Archive for November, 2008

A lurid yet philosophical tale

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was not quite what I expected.  While a certain horror springs from the original deed by Victor Frankenstein and many horrible events such as murder and mayhem ensue, the story is more a philosophical treatise on the plight of being human than a traditional scary story.  Of course, the tale of the manmade monster has proved irresistible and has been abducted by the film industry to serve its purposes of frightening audiences, but very few of these have been true to the original plotline.  Frankenstein embodies the hubris of man in daring to try to create life, yet the force he unleashes is beyond his control and ultimately destroys him and everyone he loves.   The dangerous quest for knowledge is a theme going back to Genesis, and in modern times, with atomic energy as the genie that cannot be put back in the bottle, the story is even more compelling.  A parallel theme arises from the angst of the monster.  Being human only brings despair.  He questions his purpose, his creation, the justice of his lot in life.  His sorrow and despair reach existential proportions, so that both the creator and his creature are locked together in suffering.  The ironic thing is that the name of the doctor has been conflated with that of the creation so that when I think of Frankenstein, I think of the nameless monster.


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Of Human Bondage

I finally read Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maughan.  I was surprised to find that I loved it.  I thought it would be dull and dated, but Maughan captures the immediacy of his subject’s impressions and actions, so that one is silmutaneously living with Philip and seeing the folly and short-sidedness of his decisions (to be an artist, to chase after the dreadful Mildred).  Everything Philip does is perfectly within character, so that one feels that character is destiny and only age and experience can cure what ails him. 

He did not know how wide a country and precipitous must e crossed before the traveler through life comes to an acceptance of reality.  It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled in them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded. 

That lack of reality, fighting against reality, turning a blind eye toward it is a curse, and it is not only the young who suffer from it.  My only quibble with the book is the marriage of Philip to Sarah.  I suppose he is only following in the footsteps of his mentor, Sarah’s father, but she is so bland and stolid, it’s hard to accept that they would be happy.  Maughan had no great opinion of women, it’s true, so the best he could come up with was a harpy like Mildred, the vampirish governess, the tortured, suicidal artist or the bovinish Sarah. 

The title is so true to the theme though, the bondage under which we suffer is that of our own longings, ceaseless strivings and bitter discontents.  Perhaps having no fervent longings is the answer.


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