Friday, March 31, 2006

How's the Reading Going?

So, I've got a bunch of you who've agreed to read Frankenstein with me. I can't even tell you how VERY excited I am about the prospect of having conversations about this book with grown-ups!!

If you're interested in keeping pace with the AP students, please read up to chapter six for Monday. Pay particular attention to themes that come up and points that seem to be repeated or stressed, and think about the kind of person Victor seems to be. I have a bunch of things I want to talk about, but I'm primarily interested to see what you all come up with as a result of your own reading.

Whenever you're ready, go ahead and comment. Questions, problems, discoveries, theories - I want them all.

And thank you SO much for reading with me!!


Blogger vanx said...

I'm off to Boston on a train tomorrow, and hope to catch up on my reading. I have a copy of the revised 1831 edition. That's cool, right?

I like a good cautionary tale about science.

Good luck this week~,:^)

April 01, 2006 10:32 PM  
Anonymous claudia said...

I've finished the book. I saw it less a cautionary tale of science,than a cautionary tale of ego driven blind ambition, and an individuals' hypocrasy. "Be careful what you wish for","you reap what you sow","an apple a day....." Oh wait,that one doesn't apply.

April 02, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger vanx said...

I agree with Claudia, but I am interested in how science is the arena. I'm also only up to chapter seven.

This book was written at the dawn of modern science, and it is prescient in its portrayal of science overstepping its bounds and the dangers of rationalism destroying elements of humanism that are not scientific--ie spiritual.

The juxtaposition of Elizabeth’s appreciation of the broad strokes—the forms of the mountains, the quietness of winter, etc.—with Victor’s obsession with how things work is a key. There are scientists who have fallen into a trap that Victor falls into—Fritz Haber for example. The hubris comes down generally to a belief that it is a matter of time before mankind knows everything about nature and gets “inside God’s head.” Personal fame and glory are the motivators.

See here: “I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind, and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections upon self.” Ultimately, Victor’s regard of nature has a distain for awe before nature, which is the natural human state. He describes it as a fall from childlike grace. It is described as selfishness. I think this is what that Garden of Eden incident is all about.

[I would like, by the way, to shelve the obvious feminist perspective on Elizabeth (and Eve, now that I’ve mentioned her) on the grounds that Mary W. Shelley is a protofeminist. She is writing, dare I say it, about bigger issues.]

Random thought: I was struck when the “monster” comes to life with how Victor Frankenstein comes off like a lot of the scientists that worked on the bomb at Los Almos: “Ve saw de Mushrrrrrom cloud und ve zed, Ach! Mein Got! Vut hef ve wrrrought?!?!” Hey, fellas, didn’t you give some thought to that at any time during the months you were working on the thing?

Another thought—Frankenstein and friends beat up on Albertus Magnus, the teacher of Aquinas, who is a paragon of the Western Intellectual Tradition—Aquinas maintained a balance of faith and rationalism--he saw no contradiction between the two and did not see one (rationalism/science) superseding the other (awe before nature, teleology, and all that jazz).

I think Victor is headed for a fall. And things don’t look too goof for Elizabeth. And, what? No Igor?

April 03, 2006 7:34 AM  
Anonymous claudia said...

Vanx, your "random thought",at least for me,hit the nail on the head. I am really big on personal responsibility so his running away when he saw what he had wrought was my first impression as to his level of integrity. I believe that everything we do leaves a ripple, whether we want to accept it our not. It seems that it's only the big things that people tend to observe.I tended to read from the perspective of the difference between liberty and license.(Just because you can,does this mean that you should?) Your other observations were very much along my line of thinking.

April 03, 2006 11:53 AM  
Anonymous claudia said...

In a previous post, the connection seemed to be made between "literacy" and '"full fledged human beings". Was I correct to read this as your saying that literacy defines ones ability to be FULLY human?

April 03, 2006 1:56 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

YAY!! I'm in geeky, English-teacher heaven!! Thank you all so much!!

Victor is a very complex and difficult character. Not only is his stunning lack of foresight disturbing, but there is nothing obvious in his upbringing that would predict his behavior. I’m interested to hear what you all think about the connection - or disconnection - between Victor’s almost improbably happy childhood and the person he grew up to be. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on how his upbringing informed - or failed to inform - his treatment of his own “child”.

Claudia, I think the quote you're remembering is this:

It's more of a cautionary tale about the limits of our abilities, the responsibilities we have to one another, and the place that education, specifically literacy, has in our development as full-fledged humans.

