It’s FRANKENSTEIN FEBRUARY! That magical time of year when I power through a generally shitty month by re-reading the greatest novel of all time! Mary Shelley’s best book is such an accurate reflection of humanity that I learn more about myself each time I revisit the tragic history contained within. And with this third re-read, enjoyed alongside an introduction by Maurice Hindle, I have arrived at a new truth: there is something seriously wrong with me!
Although perhaps nothing’s wrong with me insofar as it’s the same thing wrong with other art lovers. Many stockbrokers found the spark in their career choice from watching Gordon Gekko on the big screen. I may be speaking from ignorance here, but let me assume that Gekko wasn’t designed to showcase the nobility of working on Wall Street. This phenomenon doesn’t apply to every work of fiction: people debate on whether The Jungle’s primary aim concerned exposing the evils of the food industry, but I don’t imagine the book inspired people to work there. Yet here I am. I’m dedicating my life to the passion of writing, letting it determine my future and most of my own personal fucking happiness, so in the meantime, let me talk about why the protagonist of history’s greatest book concludes “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition…”
Would I still love the book if “avoid ambition” was the central message? Yes. So why do I keep revisiting something that damns my worldview? It’s because said warning keeps me grounded. The book itself inspires me to improve my writing, but it’s quite truthful on what will happen on my journey. I’m not talking about any disasters, however.
Last year, I discussed why we shouldn’t take that above quote as an endorsement from Shelley herself. To review: Frankenstein’s an immature, flighty, self-pitying wreck even before he’s dying in the Arctic, so maybe we shouldn’t take his philosophy at its word. Let’s take his experiences to account instead.
The guarantee in each project you undertake isn’t “your creation will kill everything you love.” It’s that you’ll move on. You’ll continue your life with something else. At the end of their respective stories, both Frankenstein and Robert Walton decide that their families matter most. In the case of Frankenstein, though, that’s not the first time he changed his life’s ambition. From a dedication to his family, to natural philosophy, then chemistry, Frankenstein involves himself in quite a bit of activity before probing at the secrets of life itself. And after he recovers from the shock of his own creation coming to life and running away? Frankenstein studies linguistics! Yeah, no joke: “The Persian, Arabic, and Sanscrit [sic] languages engaged his [Frankenstein’s best buddy’s] attention, and I was easily induced to enter on the same studies.” There’s no plot relevance to knowing these languages. The morally ambiguous doctor’s status as a member of the idle rich shines through here: he moves from study to study, never really settling on any one thing to make his life complete. No wonder he ditches his creation. It’s rather self-interested of him. Not too different from the rest of us.
Let me let you in on a secret: the days I receive writing praise (like a positive critique or a comment on my blog) don’t set me up for days of bliss like I imagine they will. I’m still happy to receive them, for the record. There’s an unglamorous reason such admirations don’t last: I’m too tied down to this world. I’ll have surgery-related pains, or I’ll get wrapped up in my newest writing project, or I’ll see a friend go through hard times. Do I think this aspect of my nature will change when I publish a shorty story, or a novel, or several novels? Of course not— I’ll stay the same by always changing what I want to do. The elation will last longer, but I’ll always move on to what’s happening in the present moment. I don’t think I’m alone here: it’s easy for humans to be shallow.
Both Frankenstein and I agree that we will not find ultimate satisfaction in the material world. That’s no excuse for slacking off on your passion: dedicate yourself to what you love and stick with it! Just be aware that there’s no endpoint for your dissatisfaction in the entropy-laden world your brain has to live with. The world keeps on dying, but there’s nothing new in how it goes about it. George Saunders, in an interview I can’t seem to find at the moment, mentions how there’s no point where a writer believe he’s truly “made it” in her craft. If Frankenstein considered the birth of the creature a continuation instead of a finale, his life would’ve turned out better. And if your next writing goal stops becoming “the thing that will solve all your problems,” you’ll be happier too.
So yes, in a sense, Frankenstein acts as a warning label for those wrapped up in material pursuits in a world of entropy. And when I read it again next year, after I take several more steps on my writing journey, it’ll warn me to not rush ahead to an unsatisfactory ending instead of enjoying each step.
P.S.: This February was actually pretty good to me.