Frankenstein as it was Meant to be Read
When I first read Frankenstein (1831), I was floored by one passage in particular where Victor, spiraling into a guilty panic, destroys the body of his Creature’s companion. There was something in that moment that I couldn’t get out of my head, but I also couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Victor’s main concern is that his Creature and the new Bride would breed and repopulate the world with, in his words, “a race of devils”. But for this to happen, the Creature and his Bride would need two things. First, they would both need working reproductive systems, designed by Victor. If his fear was offspring, he could have simply premeditated the Bride’s infertility. And second, both creations would need inhuman DNA, otherwise any children would simply be a lottery of whatever cobbled together parts Victor used. Forgiving that Mary Shelley’s work predates knowledge of genetic inheritance by nearly 100 years, Victor is still making a radical assumption.
Now, in no world would we consider Victor Frankenstein to be a stable or rational man, but there is no denying his skill or intelligence. If his fear was actually about the procreation of his Creature, he could easily solve the problem. Victor’s terror mingles with his guilt, guilt that goes beyond feeling responsible for the deaths of his family and friends.
And then I came to a realization: Victor is jealous.
He is painfully, angrily, desperately jealous of the woman he is building. Victor built his Creature, his Adam, for himself. He doesn’t want to share his creation, his… man with anyone else. This realization shifted my entire perspective on the book.
Frankenstein is a queer story.
From there it all unfurled. Victor Frankenstein is gay. Closeted, deeply in denial, but very aware of desires. Living in the late 1700s, of course he was. His childhood friend, Henry Clerval, the one he speaks of fervently and with such praise, was a silently held flame, either a childhood crush or a secret sweetheart. His engagement to Elizabeth was a prescribed thing, following in his own (vaguely incestious) father’s footsteps. I have since seen readings that Victor and Elizabeth’s union would have been a lavender marriage, with Elizabeth’s true affections directed towards Justine.
When Victor goes to University, he isolates himself to begin his work. He isn’t just Prometheus shaping new life. He is truly playing god, making a man outside of the preordained values of society. He wants someone who can be his, and his alone. He builds his man with a “profane hand” (his words, not mine), a masterbatory and solitary affair that ends in horror.
When Victor runs from his Creature, he does not run because he sees a monster. He runs because he was successful. He has defied God and society in every way that he can. And now, he is face-to-face with his own actions. He cannot give in to his wants, so he has to run.
Upon first introduction to Victor, we see a broken man, a man keenly aware of his fall from grace and now relegated to act as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Wedding Guest. Here, Walton is the man Victor once was: hopeful, ambitious, and seeking the company of men.
Frankenstein has always been a tragedy, but one where it was easy to judge and discount its protagonist’s actions as foolhardy and pathetic. Through a queer lens, the novel takes on an entirely different appearance, one we hope to bring to light in our Frankenstein performance.
Instead of focusing on Victor’s hubris or the monster’s unpredictability as James Whale did in his 1931 film, we focus on the horror and despair of unattainable desire, as James Whale also did when he wasn’t on set*.
Looking to see this interpretation of Frankenstein in action? Get tickets for Re-Casting the Movies and The Community Co-Op's Frankenstein virtual staged reading. A portion of the proceeds will go to The Audre Lorde Project, a community organizing center that supports LGBTQ+ People of Color in New York.
*For an interesting take on this, check out Gods and Monsters (1988), as well as my complete research and sources here:
Brown, DiGangi. "Dissecting Queer Identities in Frankenstein". https://digangibrown.info/index.php/2020/07/26/dissecting-queer-identities-in-frankenstein/. Dec 6, 2019.