Monstrous beauty

frank

Beauty has always been associated to goodness. Just think about it, whenever we feel the attractive power of somebody’s beauty, we instinctively believe him/her upright, trustworthy, generous and therefore superior. This is because we naturally put to use the paradigms we have been taught when we were children, through fairy tales for instance. The word fairy, in fact, comes from  fair, that is righteous, virtuous, but also beautiful, light, blonde, hence the equation : beauty = good.  All the heroes and heroines of fairy tales have more or less the  same features, and story after story it was very simple to spot the deserving good one to love and stand with.   

Yet, religion warns us against the deception of beauty.  Ezekiel 28 reminds us that Satan, the fallen angel,  was once the “anointed cherub“, that is the most beautiful and wisest creature God had ever created and “perfect in beauty“, the highest being created. But “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your   wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.” (Ezekiel 28:17). Satan fell because his beauty had made him proud. He desired to be God, not to be a servant of God, that’s why he was cast out of heaven. Therefore Satan is perfect in beauty on the outside, yet ugly and grotesque on the inside.

In Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein, the monstrous being forged by Victor Frankenstein is exactly the opposite example. The more our modern Prometheus despises his creature’s ugliness on the outside, calling him “monstrous image“, “detested form“,”abhorred monster“, ” wretch devil” etc. the more we see the beauty of his inside and we cannot but sympathize with him.”All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things” he says to Victor. His monstrosity has isolated him from the other human beings who despise him. He is alone and he can only seek for the compassion and help of his creator, but when Victor, rather, threats to kill him, he imparts him a moral lesson remarking: “How dare you sport thus with life?” reminding him that he is not God and that he is acting against the laws of nature. However, differently from Satan, he is determined to respect who gave him life, despite his immense physical strength:  “Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed”. Victor is the responsible for his loneliness and unhappiness and as he is his creature ( as he repeats  twice), something must be done. The deep human understanding of this character can be found in these simple words that sound like a desperate plea :”I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend”. Certainly the creature is talking for himself, but that statement seems to have a more universal meaning: is it so then? We were born good, but unhappiness, prejudice, fear, rejection turn us into monsters and evil creatures? Theologian Vito Mancuso maintains that man naturally tends towards the good – the monster himself is attracted by the goodness of the family who lives near his hut – this is what will save us in the eternal battle of good versus evil. Maybe it will, but not so soon I guess.

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13 thoughts on “Monstrous beauty

  1. A brilliant post! Really thought provoking. This is how I have always seen the novel. Unfortunately, most people probably first experience the story via the cinema which provides a distorted view of a very important novel. The “monster” is the one who has a soul, even though he has been created by man. The human, Victor, is the monster, in essence. The creature searches for meaning, for the profound things greater than himself, whereas Frankenstein is only interested in creating “material” life. It is a very deep book. Indeed, I feel that Mary Shelley does not receive the credit she deserves. I, recently, read The Last Man, which is another curious and interesting novel.

    • Thank you for commenting my posts. You know, at the beginning I found the novel rather boring, but when the monster starts to speak to Victor, the story “changes pace”, and I was struck by the intensity and beauty of his words, they made me think a lot. However, I’ll follow your advice about the Last Man and I’ll let you know. 🙂

      • The Last man is a long old book! One of the things you notice as a contrast between modern literature and work from the 19th century is the pace of writing. There is a lot more description in things like The Last Man that a modern editor would, probably, remove. I find with authors such as Shelley that once you are in the rhythm and “feel” of her writing, it becomes a pleasure just to read it, if that makes sense. I have read a short Gothic story by her too, I will look up the titile if you are interested.

  2. Interesting interpretation. What do you do with the dark fairies? How do they fit into this equation?

    Faie are a diverse group that are cross-cultural and cross-historical, though they have different characteristics given the time and space they are created within, and fairy tales don’t really equate with fairies. Do you mean this is our modern understanding of them?

    I quite enjoy discussing monsters, fairies, and their status as cultural commonplaces-and I really like your ideas about Frankenstein. 🙂

  3. I really liked this post! You addressed the age old misconception of “that which is beautiful must also be good and that which is ugly must certainly be evil” very well. Frankenstein has become such an iconic figure in both film and literature that many readers and viewers miss the underlying theme of humankind’s tendency to fear, hold prejudice against, and act with outright violent hatred toward that which is deemed different or even monstrously ugly by society. This same premise plays itself out when it comes to the characterization of women in classic and modern literature; where we see the virgin-whore dichotomy played out again and again. I further enjoyed your interactions with the words of Frankenstein to his creator. It would appear that the Frankenstein monster in his state of wretchedness has a better understanding of what it means to honor and worship his creator than most modern believers do today. There is an interesting theology at work here: the creator has a responsibility to that which he has created to love, care for, and protect; and by extension, the creature owes his creator obedience and submission. The Frankenstein monster for all his ugliness understands the beauty that can be found in a true and loving relationship with our Creator God.

  4. Oooo, I still remember when I read this book in highschool and we would debate about what it meant and what the characters meant and all the technicalities. I miss that. It was a great post the beauty and then talking about the “beast”. I actually always felt bad for Frankie over there, not kidding. Sort of reminded me of the book “The elephant man” That one too has it´s similarities with Frankenstein.

    P.S. Talking about words…Demoskratos, Demos being `the people´ and Kratos being `rule´or place of sovereignty. Hey, they were some pretty smart guys these Greeks.

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