("abhorred monster," "fiend," "wretched devil") whom he has created, Frankenstein easily adopts the rhetoric of an offended Jehovah: "Do you dare approach me? And do not you fear the vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head?" But the creature, no mere puppy in theological disputation, manages to frame the central question of Calvinist man, alternately bewildered and angered at being accused of innate and total depravity by the God who made him: "Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?" Undermined by such fervent arguments, Frankenstein is forced to reconsider the logic and justice of his position: "I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness." But although the possibility of a detente seems to be implies in such a concession, in relaity there can be no relaxation of the struggle between creature and creator.


From Frankenstein, 127.

"I expected this reception," said the daemon. "All men hate the wretched; how then must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends."


Thus the creature and his creator become locked in a mortal combat that will continue until the creator has fully exhausted himself with attempts at destroying his ignoble creation. The depiction of his wasted body denies the reader the ability to view Victor as a powerful deity. The image of a supranatural inception of life is replaced by an all too natural death of a mortal who overreached his limits.

George Levine, "The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Frankenstein's mysterious power derives from a thoroughly earthy, practical, and unideal vision of human nature and possibility. Its modernity lies in its transformation of fantasy and traditional Christian and pagan myths into unremitting secularity, into the myth of mankind as it must work within the limits of the visible, physical world. The novel echoes, for example, with the language and the narrative of Paradise Lost, but it is Paradise Lost without angels, or devils, or God. When the Monster invokes the analogy between himself and Adam or Satan, we are obviously invited to think of Frankenstein as God. Yet, we know that the Monster is a double of Victor himself, and that as he acts out his satanic impulses he is acting out another aspect of Victor's creation of him. God, however, cannot be a rebel; nor can he be Adam or Satan's "double." He cannot be complicit in his creature's weaknesses, cannot be destroyed by what he creates.


Inherent in the revision of the creation myth is man's desire to usurp the power of God, to know what cannot be known by humans. Thus, Victor also shares in the Faustian quest for exceeding mortal limitations, much like other Gothic texts.

Mark M. Hennelly, Jr., "Melmoth the Wanderer and Gothic Existentialism," SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 21:4 (Autumn 1981): 665-679.

The kind of high Gothic represented by Melmoth . . . is the embodiment of the demonic-quest romance, in which a lonely, self-divided hero embarks on insane pursuit of the Absolute. This gnostic theme . . . dramatizes a Faustian quest to extend the boundaries of consciousness and often, in effect, to deny or escape the existential nature of reality. The Wanderer's "posthumous and preternatural existence" illustrates such overreaching the limits of mortality: "Mine was the great angelic sin--pride and intellectual glorying! It was the first mortal sin--a glorious aspiration after forbidden knowledge!"


This satanic flaw is also seen in Victor Frankenstein, but he refuses to let anyone else (namely Robert Walton) rush to their own fall without due warning.

From Frankenstein, 81.

I see by your eagerness, and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be: listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject. I will not lead you, unguarded and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.


If Victor has learned his lesson, it is too little too late. However, not every hero/heroine experiences the pilgrimage in the same way.

Mark M. Hennelly, Jr., "Melmoth the Wanderer and Gothic Existentialism," SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 21:4 (Autumn 1981): 665-679.

In Immalee's case, and perhaps in that of the involved and committed reader, the analogous "initiation" is a humanizing, not dehumanizing, "painful pilgrimage" through existential experience to the goal of a life-affirming gnosis.

From Melmoth the Wanderer, 236.

She turned on him a glance that seemed at once to thank and reproach him for her painful initiation into the mysteries of a new existence. She had, indeed, tasted of the tree of knowledge, and her eyes were opened, but its fruit was bitter to her taste, and her looks conveyed a kind of mild and melancholy gratitude, that would have wrung the heart for giving its first lesson of pain to the heart of a being so beautiful, so gentle, and so innocent.


And what of Victor's creation? As he gains knowledge about himself and his surroundings, he is forced to respond to the world around him and its inhabitants.

From Frankenstein, 244-245.

Yet I seek not a fellow-feeling in my misery. No sympathy may I ever find. When I first sought it, it was the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed, that I wished to be participated. But now, that virtue has become to me a shadow, and that happiness and affection are turned into bitter loathing and despair . . . I am well satisfied that abhorrence and opprobrium should load my memory . . .

Once I falsely hoped to meet with being, who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of bringing forth . . . When I call over the frightful catalogue of my deeds, I cannot believe that I am he whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even the enemy of God and man has friends and associates in his desolation. I am quite alone.