Frankenstein

Gothic and horror, everything I thought I didn’t like. Apparently, I do – in small doses. Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and The Woman in White all have one thing in common: making the unrealistic credible.

Frankenstein tells the story of Dr. Frankenstein and the nameless creature to which he gives life. The vilest of all beings, it has only one purpose: revenge on its creator. The novel deals with the concept of the limits of knowledge; what Man can accomplish is not necessarily what he should accomplish; Or as is more popularly said, some things are for God alone.

The style of the novel is in the form of a long letter, with the writer giving the story in Dr. Frankenstein’s own words. The writing is crisp and direct with the narrator never deviating from his recital. Dr. Frankenstein tells his story to his new found friend, Walton, whom he meets at the extremities of the north pole. Freezing and half dead, Dr. Frankenstein, in the manner of the Ancient Mariner, tells his tale to those who are going down the same path he did: the obsession to make a great scientific discovery that will change history forever, and in the process forgetting all else.

The book has a lot of different influences. One of these is from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Percy Bysshe Shelley, the author’s husband, also had an impact on the story with many actually citing his reaction to their child (who later died) as the inspiration behind the creature. Shelley also suggested many changes in the text and adds many of the poetry extracts. But the continued reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost was the biggest influence, with Frankenstein’s creation (who never actually has a name besides ‘wretch’ or ‘fiend’) actually identifying himself with Satan. Born as Dr. Frankenstein’s Adam, he is much closer to the fallen angel, desiring revenge from his creator – except that he is alone in his fallen state.

Having created a horror, Dr. Frankenstein not only must live with the consequences of his creation’s actions, but he must deal with an even more pressing problem – should he create another creature as a companion to this monster? On the one hand he is responsible to it, but on the other, he is responsible for what this creation might do to humanity. His dealing with this issue was intriguing because both arguments – to create another or not to create – were reasonable.

It have to admit I was a little saddened when I read the story on the Turkish merchant and his daughter. Consider the following text from Frankenstein,

She instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion (Christianity) and taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect and an independence of spirit forbidden to the female followers of Muhammad.

It shows how far back such ideas of Islam go and how uninformed people were then, and still are about what exactly Islam does teach.

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The Turn of the Screw

A young governess’ manuscript is read at a gathering in which ghost stories are being told – only this is not the typical ghost story. Hired by an enigmatic man to look after his orphaned nephew and niece, the unnamed governess tells of her journey to the country house Bly. She instantly falls in love with the angelic children Miles and Flora. Nothing could be more perfect. She has a good salary and complete control over the servants. But why all the rules? What is the mystery behind the previous governess’ death? But these questions come much later.

One day, the governess spots an unknown man on the premises. A trespasser she presumes. But on giving the description to the housekeeper, she is never more surprised when the man is identified as Peter Quint – the master’s previous valet who is now dead. This apparently terrifying turn of events is accepted both by the young woman and the housekeeper! It isn’t long before the two make another startling discovery: the children know of the spirits. The governess soon begins seeing Peter Quint and her predecessor Miss Jessel walking about the grounds and the house. The children are interacting with the dead – with an evil too appalling to think of. The real evil is never made clear; it is left to our imagination. The governess guards the children hoping to save their souls. One day things come to a head with tragic consequences.

Critical Analysis
I don’t usually like critically analysing a book, but in some cases it is called for. The Turn of the Screw is a book that has baffled many critics. Many questions remain unanswered to this day: For example, the nature of the evil the children are involved in with the valet and the previous governess is never fully revealed. Then many critics are doubtful as to whether the children were really evil and interacting with spirits; they assume that the governess herself could have been hallucinating as no clear statement is made otherwise. Against this argument is of course the fact that the boy Miles actually asks for Peter Quint before dying. Their is also the letter from Miles’ headmaster indicating bad behaviour – somewhat odd considering his angelic demeanor at Bly.

