Thursday, 16 May 2013

A2 English Literature: Gothic Doubles in Frankenstein

Gothic doubles are a common feature of most Gothic texts, and the fact that it applies to so many Gothic texts means that it's a possibility for a section B question. I'll hopefully do blog posts for doubling in other texts, most likely Wuthering Heights and Macbeth - but for now I'll focus on Frankenstein, which is probably the best example when discussing doubling.

The most obvious case of doubling is the argument that Victor and the creature are gothic doubles of one another. What these doubles represent, however, is down to your own interpretation (or the interpretation you think you can make the best case for in the exam).

Both Victor and the creature are incredibly lonely characters in the novel (this also links them to Walton). Although Victor is surrounded by family and has a "heaven-sent" fiancĂ©e, he "shun[s] the face of man" by choice, often opting to stay in isolated places. Victor's isolation is obvious even before the introduction of the creature; in chapter three he states "I was now alone." This is echoed by the creature later on, who ponders the question, "am I not alone, miserably alone?"

Of course, Victor is at his loneliest once the creature kills Elizabeth. This brings he and the creature even closer together; two lonely creatures who lack companionship and have little else to live for. Even when Elizabeth is alive, it's arguable to state that Victor still lacks companionship; critic Veeder states that Victor, like Walton, have females as correspondents as opposed to companions.

A few chapters after the creation, Victor gives us a nice quotation that is perfect for interpretations regarding doubling:

"I had turned loose into the world a depraved wretch"

The fact that this statement is ambiguous makes us question the similarities between Victor and the creature. The depraved wretch could be the creature or it could be Victor himself (the latter interpretation is enforced by the fact that this quote is taken from the point in the novel where Justine is framed for William's murder). The fact that the phrase applies to both characters affirms the notion that the two are similar in many ways.

A similar quote from Victor also explores this ambiguity, while including some nice Gothic language relating to vampirism:

"In the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave"

Is the creature Victor's 'spirit'? This leads to the psychological interpretation that the creature is a manifestation of Victor's id - but you don't need the Freudian terminology, you can just suggest that perhaps the creature represents Victor's dark, carnal desires - he acts on instinct, while Victor appears to shy away from many things. The implicit suggestion that the creature rapes (or otherwise takes a macabre delight in tearing her limb from limb) Elizabeth before murdering her enforces this view; the creature is able to do what Frankenstein cannot - he is able to consummate the marriage to Elizabeth. 

When we think of Frankenstein, presuming we know nothing of the novel, it's fair to say that we'd assume Victor to be an eloquent man and the creature to be a hulking savage. Yet when the two meet in chapter ten, their language is interesting because it is not necessarily what we expect. When Frankenstein creates the creature, he talks passionately and at length about his "midnight labours", while the creature can pretty much only point and grin. Yet by chapter ten, this dynamic seems to have reversed dramatically - which may suggest that the two characters are somewhat interchangeable.

Victor's language is aggressive and melodramatic. He appears incredibly emotive and lacks the reason and rationality we may have associated him with in earlier chapters:

"Do you not fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head?"

"Begone, vile insect!"

"Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art!"

"The tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes."

Victor also calls the creature a "devil"; this emotive language is not what we expect when we think of the rational man of science who Victor is presented to be through Walton's letters. Victor's use of rhetorical language and fragmented speech suggests a lack of rationality surrounding his character at this time. And the language itself appears monstrous.

The creature, in comparison, talks eloquently and in a sophisticated manner:

"I expected this reception."

"How dare you sport thus with life?"

"I will even be mild and docile to my natural lord and king"

"I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel"

The creature's reference to Milton's Paradise Lost here draws two links between him and Frankenstein. Firstly, the creature's obsession with texts links him to Victor. Shelley makes use of intertextuality when exploring both characters. Victor is told by his father that the texts he reads on natural philosophy are examples of "sad trash", while his university professor M. Krempe tries to steer him away from the works of Agrippa/Magnus/Paracelsus, or as Victor calls them, "the lords of my imagination". It is possible to argue that Victor's obsession with texts and his thirst for knowledge leads to the creation of the creature.