The point that I was alluding to - and one that is central to Shelly's novel, is that literacy, specifically the ability to communicate full with other people, is both essential and problematic. The Creature learns much of the world though reading, at least at first. He reads “Paradise Lost” and “Plutrach’s Lives” -mentioned by name in chapter XV, and Victor’s journal, from which he learns about his creation and his creator. He is also witness to Felix reading to his family, and through that experience learns that the words on the page translate to language and communication. The question that Shelley poses in having the Creature become literate - though literate without context or guidance from one more educated than himself - is a question of interpretation. How is literacy - specifically reading - play into the “fates” of the characters in the novel? How does reading influence Victor? Walton? The Creature? What about the concept of letters and direct written communication? Does writing something make it true?

I'd be interested to hear what you think about the narrative style. How does the fact that Victor is telling his story to someone else - who, in turn, is telling the story to someone else - influence how we feel about Victor? How much can we trust of the Creature’s story, given that it is told to us by his sworn mortal enemy (who also happens to be his “father”)?

April 03, 2006 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mrs. C~
I started reading yesterday, but have only reached the 5th chapter. I will try to get caught up tonight.
I'm afraid I am not quite the literary buff the others are. My contribution seems shallow in comparison.

My first comment is that the language is difficult to read quickly...I had to slow my reading pace to avoid re-reading it for clarity. I usally read self-help and historical fiction. This is quite different.

Regarding Victor - I was really able to sense the obsession in his work through Chapters three and four. I enjoy the narrative and that the Victor speaks directly to the reader throughout the book.

Do you use the text for vocabulary lessons, as well? My education stopped in the 3rd semester of Jr. College, and I found myself several times reading over a word or phrase and thinking, "do I know what that means?" -- I admit I had to Google "lassitude".

In any case, I am enjoying it and am happy that I am fulfilling one of my '06 resolutions to read less trash and more substance.


April 03, 2006 6:02 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...


I'm SO happy that you're enjoying the reading - and knocking off a New Year's resolution, to boot!

I'm also happy that you have the motivation to look up words that you don't know. I wish my AP kids would be so proactive.

Finally, don't ever - and I mean EVER - think that your contribution is somehow less worthy than someone - anyone - else's. You have a unique perspective, and I'm certain that you have something to say that no one else has quite considered. The only time I cut a student off is when they're talking out of their butts. I doubt you'd do that, so it's full speed ahead.

April 03, 2006 8:01 PM  
Anonymous claudia said...

First,to Anonymous,I have read LOTS of different types of acedemic books and in spite of the depth and breadth of their subject matter, I am absolutely fascinated with both historical and science fiction, which are considered "trash" by many. After all is said and done isn't that what this book is-fiction!!? When my son was young,I would buy him lots of comic books-as long as he was reading, I was damn well going to do my best to make it as positive an experience as possible! He is now an adult AND an avid reader. As long as you're reading,it's all good!!!

Second, because I tend to believe that we,as humans,tend to overly complicate things,I think the simple answers are closer to to the truth. I, personally, saw Victer as neither "very complex" nor"difficult". I saw him as someone who had a far greater sense of himself than his background had equipped him for. He struck me as self- absorbed,whiney,and selfish, much as a spoiled,indulged child would behave when things didn't go the way they wanted.I think there was A LOT in his background that would predict this behavior. He consistantly made himself the victim."what I have suffered". He consistantly avoided explaination as to his behavior and his "impatient thirst for sympathy" pretty much said it all.

Third, I'm not so convinced about the level of literacy being the main criteria to make one a full- fledged human being. There are many forms and levels of meaningful communication that are both simple and uncomplicated between people that I consider humans. It seems more a matter of the society that one is in.

April 03, 2006 8:31 PM  
Blogger vanx said...

This book is ultimately about the question of what makes us human(says Vanx after reading the first eight chapters). Victor's tragic flaw is the notion that the things that make us human can be measured with a stick. It's very hard to say precisely what makes us human. It's spiritual and mystical in nature. It makes us react to the world in acts of creation--not just tool building and invention, but the creation of art that expresses our feelings. It hasn't much to do with having an opposable thumb, big skull, or standing up straight (thank God).

The nature imagery in this book is so wonderful--on Victor's return in chapter seven he is consoled by the ancient mountains and especially the lake, which he didn't properly regard when he was younger. I go back to his description of Elizabeth's regard for nature in the early chapters. As he gets close to home, however, nature darkens and drives him away--He's cut himself off. Then the electric storms that accompany sightings of the monster...

