This extract is from Frankincense, a novel written by Mary Shelley and published in 1818. In this passage, Dry. Frankincense attends to his creature coming alive, and finds himself disgusted by what he spent the last two years of his life to work on, instead of being proud. In order to create this disgust and terror in the reader, Shelley uses different tools, which we will try to identify. First, a Gothic atmosphere is planted in the very beginning of the text : the author uses all the horror films click©s to set a tense mood.
She describes “the [pattering] main” and the “nearly burnt out [candle]” on “a dreary night of November”. All these elements, that seem straight out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, match to bring up the nervous mood in the reader. The planted d©core gives us the impression to be in a cemetery by a full-moon night. Shelley actually incorporates a grave-yard in Dry. Frankincense’s dream, a bit further in the extract. She strengthens the horror sense describing “the grave-worms crawling” that make us think of dead human chest underground creatures feed on.
She also scatters some hints to bloody films adding instruments of life” and “the lifeless thing” to the setting. We can imagine a scalpel covered with blood, brain-matter on scissors and human body parts on the table that weren’t incorporated in the creature. Shelley gives the d©core the appearance of a torture room. The reader becomes more in more terrified by the scene and the most sensitive ones might also feel uncomfortable, and share Frankincense’s “anxiety that almost [amounts] to agony”.
Then, the author reveals some aspects of her characters, mainly Dry. Frankincense’s insane side. She describes him as “in the greatest agitation languor and extreme knees”. To begin with, the “breathless horror” that he feels for his creature, which he should have loved for he spent two years “[selecting] his features as beautiful”, shows how madness is taking control over him. He finally realizes what he has undertaken and starts to panic when he has to confront “the demoniacal corpse to which [he has] so miserably given life”.
We assume “[his] emotions at this catastrophe”, the time he has spent locked down in his lab and the shock to see this “miserable monster” opening his “yellow eyes” are all partly responsible for his insanity. His “wildest dreams” are also relevant. Even though he thinks to be “unable to compose [his] mind to sleep”, he falls asleep at some time and lets his mind wander. Shelley uses long sentences (“Delighted and surprised the folds of the flannel. “) with a lot of punctuation to make him sound incoherent.
The sentence looses its meaning along the way, looses its structure, Just like he looses his mind. He starts recounting his dream, which first sounds regular, but soon becomes less ordinary. He ends up “[holding] the corpse of [his] dead mother”, whereas he first “thought [he] away Elizabeth”, his fiance©e. This dream might be a representation of what Just happened to him : when he began creating his being, he had high hopes, thought the creature would turn to be marvelous, as en thought Elizabeth was meeting him.
But then, exactly when he was supposed to be perfectly proud and happy (achieving his work on one hand and kissing the woman he loves on the other), he discovers something hideous was hiding behind this show. His dead mother might be some kind of metaphor for all the regrets he has to have created this being and a fear of death. He holds his mother Just like the fault is on him. All this agitation is physically reflected in “a cold dew” and his “[chattering] teeth”. His reaction to the view of his creation teaches us something really important.
Shelley allows the reader to make his own opinion of the events by making the narrator, Dry. Frankincense, sound totally crazy. His dream is a first example, but his behavior towards the creature is another one : he says “disgust filled [his] heart”, and rushes to leave the lab. When the so-called “monster” tries to reach him in his room, he immediately thinks he is “seemingly to detain [him]”, and “[takes] refuge in the courtyard”, but the reader might wonder if the being really intended to hurt him, and wasn’t simply trying to reach the first and only face he saw when he woke up.
We don’t know whether he is a human being and has feelings like we do, or if he is a dangerous monster that Just wants blood. We start to think the narrator might be unreliable. At the end of the extract, the Doctor is wretched. He is tired, morally and physically, he still feels “horror”, but now, this horror is mingled to “bitterness of exasperations”. He knows he wasted a very long piece of time working on something that ended up the opposite way it was supposed to, and stops fearing his life at this point to start thinking about the consequences. The description of the creature plays a big part of the Gothic atmosphere in this passage.
Quite a creepy portrayal is made of him in the second paragraph. He has a “yellow skin” that “scarcely [covers] the work of muscles and arteries beneath”, which makes the reader think of an operation or an illness ; his hair and his lips are black, is teeth and his “watery eyes” “[form] a more horrid contrast”. He is described as terrifying as possible, and the reader builds his own prejudice : we instantly imagine he must be dangerous, cruel, we are afraid of him, and this helps us to step back a little further and think about him with pity when we realize he never intended to hurt his creator.
We understand he won’t ever be able to have a proper life because of the fear he will inspire everyone, whether he is dangerous or not. Later on, when he tries to reach his creator in his bedroom and the doctor runs away, e really begin to feel sorry for him, because Frankincense, the only person on Earth who could have loved him, refuses to even try to get to him. The creature, even though it might be trying to smile, is assigned to a “grin [wrinkling] his cheeks”.
The final sentence we get to hear about him depicts him as “a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived”. Shelley insinuates, through Dry. Frankincense’s voice, that the person who invented his own Hell, who wrote a whole novel about its sufferance and all the Evil you could find in there, even this person wouldn’t have dared to think bout a being as total as the creature that took elite that night Finally, the fact that the author chose to speak as Dry. Frankincense is entirely changing the scene.
His wretched state of mind, his kind of insanity, his humanism, all this allows us to see this night’s events from the eye-witness’ point of view as well as our own. For instance, we wouldn’t be “fearing each sound” if we were in the creature’s mind, and the scene would probably sound extremely different to us. We don’t know how the monster’s feeling, if it is capable of fear, love, reason… We can understand a humans feelings but maybe the reader would have more difficulty assimilating a new born he doesn’t know anything bout’s thoughts as his own.
To finish with, we don’t really know who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s to be afraid of and who’s to trust at the end of this scene. We are shared between our apprehension about this creature and the pity it inspires us, but the reader probably is hoping for clearer explanations and reasoning in the morning, after the Doctor spent a long night getting over his emotions and dealing with everything he had to face.