Similarly, the creature develops a greater awareness and understanding of himself, the world around him and the questions surrounding his very existence by reading certain texts (Volney's Ruins of Empires and Plutarch's Lives (or Parallel Lives) to name two). I've already mentioned one of many references to Paradise Lost - the novel itself has an epigraph taken from Milton's poem:

"Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?"

Both characters are greatly influenced by texts. Texts widen their imaginations and lead them to ask prompting questions about existence - is death final? Can man create life? Who are we? What is our purpose?

Also, the "I ought to be thy Adam..." quotation is interesting because it draws parallels between Victor and the creature and God and man. It is entirely possible to argue that Victor is something of a vengeful God who bestows life and then rejects it. Following on from this, it is also fair to argue that the creature is symbolic of mankind starting once again - the moment where the creature discovers fire for himself is particularly memorable if you are to argue this point.

Furthermore, when Victor first creates the creature, he notes that "one hand was stretched out" towards him. This visual image could possibly reference Michelangelo's infamous piece The Creation of Adam, whereby God appears to be breathing life into Adam:

However, if you're asked about doubling in Frankenstein then you don't have to argue that Victor and the creature are doubles by any means, but I'd make the connections first in order to show the examiner that you're aware of the similarities between the two.

I'm conscious of rambling on for too long (which I've already done), so I'll briefly put across the main differences that come to mind:
  • Victor's childhood is happy and carefree: "No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself." The creature's upbringing, however, is filled with anguish, torment and neglect
  • You could argue that Victor is rational at the beginning of the novel and becomes irrational, while the opposite is true of the creature
  • The creature desires female companionship, while Victor appears to be at his happiest when accompanied by Clerval, and takes little interest in Elizabeth
  • Victor rejects society while the creature yearns to be a part of it
Another interesting case of doubling is the use of doubling between the creature and Elizabeth, which I cover in my other blog about women and sexuality in Frankenstein, which can be found here

When discussing Frankenstein, it can be easy to forget the character who frames the entire narrative - Walton. Walton comes across both Victor and the creature, and appears to set Victor up as something of a hero before we hear from Victor himself. There are many similarities between Victor and Walton, and I'd say that there's a strong argument for the two being Gothic doubles.

Firstly, both Walton and Victor have not only a strong sense of ambition but a desire to do great things. In his third letter, Walton writes:

"Why not still proceed over the untamed yet obedient element? What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?"

Both he and Victor are determined to answer big questions about the world. But, as we know, Victor comes along and warns Walton against the dangers of over-reaching ambition, citing his own story as an example. This relationship between the two characters can also link to Shelley's frequent intertextual links to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - is Victor the Mariner, telling Walton/the Wedding Guest his own harrowing tale? And does Walton actually learn anything from Victor's warning? Similarly, does Lockwood learn anything from Nelly in Wuthering Heights? That's just a nice link between the two framed narratives.

Also, it can be argued that both Victor and Walton are a little arrogant in their ways. Both characters believe that they can exceed boundaries (a typical theme in gothic literature), and have taken it upon themselves to try and do this. This sense of pride that both characters share can arguably be linked to the tragic notion of hubris - and indeed it can be argued that Victor's pride/arrogance leads to his tragic downfall.

Both characters are also closely associated with the sublime - and you can bring in the creature here, too. Both Victor and Walton also seem to purposefully isolate themselves; Walton is in the middle of the ocean while Victor hops about from desolate location to desolate location. 

Furthermore, both Victor and Walton reject female companionship, according to Veeder. The main contact Walton has with a woman is with his sister, and Victor's main contact with a woman is through Elizabeth, who he calls "my more-than sister". Also, both of these women are, as Veeder argues, not companions but correspondents - they are mostly spoken to through the use of letters, which adds even more layers upon the epistolary form of the novel.

There's more to say on doubling, but in these posts I'm trying to focus on the most important aspects of a particular topic. I hope it helps!


  1. woohoo go jake reynolds xooxoxoxoxxxxxxxxxxo

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry, removed that comment by mistake, but it said what a great resource this is, and full of helpful and insightful comments. I've grown to really love Frankenstein, and have reviewed it on, if anyone's interested.