Don’t Abandon Me

Don’t Abandon Me

[Fixing Frankenstein chapters]

[This section starts at the beginning of the original’s fifth chapter. The italicized parts are lifted word-for-word from the original section. The regular font parts are the interventions.]

Chapter 5

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness.

But it was in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams.

. . . . . .

I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch — the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.

Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.

And yet by turns I paced the cobblestones and sank beneath a new, heavier, more far-reaching and complex weight. I was the beast’s father. I had surely erred in his creation. Imprudent and irresponsible, I’d constructed a creature who with one careless twist of his great hand might separate a mortal’s head and shoulders. Would I lead a tiger to a sleepy village? And yet, here was or was not the difference: I’d given him a human brain; but would it work now as such? What a fool I’d been. Any human infant would endanger itself and others if born fully grown, possessed of adult strength and longings, but with unformed, vague, and largely uncontrollable reasons, passions, and movements. What had I wrought? What unholy calamity had I loosed upon the world?

Two hours passed in wretched self-reproach and -wrestling. Sometimes my pulse beat so quickly and hardly that I felt the palpitation of every artery; at others, I nearly sank to the ground through languor and extreme weakness. Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!

In my frenzy I’d rushed without reflection over the obvious objections to a work now completed and — but was it not yet possible to erase this mistake? Superhuman, yes; but indestructible he was not. A bullet to the head. A blade through his heart. With pistol loaded and saber at my side — thus secured I might readily effect the safest cure: electrocution. A vital element of his animation; a few volts more should render the unsuspecting brute so much cinder ash.

“Brute?” An innocent creature, guilty of nothing more than his poor, unsought existence. All guilt resided in me, in my blind ambition and foolish pride. How my dark deliberations mocked justice! I, the guilty one, would now presume to execute him, the innocent! Meanwhile, as I paced and plotted his fate, the first of his kind stumbled in the dark confusion of infancy, miserably alone — deprived of all comfort, bereft the comfort and guidance of a mother’s breast, heart, hand.

What to do? Endued by my impatient science with life’s intoxicating elixir, the creature knew already the sweetness of earthly air; the magic of color, light, texture, scent, smell. Like all life, he’d tumbled from the serenity of absolute union in the One into this jumbled, variegated, confused world thinking, feeling, searching, living. And though I was the proximate cause of his existence, I was not God, was not the ultimate giver of life, nor the ultimate arbiter of a life’s value. I had, whether through insane ambition freely chosen or an unbidden madness feebly submitted to, bestowed life. Responsibility for the monster belonged alone to me.

To release him into the world in his present infantile condition would be an irreparable, unforgivably irresponsible evil. His existence I must redress, to be sure; but what right had I to harm him? I, his inventor and creator, owed him support and caring; not pain and death.

I should not, as any fool could plainly perceive, have endowed him with superhuman powers. However, the elephant’s strength far outstrips our own; yet none suggest we exterminate them for humanity’s sake. We merely distance ourselves from them — leaving them the unpeopled wilds or penning them in zoos. But what kind of a relationship begins with one man lassoing and restraining another? And had I even a rope strong enough?

Already I’d commenced a reluctant return — slow and heavy-footed, face downcast and back bent — to my chambers. But the more my duty, resolve, and plan grew clearer and deeper, the more I straightened my shoulders and accelerated my steps — lest he escape into the wide world and, thrashing out from within the blind semi-conscious confusion of a newborn babe, wreak ugly havocs and ruin his chances — if any indeed existed — for safety and acceptance within human society.

My pistol I should wear loaded at all times. The electric dynamo, invented as a necessary component of the monster’s animating principle, relied upon a hand-cranked charging device and a contraption I’d engineered for the storing of electric power. The storage device being far from perfect, I’d be required to recharge the device every two or three hours. And at night? If I reinforced the door and lock in the smaller bedroom? And boarded up its one small window? Perhaps. But no — such precautions might contain the creature when calm and peaceably disposed; but were his mood less conciliatory, nothing less than a solid steel cage would stop that moving mountain of sinew and muscle.

My mind a tumult of unresolved difficulties, I reached the small ornately-carved door, noticing for the first time the grave peril to both door and frame if the monster sought his exit through them. A small detail perhaps, but representative of my great sin; I shuddered at what my ravings had wrought: thoughtless acts are more than just stupid: they are cruel. And so, with a sense of guilted urgency and ashamed purpose — though aware that the many difficulties were yet inadequately contemplated and resolved — I took a deep breath and simultaneously turned key and handle in one slow, burning motion

The monster and I stared at one another like two mutes, or like a dumb brute stares at its reflection, half-grasping what it sees. I don’t know how many minutes we stood frozen across the bedroom from one another, the monster’s back to the large open window through which a cool night breeze blew, tussling the curtains and the crude raiments I’d thrown over his hulking shoulders.

