CR Episode 191: Frankenstein, Part II

Frankenstein (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)

Download Link: Released on 4 September 2023

The panel discusses the second volume of Frankenstein (chapters 8–16) focusing on the moral qualities of Victor Frankenstein and of his creature, their connexion to Paradise Lost, and the dangerous results of mankind usurping the creative place of God.


  1. I generally prefer non-fiction over fiction, and consider “willful ambiguity” in this context as sloppy writing. However, during the previous discussions about Moby Dick, I became more appreciative as to how ambiguity in fiction can contribute to making a novel “great” because it forces the reader to struggle with important questions.

    However, in Frankenstein I do not find that Victor’s morality is ambiguous or vague. I cannot read Victor’s own account of his life without concluding that he is a narcissist with no empathy for humans or for his Creation, leading him to numerous cruel and cowardly acts.

    Our wonderful panel of Dr. C, Dr. K, and Dr. P have discussed many examples of Victor’s failings.

    Is there a single thing that Victor does that is not in his own self interest?

    I would love to know how Mary Shelley and/or other readers of the time viewed Victor. Certainly Robert Walton revered Victor – “What a glorious creature must he have been in the days of his prosperity, when he is thus noble and godlike in ruin!” Was this just the behavior one would expect of a rich man of the 1700’s? Was the text more ambiguous as to his morality in the 19th century as compared to the current day? Thoughts?

    Another interesting angle on Victor is discussed in “Rereading Frankenstein: What if Victor Frankenstein had actually been evil?”, by Jason Scott Robert in Hastings Center Report, 2018; 48:21-24. He argues that if Victor was truly evil he might have 1) Imprisoned and tortured the Creature; 2) Created the female Creature and, thus, started a new race that would eventually exterminate mankind; or 3) Continued to make more sophisticated Creatures for his own Ork-ish army. By Mary Shelley making Victor a somewhat “banal” bad, but not evil, person she shows how irresponsibility and lack of a moral compass in more ordinary people can lead to disaster. I have to agree with the author that Victor isn’t even very good at being a bad person. Thoughts?

    Frankenstein and Moby Dick

    As has been mentioned multiple times by Dr. C and Dr. K, “Moby Dick creeps into everything”, “Ahab is everywhere”, and “We are hooked like a whale”. I agree that we are fast fish to the ubiquitous Moby Dick.

    Just a few examples that came to my mind while reading Frankenstein –

    Mary Shelley’s original text for Frankenstein started with the sentence “It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my
    toils . . .” Moby Dick starts with Ishmael’s “damp, drizzly November in my soul.”

    Ahab and Robert Walton are sea captains with experience in whaling. One wonders if Walton will become more Ahab-like after his bitter
    disappointment after giving into his crew on this voyage.

    Walton wants to ascertain the secret of the magnet and Ahab is “lord over the level load-stone”.

    Victor infuses “a spark of being into the lifeless thing”. Ahab survives being hit by lightning and says “I would fain feel this pulse, and let mine
    beat against it; blood against fire!”

    Both Ahab and Victor are compared to Prometheus. However, Victor wants to be god and Ahab wants to destroy god.

    Both feature “monsters” that many readers will conclude are not really the true monster of the story.

    Victor’s and Ahab’s quest for vengeance on their own created “monster” results in their own demise.

    There is actually a book called “Frankenstein Meets Moby Dick” by David Myriad (2022). This is truly a “Franken” book with pieces of the two books and a chapter from the Adventures of Tom Sawyer stitched together with a soupcon of additional text. The best feature of the book is that Ernest (the forgotten Frankenstein brother) gets a larger role. He escapes his family by signing on a whale ship under the name Ishmael. He meets the Creature, who has disguised himself as Queequeg. Ernest is the first person to treat the Creature as a human and they become fast friends. At the end of the book, Ernest, Agatha De Lacey, Tom, and Huck are all working for Queequeg who has his own plans for becoming a creator.

    Thank you for picking this fascinating book for discussion!

    O< O< O<


  2. All my life Frankenstein has been spoken off as showing science leading to ruin. Having finally read the novel I didn’t see that as the only theme. Certainly Victor is portrayed as a scientist who uses his knowledge to create a human who becomes an unintended disaster, but there is so much more being said in this novel. Of course Hollywood played a huge part in how the novel’s main theme was portrayed to the masses.
    Beyond the theme of scientific hubris, there is the theological theme of a creator and the two way relationship to his creation. God may be disappointed in his creation and his creation may be disappointed in what God created. The novel is brilliant at touching on such a vast theme.
    Psychological and emotional insights are raging in the novel. The monster states many times that if people had befriended him and tried to tolerate his hideous appearance, he would have been happy to live among them. Human fear and prejudice were emotions which in turn caused him to become enraged for revenge. The monster saved the life of a child but was driven off later by the same family which further enraged him. Oddly enough the monster showed more empathy to the world than did Victor. Even at the end the monster showed some regret at all the killing he had done. It really is difficult to say who was more psychopathic, Victor or the Monster? What a great novel.

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