‘When you have seen that of which you are capable, when you have stood in blood long enough, what is there left but to wade to a desolate shore, away from all others?’ -The Creature, Penny Dreadful
What is there but poetry to guide the ignorant towards enlightenment? For without that invocation of literary want we are surely fated to damnation.
It is my belief that popular culture’s appropriation of the monster figure into the media has the effect of demeaning the integrity of gothic villains and the writers’ intents for them. In this respect, i draw focus to what has and always will be my favourite character, Frankenstein’s creature. Since James Whales’ Frankenstein (1931) the vision of Shelley’s monster has become distorted, and he remains so today as the creature who mumbles, but does not speak, who is mindless and above all, blank eyed with bolts in his neck. All in all, this is a representation that functions as the antithesis of who the creature is, and it doesn’t half grind my bolts to see him altered through this arguably perverse characterisation.
The quote above is taken from the creature’s dialogue in the Showtime TV series, Penny Dreadful. Here, John Logan positions the creature directly alongside Shelley’s vision of the monster and for this i commend him greatly. The language alone is enough to convey the fragility of the Creature’s condition that is so often overlooked. It is eloquent, learned and above all literate. This is a creature who has been educated through stories from the romantics and poetry enlivened through soft tongues. His sense of humanity is founded on the easy self-expression of emotion through fire-light words that radiate and breathe. So when this is pierced by livid tongues that dispel the essence of beauty, he becomes rotten to the world, because even he is too monstrous for a society he has merely tasted but can never be apart of.
It comes as no surprise that the Creature is often infantilised and thus traumatised as his will is bent by the violent actions which form his first experiences. In ignorance he replicates what he learns externally, but is caught out in confusion when his violence oversteps a line he is unaware exists. As time goes on, he believes he has formed relationships only to be deceived and his negative perception of the world, proved.
If we go back to the quote, the metaphor for having ‘stood in blood’ is inherently literal, but more importantly, it is an allegory for the creature’s need of religious acceptance. The image of the creature standing in blood and wading to the shore causes water and blood to be directly linked, which is also mirrored within the Bible, concerning Jesus. During the Last Supper Jesus turns the water to wine, telling his disciples to think of the wine as representing his blood. It therefore stands as a reminder of his self-sacrifice. In the epistles of John 1:7, it is said that ‘the blood of Jesus purifies us from every sin.’ In this moment, the creature unconsciously reveals his deepest desires: to be christened in the eyes of God and accepted by Jesus. In addition, Jesus is famously described as being able to walk on water. The creature must adversely ‘wade’ through the water, reminding us as an audience that he is merely mortal. This is supposed to humanise the creature, to highlight that he is not the animal or monster society within Frankenstein would have us believe. On the other hand, he is also connecting himself with the other characters to highlight the degeneracy of humanity in its ability to condemn and punish man against man, rather than uniting the religious image of a wholesome brotherhood. Just as the creature is a character who has sinned, so is every other human, imbued with original sin (and so the argument is expanded further through countless academic papers).
Regardless of the many other connotations that can be made here, what i hope to have demonstrated is that Shelley’s Frankenstein is a heavy contextualised piece of literature that holds a necessarily intrusive and yet sensitive exploration into societal changes and fears whilst raising philosophically demanding questions about the human condition.
I cannot deny that there are criticisms against the novel; however it is worth remembeing that Frankenstein’s creature is not a character to be mocked or twisted but to be learned from, even 200 years on when aspects of his growth still challenge our identity.
Sometimes, when i’m alone, i will cry. I will cry because i am reading how he struggles for self-expression. I will cry because he lives in a world with sight, but where everyone else is blind.
I will cry and not feel ashamed.