Another contrast with Elizabeth--she immediately blames herself for the murder of William simply because she gave the boy a locket. Victor, on the other hand, keeps blaming the monster for several pages before actually expressing the thought that it he is personally responsible. WHich he obviously is. He then digs himself in deeper by rationalizing a decision not to tell what happened. This decision is based on an assumption that he is so certain of, that he stands by and lets......Wait! Am I supposed to be commenting on chapter VIII yet?

[So far there is one reference to a torch posse!]

April 03, 2006 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mrs. C

Thanks to you and claudia for the kind words. I am enjoying this more than I thought I would.
I wanted to tell you a little story...last night my 13 yr old (8th grade) son noticed what I was reading and asked why I would read a "school book" for fun. It lead into a really good conversation about leasure reading and how it positively effects my mood, and how even a little "learning" paired with my usual reading time was exciting to me. I told him the language of the book was giving me grief, which he found hard to believe since he is used to me reading English novels about 18th & 19th century royalty with lots of "thees and thous". Anyway...he read a paragraph from chapter 6 -- part of the letter to Vincent from Elizabeth. Then he spent about 20 minutes translating it into current day "teen language" and we laughed an laughed! He offered to read the book if he could continue with his translation/mockery (it counts as a book report book @ double the points). So this morning I stopped at the drugstore where I bought my copy(only $4.99) and he is going to try to keep up with us too!
I had to throw in a selection of his choice from the bookstore on completion of the task, and we agreed.
This has turned out so well for me.

sorry for the length of the comment - but I also wanted to say that I can tell a real difference between Mary Shelley's writing from Vincents POV vs. her writing as Elizabeth or Adolphe (in the letters). Is that in my head? I tend to hear the story in my head as I I imagining that because I am projecting the characters voices as I read?
Just wondering...
Thanks again...
(on Chapter 8)

April 04, 2006 2:40 PM  
Anonymous claudia said...

To respond to some of the questions asked,while this may be considered naive of me,I took all of the different tellings at face value. I didn't read in all sorts of hidden meanings or agendas. I think this may have been because I went on the assumption that Shelley had a forth right story that she wanted to tell. I also think people didn't try to over analyze everything like we do now.
This, having been said, I trusted the Creatures' point of view,as I felt that it seemed consistant with the story the author was trying to tell.

April 04, 2006 4:05 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

Don't apologize for the length of the post! I don't commonly assign length limits - just take up as much space as you need to say what you want to say.

I'd be interested to find out what your son comes up with. Would you be willing to share?

To All:

The AP kids had a writing assignment this morning. They've read through chapter VIII (and are assigned through chapter XI for Monday) and I asked them to think about a personality trait of Victor's that struck them as significant, and to write for 20 minutes about how Shelley develops that trait through chapter VIII. The best writing spoke of Victor's obsessive persuit of his goal and his failure to take personal responsibility, and made solid use of quotes from the story that supported their statements quite nicely. I was particularly impressed by the girl who claimed that Victor's God complex was evident not only in his obsessive need to create life ("many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me") but also when he decided to remain silent when Justine is tried and convicted for William's murder. By not coming forward with the truth about what he'd done, she argued, Victor decided - yet again - whether another would live or die. It was a nice comparison for this student to make, and she used the evidence from the book to great advantage.

Vanx, your discussion of the importance of nature in the book is, I think, an important one to investigate. I was particularly struck by the scene in which Victor, returning to Geneva late at night to find the city gates closed against him, is forced to spend the night away from human company. It is here, in nature, where he first encounters the Creature so many years after the night in his apartment where he created it. Victor has to be forced into the natural world by means of human barriers - much, though not exactly, like his creation is forced out of human society - before he can begin to comprehend the enormity of what he's done; that he's created something that, like nature, he cannot control.

April 04, 2006 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Contrary said...

I'm not going to read the rest of the comments as I want to form my own ideas (oh, did I mention I'm joining in?). We are homeschooling my teenaged daughter and I don't ever expect anything I haven't already read, so I'm gonna give ole Frankie a try.

I'll have to play catch up though since I won't get to the bookstore for a copy till Friday night, but I'm a fast reader so 6 chapters by Monday is doable. I'm so excited! And,as it turns out, so dorky!

(you're totally wrecking my recently attained street cred, yo)

April 05, 2006 7:22 PM  
Anonymous claudia said...

Mrs Chili-So I don't make comments on the ending, what chapter are we up to now? Don't know how this "book club" thing works,so some input would be helpful.

April 08, 2006 3:12 PM  

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