In this post I would like to explore the possibility that the monster was the creation of Dr Frankenstein’s ego or unconscious, and that the crimes in the novel were committed by the good doctor himself. Furthermore I would like to suggest that the source of this psychosis is his fear of his own sexuality. This answers the question most often posed about this novel – who is the real monster, Frankenstein or his creation, with the answer “They are one and the same”. It also explains why the doctor and his creation are so often confused in popular culture, with the name Frankenstein being used for both of them.
To deal with the most obvious objection first – how could the monster be Victor’s alter ego when there are numerous references in the novel to other people seeing the monster? It is important to remember that almost all this evidence is in fact presented through the doctor’s conversations with the explorer, Walton, he meets at the beginning of the novel. We are invited to accept Victor as a reliable narrator, but objectively there is little reason to accept what he tells us without question. First and foremost his story is utterly fantastic – if you met someone raving about having created a monster you wouldn’t just say, “oh yes, that’s interesting”. You would naturally want to know more, and to challenge what you are told. The absence of that challenge, just the plan recitation of the tale, presented unquestioningly, lulls the reader into accepting Frankenstein’s story. As well as its fantastic nature, consider also the context – he is alone in an Arctic waste, chasing after a distantly glimpsed figure that may or may not have been himself. His story tells of a monster that kills his family and friends. Could not the monster be that part of his personality that he considers monstrous? Was, in fact, Dr Victor Frankenstein the first recorded case of manic schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder, the forerunner of another famous self-creator of monsters, Dr Jekyll?
This reading explains a lot, for example the lack of detail over how the monster is created – if this was a delusion then the subconscious could easily skip over the process to focus on the outcome. The disgust Victor feels in the process of creation can be explained by his disgust with procreation, simply put, sex, and cannot believe what he has done. In his psychological crisis he creates the monster to separate the innocent part of himself from the monstrous.
The murders of family and friends is further circumstantial evidence, although Victor can’t be tied closely to any of the murders. There is enough evidence to at least cast suspicion, to the extent that he is even arrested for the killing of his best friend Clerval, and later held during his breakdown after the murder of his wife. The murder of his bride, on the first night of their honeymoon, represents the apotheosis of his sexual horror – rather than consummate his marriage he kills his wife and then faints. His conversations with the monster represent the inner monologue of the two parts of his personality. Virtually no-one else sees the monster in the whole of the novel, albeit admittedly with some exceptions. You would expect a beast lumbering across central Europe to be the cause of some comment – but the monster is never seen or spotted other than at a distance, and then only as reported by Frankenstein.
The exceptions to this are the family he haunts – but this could easily be Frankenstein himself, or just another delusion about his dreams of acceptance into a happy family. The other important exception is the occasion when explorer sees the monster just after doctor’s death at the very end of the novel. This is harder to explain away, but hardly conclusive – the explorer is not necessarily the reliable narrator we are led to believe.
The source of Victor’s psychosis emerges from a closer reading of the section of the novel dealing with the murder of his wife, Elizabeth. Chapter 22 opens with their engagement and wedding. Having been promised that he will return on his wedding night, VF is tortured by fear of the monster, and wants to shun the company of others – “I felt attracted to even the most repulsive among them, as to creatures of an angelic nature and celestial mechanism. But I felt I had no right to share their intercourse.” Who is most commonly characterised by VF as angelic? Elizabeth of course. And who feels unworthy to share “intercourse” with his fellow man? VF feels guilty and worthless because of his “unhallowed acts” – a suggestion that he is unable to face sex with his bride on their wedding night because of previous repulsive and criminal acts. This is the language used to describe homosexuality in the 19th century.
Unable to accept his sexuality VF at first avoids contact with Elizabeth, running away from her to the extent of travelling the world. Apart from her, the part of his personality that wants a conventional relationship comes to the fore, and he agrees to marry her. Before their wedding he writes to her telling her he has a “terrible secret” which will “chill your frame with horror”. VF knows that the monster will unavoidably be with him on his wedding night, because he and the monster are one and the same, and the monstrous, hidden aspect of his personality is his sexuality. There is no hint whatsoever in the way he speaks of Elizabeth of any sexual feelings, only tenderness.
Chapter 23 brings us closer to the wedding night, and the confrontation with the “monster”. VF sends Elizabeth to bed, knowing this is the scene of the coming confrontation. He resolves not to join her until “I had obtained some knowledge as to the situation of my enemy” – here the enemy being his recalcitrant sexuality.
Elizabeth is strangled and VF falls senseless to the ground. When the hotel owner and others come into the room a little later, there is no sign of the monster. There is some confused business here in which he appears to awake from his faint in another room, surrounded by the people of the inn, because he then goes back alone to the bedroom where Elizabeth’s body lies, where he then spots the monster goading him. Again no-one else sees the monster, and after a fruitless search “most of my companions believing it (the monster) to have been a form conjured up by my fancy”. If they genuinely believed this then they can have drawn only one conclusion about the cause of Elizabeth’s death, the identity of her murderer. His guilty behaviour continues as he flees the village without telling anyone, and returns to Geneva. He descends into madness and is kept locked in a cell and his again suspected of being the criminal.
In moments of lucidity VF recognises he is responsible for the killings. He tells his father “I murdered her. William, Justine and Henry – they all died by my hands”. Indeed.