I walked slowly across the wooden floor, each shift, creak and groan of which reverberated malignly though my being like an avalanche’s cracking collapse. Sitting finally on my bed, which also seemed suddenly unbearably loud and restless as it squeaked and squealed under my shifting weight, I took up the hand-crank and began building the necessary electric strength. The creature flinched. A shovel-like hand jumped an inch above a tree-trunk thigh. His mammoth frame leaned another inch towards me. But the recoil of my own head and shoulders, and the giant alarm of my eyes shocked his thought and stayed his motions; soon his hand relaxed and settled down upon his thigh. Large runny-egg eyes watched me with silent curiosity.

How do you care for an infant you cannot hold? A baby needs to be held. A young child needs to be gently led and his missteps gently corrected by the hand. But I dared not touch my creation — in part because his appearance repulsed me, but more because his strength terrified me. A newborn naturally hugs his father’s neck. This child’s hug would kill his father. And how should this giant infant find any other human soul capable of perceiving him as, contrary to all appearances, an innocent, defenseless babe?

I knew not where to begin. I pointed at my chest and said “Victor”. It seemed a hopeless gesture. A human newborn could make nothing of it. And indeed the colossus gazed towards me with blinking, unfocused, dumbfounded eyes; as if, in keeping with my notion of a newborn’s first thoughts, the world swam and ran hopelessly together in his mind. But I had no other ideas; so I repeated the gesture over and over for an hour or so until, very gradually and rather timidly and reluctantly, and with his eyes narrowed in slightly panicked confusion, he brought his hand to his chest and said, “vvvugh”.

“That’s right! I’m ‘Victor’, you are ‘Vuh’, and we are friends.”

This introductory session lasted into the morning light. Exhausted, I dozed I know not how many times nor for how long sitting upright on my bed, the hand-crank tumbling to my lap or thudding on the floor. But each time I awoke Vuh had not moved from his seat on the wide window sill; and when I stirred he would shift his head and squint, endeavoring to peer into my sleepy eyes, as if searching for the vital element relighting therein.

In the bright cold morning light of early spring, with fresh soft air filling the room, I felt myself succumbing to lassitude and, powerless to resist the collapse, I raised a hand towards ‘Vuh’, said with full voice and looking intently into his eyes, “stay there”, and, setting the hand-crank carefully down on the floor as I went, fell with my head into the pillow, swinging my legs up on the bed as I went. For some hours I slept like that on one side facing Vuh.

Sometime around midday, emphatic knockings and hallooings from below roused me. I looked over and saw that Vuh too had slept, on the floor as close to his window perch as possible, with only his giant praying hands for a pillow, facing me. He too now opened his eyes and sat drowsily up.

“Who could possibly be so determined to visit me, friendless and aloof as I am?” I wondered. But as the knocking and shouting did not abate, but instead became increasingly pronounced, and as I had to several times shake from myself as “impossible!” the notion that I heard a familiar voice hailing my name, and as my creation had proven himself trustworthy and capable of staying in place, I resolved to see to the door. I sat up and watched as Vuh, expectantly eying me as he attempted to mimic my movements with correlates from his own repertoire, clamored up to his window sill; and then, satisfied that he was thus safely and with childlike docility in place, gave again the “stay there” command, repeating it several times as I walked backwards towards the exit, and then again before shutting and locking the door behind me.

I’d not eaten since early the previous morning and felt myself suddenly very hungry. So hungry that I considered visiting the pantry on my way to the door. “How powerfully does the body influence one’s judgement! To even consider a snack at this moment! Madness.”

What a shock to see that what I’d heard with certainty but yet could not mentally accept as true: Henry Clerval himself was indeed knocking at my door, calling out my name with increasing force and agitation in his voice.

Nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval; his presence brought back to my thoughts my father, Elizabeth, and all those scenes of home so dear to my recollection. I grasped his hand, and in a moment forgot my horror and misfortune; I felt suddenly, and for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy. I welcomed my friend, therefore, in the most cordial manner, although the rigidity with which I grasped the heavy door frame — stained dark and worn smooth by weather and use — communicated clearly that he was not to enter. Clerval, leaning a bit back onto one foot and a little off-balance and disconcerted by the ferocity with which I guarded and barred the doorway, nonetheless blinked and smiled amiably, discoursing for some time upon our mutual friends and his own good fortune in being permitted to come to Ingolstadt. “You may easily believe,” said he, “how great was the difficulty to persuade my father that all necessary knowledge was not comprised in the noble art of book-keeping; and, indeed, I believe I left him incredulous to the last, for his constant answer to my unwearied entreaties was the same as that of the Dutch schoolmaster in The Vicar of Wakefield: ‘I have ten thousand florins a year without Greek, I eat heartily without Greek.’ But his affection for me at length overcame his dislike of learning, and he has permitted me to undertake a voyage of discovery to the land of knowledge.”

