Genius Without Discipline

Almost everyone knows, or has heard of, the story of Frankenstein – either Frankenstein, the man who created the monster, or (as seems to be the general misconception) as Frankenstein, the monster. Shelley’s portrayal of her protagonist scientist conveniently allows for both interpretations.

As a child, Victor Frankenstein’s every whim is indulged, every opportunity presented to satiate his overwhelming curiosity of the world around him.

“Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember.” (Ch 2)

His ultimate goal is to understand everything around him, to grasp the reasons for action, and to understand the cause behind life. This immense thirst for knowledge and hunger to conquer life propels him on a mission to create it.

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Unfortunately, for Victor, he succeeds. His success, though, is not what he imagined. He is disgusted and horrified by his creation. As soon as the life he has given his creation begins to take effect, he immediately wonders why he has undertaken such a deed. He rejects his creation and refuses to think about it, pushing it as far from his mind as much as he can. (I’d say he does a pretty good job, as he manages to put the creature out of his mind for two years. That’s right. Two. Whole. Years.)

And therein lies the problem. Victor, whose every passion and curiosity has been indulged from a young age, who has been lauded and praised for his discipline and his genius, does not have the integrity to take responsibility for his actions. Upon seeing his creation come to life his immediate thought is that his actions have been unsuccessful. Things have not gone according to his plan; therefore these things are apparently no longer his responsibility. I could not understand this behavior, and therefore I could not forgive it. What person, calling himself a scientist, can undertake an experiment, and then abandon that experiment without pausing to consider the outcomes this abandonment may cause? Without pausing to consider his duty as the conductor of the experiment? For all his previous undying curiosity about life and everything to do with it, he displays an alarming lack of curiosity about the result of his actions.

I could not fathom it. My entire face was a question mark during that scene.

SPOILER

He literally goes and hides under his bed covers when he sees his creature get up and move. It doesn’t even attack him. He’s just that repulsed by it. And then he runs out into the church yard or something. And then just forgets about it. It vanishes from his sight, and his (apparently affected) mind as well. I mean, REALLY. How can you ignore something like that?

/END SPOILER

It seems to me that Frankenstein is just as much of a monster as his creature. The creature does do unspeakable things, but each crime can be linked right back to Frankenstein and his neglect. Even before I’d read this novel I was aware of the layer of tragedy that this novel carries. But that tragedy is more pressing after reading it. I can’t help but feel immense pity for the creature. Frankenstein curses it, believing that his creature’s actions stem solely from evil. Yet, the creature demonstrates to him several times that this is not the case. Frankenstein laments the fact that he even created this abomination, but he does not pause to reflect that all the sorrow in his life might have been avoided if he had acknowledged his responsibility to the creature; it is not the creation of the creature, but the neglect, which brings about the calamity.

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For the creature proves that given the opportunity it can exercise great compassion and understanding.

“Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” (Vol. 2, Ch. 2)

The creature has abilities which are limited by the darkness to which it is forced to cling; his desire to love is eroded by the wilderness to which he is shunned. In a way, his restrictions are an extension of the limitations Frankenstein faced in his scientific pursuits; and just as Frankenstein’s powers explode in what he deems as his horrible creation, the creature’s untended abilities also explode in devastation and tragedy. Their inevitable connection means that the creature’s crimes are Frankenstein’s crimes, too.

Perhaps Frankenstein’s neglect of the creature is also a reflection of the lack of proper guidance in science given to Frankenstein. His initial studies of the outdated philosophers are laughed at, and though he proves himself to be a genius at Oxford his rise is largely undeterred and undisciplined by anyone, least of all himself. But I couldn’t find in myself any sympathy for Frankenstein. The fact that he did absolutely nothing about his creation until he heard news of its destructive behavior appears to be a gross misstep. The fact that he was so determinedly able to forget the creature’s existence is amazing to me; and his consequent neglect of his creature is unforgivable. Genius, without disciplined application is only useless, but destructive.

