Beloved Monstrosity: Romance and Romanticism in Frankenstein

Steven Gil (Queensland University of Technology)
Session 7.2: 19th century legacies


Upon its bicentennial anniversary, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (1818) remains vests with significance. Most are aware of a simplified version of her narrative where a man ‘playing God’ creates new life only to be ultimately destroyed by his work. However, beneath this now archetypal mad science plot, Frankenstein is also a tale of love found, sought, and lost.

Previous examinations of romance in Frankenstein focus heavily or exclusively on the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his Creature, variously cast as either abortive paternal / filial emotion or homoeroticism. But the dynamics between the characters are also heavily coloured by their own respective efforts to find romantic love: substantial parts of Victor’s biographical portrait concern his love and eventual marriage to Elizabeth Lavenza; and when the Creature finds Victor he demands that the scientist produce another creation, a female, to be his bride.

Despite the usual representation of him as wantonly irresponsible, it is Vector’s fear for what a ‘race’ of these creatures will do to humanity that keeps him from completing the task. Denied this bride, the Creature then takes reciprocal revenge by killing Elizabeth. space and place are key to the novel in general and have specific importance for both the Romantic and romance elements of the story: the domestic environment fosters Victor’s love for Elizabeth (his cousin in the original, and adopted sister in Shelley’s 1831 revision) and is ultimately broken when the monster enters it to commit murder; and Victor is forced to hide his work on a female creation by conducting his efforts on the Orkney Islands.

In line with its 200th anniversary, the main focus of this paper will be on Shelley’s original novel. However, comparative assessments of the role and altered dynamics of romantic love in major adaptations will also be included.

Presentation notes:

2018 is the 200th anniversary of the original publication of Frankenstein

  • Well known if not necessarily well read story
  • Considered original work of science fiction
  • Most defensible for that title

Frankenstein story has significance of themes of romance:

Three main characters:

  • Victor Frankenstein
  • The Creature
  • Robert Walton (narrator in the arctic)

Female counterparts / mirrors:

  • Elizabeth Lavenza
  • The ‘Bride’
  • Margaret Walton Seville (Robert Walton’s sister)

Another pairing

  • Mary Shelley – author
  • Percy Shelley – editor (?)

Originally published in 1818

  • Anon 3 volume format
  • Percy wrote a preface (hence suggestions of authorship)
  • 1822 – Percy Shelley died
  • 1823 – reprinted in 2 vol format, with Mary’s name
  • 1831 – republished, revised with intro from Mary with intro re ghost story
  • Turns work into more moralistic one

Different interpretations of love fundamentally change the adaptations of the story, both in books and in films. Changes between both novel versions and films include:

    • In 1818 book, Elizabeth was originally Victor’s cousin
    • In 1831 version she is orphan living among peasants
    • However: In both versions she is just presented to Victor as a child, to be his wife later
    • In the novel, the Creature is elegant with good communication (self-taught)
    • In movies, he is a lumbering mute
    • In the books, Frankenstein works on creating The Bride, although without telling Walton how he does it. However he doesn’t (can’t) finish because he is worried about what a ‘race’ of the Creatures would be like – sense of morality, ethics
    • In movies he is cast as a mad scientist, consequences are irrelevant in the cause of science
    • In the novel, he comes to regret his actions.

1910 short film:

  • the romance angle of the Frankenstein story is emphasised, which is in essence a love story.
  • radically unlike either of Shelley’s works, or well-known adaptations

1994 movie:

  • Frankenstein uses his dead wife to create a Bride for the Creature
  • radical change to the book
  • ruins the redemptive/romance arc.

In the novel, the Creature overcomes Love.

In films, there is the myth that the ‘Creature has no love’

  • Misunderstood
  • He wants a bride to love, and he wants Frankenstein to love him
  • When he doesn’t get these, he destroys Frankenstein’s love in revenge.

The Creature learns to talk by watching a French family, the De Lacys. As their adopted daughter Safie (a refugee from Turkey) is taught English, the Creature learns it along with her while observing. They are discussing their adopted daughter Safie’s inability to marry their son Felix. The Creature, he learns about love from listening to their conversations.

Safie is completely missing from all film versions. She is an acceptable outsider / other figure, a sympathetic character that the Creature can relate to.

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