Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Despair, guilt, and remorse in Frankenstein

We are studying Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the grade 11 english class I teach. I am thoroughly enjoying reuniting with this 'old friend' that I first encountered in college. One of the many wonderful attributes the author displays in this classic is a keen and penetrating understanding of the visceral reality of guilt, despair, and remorse. Shelley clearly has a grasp, likely through her personal experiences, of these emotions. In the following excerpt, Victor Frankestein laments the death of his younger brother, the guilty verdict and death sentence of a framed friend, all due t the actions of the creature he created and its actions which he was morally resposible for. Enjoy the fine writing and gratefully bask in the truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

During this conversation I had retired to a corner of the prison-room, where I could conceal the horrid anguish that possessed me. Despair! Who dared talked of that? The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the dreary boundary between life and death, felt not as I did, such deep and bitter agony. I gnashed my teeth, and ground them together, uttering a groan that came from my inmost soul. Justine started. When she saw who it was, she approached me, and said, "Dear Sir, you are very kind to visit me; you, I hope, do not believe that I am guilty."

I could not answer. "No, Justine," said Elizabeth; "he is more convinced of your innocence than I was; for even when he heard that you had confessed, he did not credit it."

"I truly thank him. In these last moments I feel the sincerest gratitude towards those who think of me with kindness. How sweet is the affection of others to such a wretch as I am! It removes more than half my misfortune; and I feel as if I could die in peace, now that my innocence is acknowledged by you, dear lady, and your cousin."

Thus the poor sufferer tried to comfort others and herself. She indeed gained the resignation she desired. But I, the true murderer,
felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation. Elizabeth also wept, and was unhappy; but her's also was the misery of innocence, which, like a cloud that passes over the fair moon, for a while hides, but cannot tarnish its brightness. Anguish and despair had penetrated into the core of my heart; I bore a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish. We staid several hours with Justine; and it was with great difficulty that Elizabeth could tear herself away. "I wish," cried she, "that I were to die with you; I cannot live in this world of misery."

1 comment:

  1. That was one of my favourite University novels as well.

    I haven't read much fiction in the last few years, but I think you've inspired me to pull out this, as well as a few other old favourite novels for my honeymoon in July!