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Unsurprisingly, this story left me feeling rather hollow afterwards. The writing is at times a bit cumbersome, and the descriptions (despite the book being a slim one) I found to be tedious. This probably had a lot to do with my mood at the time, but I didn’t find anything spectacular in the writing style itself. It could be that I felt the prose was a bit too long-winded for such a story as this (I guess I mean ‘action-packed) but I suppose it has to do with the time it was written. The story on the other hand is clearly a very gripping and thought-provoking one (as proven by my rambling). The best bits were the one with the creature, and I wish they had been longer. I inevitably ended up siding with the creature (why do I say inevitably?). The creature isn’t all good, however, just like Frankenstein, but I think I might have fallen for the former’s sorrowful tale. He did, after all, have to pay for the punishments of a world he was excluded from, as well as the neglect of a creator who rejected him.
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6 thoughts on “Genius Without Discipline

  1. i think Shelley meant for us to side the creature. he did portray human characteristics and heck, emotions too. he was trying to learn all the good in the world and only began to hate the world because the world did the same to him. that and Frankenstein's feelings for him didn't help at all. what was the creature supposed to do when his creator not only fled from him, but also felt remorse, pain, sorrow, regret and all sorts of negative emotions for him? Frankenstein is a selfish human being, that's obvious enough. he creates a creature out of his own desires to be the pioneer of something brand new, but when it comes alive and it does not achieve his expectations, he abandons it, fear as his excuse. he created the creature without any emotions FOR the creature–i think all he did was thinking about himself and what HE could do with the creature if it really came alive.

    i like the fact that you pointed out that the name Frankenstein can be interpreted as both the person and the 'monster'–i've never really thought of it that way before. i just assumed that a lot of people made a lot of mistakes by calling the creature Frankenstein but now i see it, the name can be both.

    good one. Frankenstein's one of my favorite 19th century novels. i studied this novel this semester (:

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  2. Though I read this in sophomore year of high school, from what I recall of the book I agree with your analysis. I feel like one of the main themes of the novel is the idea of irresponsibility and owning up to one's actions – Frankenstein's lack of conscientiousness/alacrity in regard to his creation is a major flaw that Shelley addresses, at least to an extent.

    I guess we can compare Frankenstein's plight to how scientists/researchers in contemporary society should take into account those around them when diving into the depths of their work. While I wasn't a huge fan of the writing in this novel either, I love your post!

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  3. I have yet to read Frankenstein but I have seen film portrayals. I don't sympathize with Frankenstein either. I recently read a book that went into some detail about Shelley herself and the times she lived in, which inspired her novel.
    Hope you are enjoying the holidays. Happy, Healthy New Year!

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  4. Yeah, it's interesting to think about authorial intent. I wonder if she wanted us to side with the creature, or to caution people against this type of relentless curiosity of Frankenstein's. I have to remember that this was written on a sort of dare or something.

    YES exactly. Frankenstein is so self-involved and it just made me want to scream.

    I think a lot of ppl do think Frankenstein is the monster (I thought so as well for some time), but I feel that misinterpretation's kinda apt when you consider what a jerk Frankenstein is. Gah.

    Ah, in that case I hope you enjoyed this 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

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  5. Yup, his lack of conscientiousness was hard not to miss. It irked me how that sailor he told the story to didn't seem to see it that way, or even consider that Frankenstein could be in the wrong. Just waxed lyrical about what a noble guy he was *eyeroll*

    True! I wonder how many scientists forego consequences in the face of financial success and whatnot…and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it! And thanks for commenting.

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  6. Ah, film adaptations of this as well. There's a whole universe of them out there.

    Yes, I saw that book you reviewed and it looked interesting, which propelled me to read this. Shelley's background would be fascinating to read about I think.

    And Happy New Year to you too 😀 (sorry this is kind of late)

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