“It gives me the greatest delight to see you; but tell me how you left my father, brothers, and Elizabeth.”

“Very well, and very happy, only a little uneasy that they hear from you so seldom. By the by, I mean to lecture you a little upon their account myself. But, my dear Frankenstein,” continued he, stopping short and gazing full in my face, “I did not before remark how very ill you appear; so thin and pale; you look as if you had been watching for several nights.”

“You have guessed right; I have lately been so deeply engaged in one occupation that I have not allowed myself sufficient rest, as you see; but I hope, I sincerely hope, that all will be well. Indeed, with you now here, I feel certain all will be well, if I can but reach your heart and win you to my cause, a cause unchosen, or rather chosen foolishly and without proper reflection, but in any case, now a burden I must bear, but one that may perhaps yet develop into a blessing for myself and others. A matter to which I must at any rate — and come what may to my own person — devote myself; and, my dear Henry, what must you think to be met with riddles at the close of your long journey and the beginning of our long-delayed reunion!”

He admitted himself thoroughly perplexed; but added that knowing me as he did, he felt certain these initial peculiarities would be soon enough sufficiently explained and justified; and that moreover, he had chosen for his studies Ingolstad and travelled all this way for the express purpose of reconvening our fellowship, and as such, he could not have and indeed had no compunction about immediately and fully investing himself in any cause that I, his oldest and dearest friend, considered just.

“Henry,” I began, as we made our way up the steps to my rooms, “I cannot in this brief interval explain to you what I have created nor how I’ve accomplished it. All I can say is that he has not proven himself violent or dangerous and that he needs our sympathy and attention. I implore you to suppress your mortal instinct to cry out in horror, as he is surely a horror to the unfamiliar eye; for this he has me to blame, as in all things; and for my sake therefore I ask you to spare him your natural reaction, and now brace yourself with a solemn intent: gaze, I pray you, gently upon him.”

He paused on the lower steps, poorly lit and dark even in the middle of a sunny day, “Victor, what can this mean? You say you’ve created something and then you call it a ‘he’ that must appear hideous to my sensitivities and that yet requires my sympathy? I confess I am at a loss. The riddles turn baffling, and not a little sinister.”

“I know! How deranged must my words sound! Yet I can but beg your indulgence and assistance, for this is the point at which my life rises or sinks, and with this my star — well, my fate here is doubtless with humanity’s interwoven, though how deeply and irrevocably I cannot yet say.”

Here Clerval’s agitated countenance relaxed, his brow smoothed into a perplexed but gentle resolve, and with an open palm he wordlessly he pointed the way up the stairs. Together in silence we approached my bedroom door.

The years have flown by, and Vuh has become more a brother than a son. I formed him not in love but through madness; yet the elements and principles underlying his existence are God’s alone, and though I’ve taught him much, he’s taught me more. Only once, in the earliest days of his existence, was force required for his safety and that of others. The incident is worth relating, as it demonstrates both the natural quickness and innate gentleness of his mind.

Clerval and I were working to resolve an initial and fundamental confusion in Vuh’s mind. The question that crossed his big yellow eyes and rolled-under his pitch-black lower lip was, were he able to express it in words, something like this: “Hand on chest is associated with ‘Vuh’? Or with ‘Victor’? And why?” He would point to his chest and then say questioningly ‘Vuh’, pause, and then attempt, with growing accuracy, and also in a questioning, upward-lilting tone, to say, ‘Victor’; then he’d drop his hand back to his side and stare at me like a child that’s been told he can go to the park and yet he cannot go to the park and yet he can go to the park and yet he cannot go the park and yet ….

I quickly perceived that with Henry’s help, I could easily clarify the issue, and we spent many hours pointing at our own chests repeating our own names, then pointing towards each other and saying each other’s names, and finally pointing towards Vuh and saying ‘Vuh’. We did this for days, and at times Vuh seemed to understand, but then he’d betray a false association and it again became clear that he still only guessed which chest correlated with which word.