It has never been proved that Henry James meant The Turn of the Screw to be anything other than the straightforward ghost story most assume it to be. I myself can never get over the odd children. Children are usually portrayed as either good or ‘naughty’ – rarely pure evil. The effect is to say the least horrible! Before I started this blog I had never been in the habit of articulating my impressions about a book. Of course I knew whether I liked it or hated it, but this book lay in between. I didn’t like it – but neither did I hate it. It was eerie and uncomfortable with a depressing atmosphere, but had a strong pull. For those interested in more critical analysis go here.

The Flight of the Falcon: Daphne du Maurier Challenge

Finally! I’ve finished the first book for the challenge. Written in 1965, The Flight of the Falcon is one of Daphne du Maurier’s later books. The novel, like some of her other works, has the same type of narrator: under-confident, unsure, unsuccessful and dependent. By dependent I mean, that the characters are usually (not always) overshadowed by some strong figure in their life. Beoto Donati is all that his predecessors were, except that he is not a young school-boy learning through experience how to be a maturer man. Experience has not given him the necessary push. In I’ll Never Be Young Again and My Cousin Rachel we meet the male voice at a much younger age. These protagonists are untried as of yet and as the novel progresses they are forced to learn certain harsh facts. In The Flight of the Falcon we enter Beoto’s life at the age of 32. His life is at a standstill because of what he believes to be the loss of his older brother Aldo; a brother he feared yet idolized; without whom he has no separate existence.

Returning to Ruffano, his birth place, to investigate whether his old nurse was the murder victim in front of a church, he is never more shocked in his life when he runs into skeletons from his past. The reader is not so easily shocked. Most of the secrets in the novel are easy to guess. Like the mystery surrounding the birth of Aldo and the murder of Marta. I was not mid-way through the book before I had figured these two out. But this did not in any way deter me from reading the whole book. Daphne du Maurier, as always, gives a certain magnetic energy to her narrator’s voice. His/her method of narrating the events that happen never fail to grasp your interest.Yet, I must say that for the male narrators at least, I find them a bit too weak and dependent. She so aptly brings their sense of helplessness and ineptness to the surface. The style of writing is enough to keep one reading, but the revelations of character are sometimes too insightful for us to be comfortable.

The summary at the back of the penguin edition, prepares us for a repetition of past exploits and the death of the Falcon. The Falcon, Duke Claudio, died a catastrophic death and the people of Ruffano would rather forget the history of debauchery linking them to him. But history is to repeat itself. To re-enact the whole final scene of the Falcon’s life, someone sets out to create a real life play; a play that will be performed in the streets. Beoto, fearful of the outcome and the only one in knowledge of all the facts, is unable to stop it. I read on, sure of what is going to happen, who is going to be the Falcon in the play, yet I couldn’t have guessed the outcome; but I will leave you to find out what happens in the story…………what is the purpose in re-enacting this particular episode? The violence that was in the Duke’s day is repeated through the now famous University at Ruffano, by the mysterious workings of a secret society. The secrets and mysteries unfold slowly, at exactly the right moment. The author’s skill is apparent in the tensions she builds and then the final release.

As always, the atmosphere in the novel is important. Beoto, who is known through most of the novel as Armino Fabbio, vividly remembers the place of his birth and the ducal palace where his father was the Superintendent. The description of his home town, when driving up the hill covered with snow is magnificent. Their is a gothic element in his memories of the religious paintings at the ducal palace and the mental torture he suffered at the hands of his brother, Aldo. Influenced by authors such as Charlotte Bronte and Wilkie Collins, Daphne gives this gothic and mysterious element to all her plots. The atmosphere is always a bit eerie and I personally always feel the narrator is a little detached. This may be because of the style of narration. The reader always feels separate from the action as if watching from a distance, because the narrator is between us and the action. We are seeing it through his or her eyes, not directly. This gives a peculiar quality to Daphne’s novels.

Despite the great story, this was not one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels. I would have to say that my favorites are Rebecca and The King’s General. Maybe I’m a sucker for romance – of which there was none in this particular novel!