Friday, May 4, 2012
Let's Get Romantic...FRANKENSTEIN Style
I was going through an old flash drive today and I came across some of my old papers from UVM. Some of them were early drafts, others were half-asses bullshit that I am amazed I turned in, and some were more or less legit. Here is one that I remember distinctly. I had forgotten to turn in my works cited page, originally left out page numbers, and apparently missed an entire page during my proofreading stage. I ultimately fixed all that because my professor was also my advisor and pretty much insisted that I do so even though my grade was finalized. The thing about the grade was that it was fine. My Professor's note was "This paper really should be in the B range if I go by the component rubric, but I'm going to give you an A- because it was so well written." What a shame that he was the only person who ever got to read it! Not anymore. I know how much everyone loves an 8 page critical essay of some old-ass books.
Final Essay Inter-subjective Relationships in Emma and Frankenstein
(Reciprocal Acknowledgment in Romantic Literature)
We will be victimized by the Frankenstein Factor, by being intimidated by the method rather than focusing on the effect. No technology to date has been able to dehumanize and demoralize with the power of drugs, poverty, neglect, despair, narcissism, and blind hedonism (Gaylin, p. 23).
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Jane Austen’s Emma explore human relationships at nearly opposite ends of the literary spectrum. The first is dark in tone and imagery and laden with dire circumstance, while the latter is effervescent and seems disinterested in man’s potential for evil. However, both texts present the issue of the individual need for reciprocal acknowledgement, or a truly inter-subjective relationship. The Creature first needs victor to recognize his subjective consciousness, and later asks for another creature to be made, upon realizing that a reciprocal relationship with a human was impossible. Emma’s situation at the beginning of the novel is one of “suffering from intellectual solitude”. In both situations, there is a desperate need for recognition and an inevitable desire for romantic union. In the context of British Romanticism, both of these novels make explicit the inherent conflicts in the discussion of the self and individual human consciousness.
Frankenstein’s Creature is in the unique position of remembering the birth of
his own consciousness. Unlike most humans, The Creature was not granted reciprocal interaction with other conscious beings during the formation of this consciousness, and as a result, The Creature experiences a profound feeling of incompletion.
It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being; all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct. A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses. By degrees, I remember, a stronger light pressed upon my nerves, so that I was obliged to shut my eyes. Darkness then came over me and troubled me, but hardly had I felt this when, by opening my eyes, as I now suppose, the light poured in upon me again. […]It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half frightened, as it were, instinctively, finding myself so desolate…I was poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I saw down and wept (Shelley, p.88).
Here, The Creature’s existence has no order, and his emotions are subject to the chaos that most humans have the luxury of forgetting. This feeling of dejection at the end of the passage suggests that part of Frankenstein’s failure was in creating a being that would be thrust into the world alone when inter-subjective interactions are crucial to the formation of normal human consciousness. The Creature’s rage and destruction are born of his alienation (“What chiefly struck me was the gentle manners of these people, and I longed to join them, but dared not (Shelley, p. 95).”). The resulting guilt over his assault on innocent victims only fuels the cycle. This guilt suggests that the consciousness that The Creature possesses is basically human, but perverted by its being unrecognized by other humans. Guilt implies empathy, and within empathy live the traces of commonality. The intricacies of The Creature’s consciousness are un-doubtably human, but without recognition he is fragmented, and thus ultimately doomed.
Frankenstein originally rejects his creature based on his objectionable physical appearance, much as he rejects a possible mentor earlier in the story based on superficial qualities.
M. Krempe was a little squat man with a gruff voice and repulsive countenance; the teacher, therefore, did not prepossess me in favour of his pursuits (Shelley, p. 36).
Scientifically, The Creature is a marvel, and other than his horrifying appearance there is not much that wrong with him (granted his being made from once-dead body parts, much worse images of how he could have turned out come to mind). Victor’s intense reaction to The Creature’s gruesome appearance is laced with the notion that The Creature is somehow responsible for this reality and is thus not deserving of any attempts on Victor’s part to confront his creation. This calls into question the mental status of Victor in the wake of his isolation. His lack of human interaction may have stunted his judgment and hindered his ability for compassion.
I beheld the wretch- the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixated on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs (Shelley, p. 46).
Victor flees the Creature and does not return, although The Creature has not yet committed any egregious acts. In his essay “The Sublime”, Edmund Burke quotes a passage from Paradise Lost to show how obscurity and darkness are naturally conducive to terror.
The other shape,
If shape it might be called that shape had none
Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed;
For each seemed either; black he stood as night;
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell;
And shook a deadly dart. What seemed his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
Paradise Lose, II, 666-73(Burke, p. 331)
The parallels between the language of Victor’s description of The Creature and this description of the “king of terrors” are indicative of Victor’s connection to fear through visual representations of evil. Burke says that in order to “make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary (Burke p. 330).” Victor obscures The Creature’s true form by fleeing from him, and thus his terror is inevitable, and since The Creature’s consciousness is developed in part through his relationship to Victor, that terror is inherent to The Creature’s understanding of himself. Obscurity is the opposite of reciprocal acknowledgement between two conscious beings. Victor has made it impossible for The Creature to ever have an un-obscured relationship with humanity. The Creature is aware of this absence and attempts to reconcile his position in the world by asking Victor to create another being, who is assume top be female for romantic purposes.
