Victor Frankenstein is a Deadbeat Dad

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 It is a story we have heard before: a mad scientist dallies with the supernatural and creates something he cannot control. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is the prototypical example of this story. It is the story of a man obsessed with creating “life;” Victor Frankenstein literally creates life from the dead.

As he creates his progeny, Victor Frankenstein isolates himself. This isolated environment—or as I like to call it, “the artificial womb”—produces a being without the aid of a woman and reflect the lack of empathy in Victor Frankenstein as he attempts to have absolute control over this new life. It is this lack of empathy, mirrored by the isolation that the creative environment exhibits, that ultimately dooms Frankenstein’s experiment. Because of the unnatural procreation process, the lack of maternal (or paternal) bond, Victor Frankenstein cannot empathize with his creations, resulting in the rejection of his “child” and the subsequent attempts to kill his creation.

Johnny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster in Danny Boyle's stage adaptation of Frankenstein.
Johnny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster in Danny Boyle’s stage adaptation of Frankenstein.

With the act of creation, Victor Frankenstein takes both the male and female roles in the reproductive cycle, and by doing so, places himself as both god and parent. The procreation is unnatural, however. Frankenstein stitches together his child of intellect and abnormal science out of pieces of corpses. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein challenges nature, seizes deific roles, and ultimately dooms himself by his egocentric thoughts and actions. The male creator raises questions of gender, questions of spirituality, and ultimately the question of whether man can be more powerful than nature. As an audience intrigued by god complexes and experiments-gone-wrong, we are drawn to the possibilities of such creations, but horrified by the realities.

From the very conception of her novel, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley knew that she was producing something terrifying, something that would shock her readers in both an emotional and a spiritual way:

“Frightening must it be;” she writes in her introduction to the third edition of Frankenstein, “for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

The end result was indeed frightening to readers of the time when it was first published; John Croker wrote in his 1818 review of Shelley’s novel that “Frankenstein has passages which appal [sic] the mind and make the flesh creep” (“From the Quarterly Review”). What terrifies us are the possibilities that Mary Shelley’s tale presents to us:  no bond exists between creator and created—a characteristic we usually deem as “maternal.” The monster is entirely a product of Victor’s intelligence and ambition, and he abandons it because of its loathsome appearance. Victor had had high hopes for his creation, as he says,

“A new species would bless me as its creator and source…No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their’s”.

Yet when Victor sees his completed “child,” he is “unable to endure the aspect of the being [he] had created” and promptly runs away and hides in his bedroom.

It is unsurprising that Victor feels no compassion toward his creation, given the location and manner of his reproductive process. In the natural reproduction process, there is a bond formed between mother and child as the child grows inside of her. The “ideal man” for Victor Frankenstein is one created unnaturally, with the assistance of fringe science. Frankenstein describes his workspace as the “workshop of filthy creation” and that his “eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of [his] employment.” There is a noticeable lack of description of both Frankenstein’s laboratory and his creative process; the little information Shelley does give us, however, shows that Frankenstein works in isolation:

“In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase…the same feelings which made [him] neglect the scenes around [him] caused [him] also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom [he] had not seen for so long a time” (34).

Alan Bewell, in his article, “An Issue of Monstrous Desire: Frankenstein and Obstetrics, “ describes Victor Frankenstein as “an individual who pays scant heed to either the biological or imaginative conditions of human reproduction.” Bewell also compares Victor’s isolation to the nineteenth century practice of “confining” pregnant women, essentially transforming his laboratory into a womb for his embryo of corpses. Victor finishes his creation in complete isolation; he alone is responsible for what manner of man is brought into being. The isolation of his laboratory provides privacy for his experiment, but also detaches him from society, causing him to care little for his health or his creation:“My cheek had grown pale with study,” says Victor, “And my person had become emaciated with confinement.” This period of confinement—Victor’s “pregnancy”—emphasizes his failure as Victor attempts to embody the maternal, the paternal, and the deific aspects of creation. Once Victor “gives birth” to the monster, he does nothing to nurture his “child” and becomes, for lack of a better term, a deadbeat parent. It never occurs to Frankenstein that the monster could have a soul (he is too fixated on its repugnance to acknowledge its mind or personality) and so, the inevitable demise of Victor Frankenstein at the hands of the creature occurs because he takes no responsibility for the child he creates, and ultimately attempts to end the life he so thoughtlessly began.

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The mad scientist’s creation is a now-common trope for us, but it is Victor Frankenstein’s lack of maternal instinct combined with his god complex that creates a monster instead of the child he envisioned. In short, four lines from Christopher Marlow’s The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus can sum up the work of Victor Frankenstein:

“…Regard his hellish fall,/Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise/Only to wonder at unlawful things,/Whose deepness doth entice forward wits/To practice more than heavenly power permits.” (The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus, Epilogue 4-8)


-The Collectress

Disclaimer: I give none of this life. I merely stitch together Shelley quotes and Frankenstein pictures to birth my own monstrous creation.