If you think this evidence of a weak rather than strong intellect, note that Vuh was three days old, and still, as he later reported, struggling to create distinct impressions out of the continuous ball of sight, sound, smell, sensation, feeling, and thinking surrounding and pervading him as if he were the most gossamer of jellyfish and this chaos of unclassifiable indistinctness the boundless, and oft wild and ruthless sea. How should he understand self and other when all shapes, sounds, odors, all feelings on his skin or inside his heart, and all reflections within his own mind jumbled up together in one undifferentiated glob, stubbornly refusing to separate from one another into manageable particulars?

On the fourth day, when our charge had again failed the test, Henry clapped his hands together in frustration and Vuh mimicked him. Shocked to discover that he could create such a sound and such sensation, and wound up from the effort and wounded by our sense of disappointment, which he could not help but construe as disapproval and censure of himself, Vuh took to clapping louder and louder, and to catching in his crashing hands first the drape and then a nightshade and then the dresser (which received two large puncture wounds). Soon he was flailing his arms around wily nily and hooting madly, Henry had been tossed into a wall and I, who’d grown lazy with the dynamo, was racing to charge it and weighing the necessity of a pistol shot — which I’d always determined must be aimed, if aimed it ever must be, fatally at one with such boundless strength.

The dynamo charged, and perhaps a little beyond what was strictly necessary, I touched his thigh. He shrieked, convulsed onto the ground and lay there shaking, whimpering and shivering. After assuring myself that he was unharmed, I set Henry to recharging the dynamo and for the first time touched Vuh with my bare hand.

I caressed his back and told him I was sorry, and then, filled with a sudden inspiration, I pointed to the probe and said, “too strong!” and then I pointed to Vuh’s hands and repeated, “too strong!” I did this for an hour until he, now sitting up, huddling with his back against the wall near the window, hunched over and clinging to his own kneecaps, began to repeat the mantra, and finally — to my mind perfectly demonstrating his full grasp of the situation and of what was to be one of the fundamental difficulties of his existence — pointed not at my hands but at his own as he plaintively voiced, “twos strung”.

From here, and again pointing at both the deadly probe and his monstrous fingers, I taught him, “careful”, a lesson he has never forgotten, and for which he still often thanks me — though the recollection is fixed in his mind hazily, and, as with so much from those early days, it is unclear to him how much of the incident he recalls and how much his mind has generated out of Henry and I’s testimonies.

What should we do with the power of animation? The world is a richer place with Vuh and it is safe from him, but he is not safe from the world. My family’s wealth enables us to privately and securely ensconce Vuh; but how many benevolent ogres could we thus hide from the fearful suspicions of unknowing humanity? And then again: my understanding of the human brain and the human mind that therefrom springs is not sufficient to ensure that my next monster be as unmonstrous as Vuh. I could indeed make the next creature weaker, but if I make it humanlike, then the aspect most critical for good and evil will always be not its body, but its heart and mind. Additionally, I yet lack the art to bestow an appearance that is human enough to shield my next creation from human fear and violence.

Due to these and related difficulties, Vuh and I have thus far focused our research solely upon restoring vitality to sick and injured humans. While our accomplishments here have not yet attained the consequence we desire; our efforts have not been completely unrewarded, and we appreciate and celebrate the small good we’ve thus far managed, even as we continue to work and hope for more substantial progress.

I love Elizabeth. I love walking with her through the garden, pausing to smell the flowers and to watch the fish dart under stones in the pond and brook. I love to hear her voice — soft, sweet, melodious, earnest, and true.

Vuh has no companion. On more than one occasion, I’ve asked if for his sake I should not create one, someone shaped to fit him like Elizabeth and I are formed to match, augment and buoy up one another. He has up to now answered in the negative, arguing that such an action could be profoundly injurious to him, his friends, humanity, and/or the intended companion. Anyway, maintains he, his life is not lonely and he is not in every way a human — that words touch him more than bodies can, and that though most do not understand it, we all must live first and foremost for our work, for the work of living kindly and lovingly with one another while doing what we can to make the world a safer, gentler, wiser place; and that, in the final analysis, he is satisfied with his current friends and tasks.

I admire his commitment to the Good and laud his selfless reasoning; however, feign solidity and indifference as he might, I — his creator and oldest friend — cannot fail to perceive how his giant oxen shoulders tremble with an anguished alone as he marshalls his sensible, prudent, and painfully obvious objections to my plan. Perhaps eventually this involuntary wobbling of his being will seem to me the stronger argument; for now I acquiesce to his reasoning.

Interventions by Bartleby Willard, edited by Amble Whistletown, and copyrighted by Andrew Watson

[Return to original Frankenstein: Early in Chapter 5]

[Fixing Frankenstein chapters]

Comments are closed.