I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create (Shelley, p. 125).
Victor ultimately refuses. The Creature cannot forgive him. Both characters are thus poised to follow a path of misery and destruction.
Emma’s circumstances are somewhat less gloomy, but her actions in Emma are driven by similar desires to those that motivate the Creature in Frankenstein. Emma’s privileged position in her community guarantees her a certain level of recognition, but not the kind of recognition that allows Emma to assert her individuality. For that Emma must seek out relationships in which she can exercise her consciousness. Emma is lacking in “equal” companionship. Her various advantages are listed early in the novel in order to explain why Emma finds such companionship difficult to find.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself: these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her. (Austen, p.1
Soon after, it is explained why such a condition is problematic for Emma.
It was true that her friend was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. (Austen, p. 2)
It is this lack (or “suffering”) that keeps Emma busy meddling in the lives of people over whom Emma can assert her influence. In her exchanges with Harriet, Emma only sees the ways in which Harriet needs improvement, rather than the strengths that Harriet already has. The idea that Harriet might have opinions of her own is unimportant to Emma’s quest. This behavior makes clear that Emma is not only in need of a reciprocal relationship, but she is also in need of the ability to recognize in other people a consciousness equal to her own.
Despite its narrow frame of reference, Emma’s world is one more relatable than that of Frankenstein. The characters operate under reasonable motivations, and contain just enough contradictions to make sense as real people. The relationships in Emma seem to either work or not work based on the presence of inter-subjective understanding between those involved. Emma’s relationship with Harriet early on does not operate in a reciprocal fashion, and the results are indicative of Austen’s tendencies in forming her characters. These tendencies are explained in Hina Nazar’s essay “The Imagination Goes Visiting: Jane Austen, Judgment, and The Social.”
Austen identifies individuals as socially embedded persons whose subjectivity is developed, in significant ways, in an inter-subjective context. To make this claim is not to reduce subjectivity to its social determinants, or to identify to individual as a social being only; it is however, to interrogate our attraction to a self-legislating subjectivity that has nothing to learn from others. (Nazar, p. 157)
Emma certainly operates within these conventions, and it is only through her bad
behavior that she can come close to the point of interrogation which Nazar describes. Control is an important theme in Emma, and much of her interactions with Harriet depend on her want for being in control. What is revealed to her through the ultimate backfires of her schemes in regard to Harriet is that the world does not always operate in accordance to her suppositions. Emma’s uncomfortable cart ride with Elton (when it has recently become obvious that he was not interested in Harriet but in her instead) plays the role of a moment of recognition for Emma. However, Emma does not change her behavior after this. That recognition had not yet synthesized into self-interrogation. In her essay “Emma and Miss Bates: Early Experiences of Separation and the Theme of Dependency in Jane Austen’s Novels”, Margaret Moore elaborates on Emma’s issues with social failure and lack of control.
Jane Austen’s heroines not infrequently react to painful social situations by physical withdrawal…If physical withdrawal is impossible, mental withdrawal is an approved defense, provided it does not conflict with social responsibilities. Where neither physical nor mental withdrawal is permissible, role reversal is commonly adopted. The heroine consoles herself with the thought that in the deepest sense it is others who are dependent and she who is in control (Moore-p. 575).
Emma’s use of manipulation and disguised motives are certainly not the product of reciprocal respect between she and her friends, and the failure of her projects is an indicator of the problem with self-centered operations. Emma ultimately ends up with one of the only people who can accurately see her for both her faults and charms. However, there is evidence that Emma’s ability to partake in a relationship will always be tainted by her proclivity towards self-indulgence.
While he spoke, Emma’s mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able- and yet without losing a word- to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that Harriet’s hopes had been entirely groundless, a mistake, a delusion, as complete a delusion as any of her own- that Harriet was nothing; that she was everything herself; that what she had been saying relative to Harriet had been all taken as the language of her own feelings; and that her agitation, her doubts, her reluctance, her discouragement, had been all received as discouragement herself. (Austen, p. 372)
This passage comes directly after Mr. Knightly has professed his love for Emma, and yet none of her thoughts focus on him, despite being in reference to him. Emma reciprocates what she decides is love for Mr. Knightly, but this passage suggests that this love is constructed. Even if she does want Knightly for herself, part of her motivation seems to lie in Harriet not having him. It is unclear whether or not Emma reciprocates this clarity in her understanding of Mr. Knightly’s true character, but her move towards a relationship where that recognition is a step towards an interrogative relationship with herself. Emma is probably too young to have stopped alienating people with her ego-centrism, but the slight reparations made by the end of the novel enforce the importance of reciprocal relationships.
Frankenstein did not build a monster. He built what could have been human and turned him into something monstrous by rejecting him. Emma is unsure of what her life is lacking, but she senses a lack and sets forth to correct it. Both Emma and Frankenstein’s Creature are born of unique conditions that dictate some form of isolation. Even though Emma is often conceited and somewhat conniving, and The Creature is responsible for several deaths, both characters are innocent in their initial intentions; they wanted to break their isolation and enter into some kind of meaningful relationship with another human being. The characters in these novels show that no matter how strong an “I” might be, there is always weakness in standing alone.