Thursday, 28 January 2010
The dissection room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials
So how did Victor Frankenstein make his monster? It is not at all clear from the novel. For although Victor speaks a great deal about charnel houses and dissection rooms, it seems more that Victor is using these places to study the effects of decay. He is trying to understand life by studying death.
Victor discovers how to impart life - or at least animation - but he needed 'frame for the reception of it'. He wants to build something that will be a receptacle for the life-force he will create and he decides that it will be easier to work on a giant. He makes his creature eight feet tall.
It is true that Victor talks of the challenge involved in all those 'fibres, muscles and veins' but again it is not clear whether he is sewing these together or starting from scratch. Mary actually says, Perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured. . .
Manufacturing component parts? That sounds very twenty-first century. Growing organs is a very recent development, but Mary Shelley seems to foresee it. Of course it might be possible that he was stitching these 'manufactured' parts together, but there is no mention of stitches in her description of the creature.
Interestingly enough, Frankenstein was filmed as early as 1910, by the Edison company. In this version - and it's on YouTube - the monster is seen to grow from nothing. Considering its age, it is actually a pretty creepy special effect (achieved, so it appears, by burning an effigy and running the film backwards). What is more, this process seems to be a magical one.
The fact is, it was alchemy that was Victor Frankenstein's first passion when he went to university. Later he becomes fascinated with mathematics and particularly chemistry - perhaps what we might now call biochemistry. He was not a surgeon or a doctor.
One of the works said to preoccupy some alchemists was the production of an homunculus: a human grown in the laboratory. But homunculi means 'little human' and Frankenstein's creature was anything but small. But is this what he was up to? Was he creating a human from scratch?
Certainly when he comes to work on the creature's mate, he appears to have no access to graveyards or charnel houses at all. Why?
Because he is in the wilds or Orkney.