Frankenstein: Seduction and promises

Frankenstein: Seduction and broken promises.

This is a short stimulus piece designed to look at the pattern of seduction and broken promises that run through the novel. It is not an exemplar essay for examination.

Seduction, it should be remembered does not merely imply a sexual predation, but any attempt to win another over to one’s side and to keep them there.

In the opening Epistolary frame of the novel, Walton reports to his sister that he has met a stranger. Although Frankenstein is at first silent, once he is able to speak his ability to charm Walton and his crew suggests a similarity with a man trying to win over a potential lover rather than merely responding to kindness. Walton is clearly entranced by Frankenstein’s ability to speak: “When he speaks, although his words are culled with choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparalleled eloquence”. It is clear that by the final letter, Walton is entirely seduced and has fallen under Frankenstein’s spell: “Will you smile at the enthusiasm I feel over this divine wanderer?” It seems that his suffering, together with the way he has told his story, has completely won over Walton who is trying to convey the power of Frankenstein’s words to his sister, safe in London and removed from the novel. Not only Walton, of course, but “even the sailors feel the power of his eloquence” to the extent that they temporarily view the ice cap as little more than “mole hills”. But it seems to be temporary. Once the voice is removed, so the power fades. Walton is clear that his sister will not be moved since she does not hear the tale “from his own lips” and this suggests a seducer who’s power extends to all who hear him, though they may not be aware of the seduction itself. In this there is a clear reference to the power of the “Glittering eye” of the Ancient Mariner, a poem referenced by Walton himself earlier in the frame. The voice seems to carry power. The reader should note that since Walton narrates the entire book of frames within frames, we are also likely to be spared the power of seduction since we never “hear” Frankenstein’s voice other than through Walton’s narrative. To this end, there is an interesting feature of the writing in that the voices of Frankenstein and the Creature are almost identical despite the assertion that the Creature speaks in a voice that though “harsh, had nothing terrible in it”. Thus there is no identifiable change in voice or tone regardless of which strand of the story we are reading and the focus sits squarely on the story itself. Character is denied a clear point of view.

It is rare to be led outside the narrative, but it happens in the Justine sequence in terms of the letter Frankenstein is reported to have received from Elizabeth. Crammed with detail that seems irrelevant but which sets up the first murder – that of William – the letter has a 2nd person narrative in terms of the introduction of “Justine, you may remember…”. This jars a little but is unavoidable in the telling. The full detail of this scene has to wait for the Creature’s telling in Frame 3 – Justine is unable to construct any meaningful defence (women in this novel seeming to be very poor communicators) to seduce her prosecutors and gain her rightful freedom since she does not know the truth of what happened. The only one who does is the creature, and the tale he tells suggests his response to failed seduction.

When the Creature narrates the events leading to William’s death, the image is clear. He wishes to seduce William to “seize him and educate him as my companion and friend”. Seeing William as unprejudiced he makes a clumsy attempt to befriend him (the wish for a companion echoing that of Walton), and finally kills him in a fit of rage as he hears the name “Frankenstein”. There is little doubt that his feelings are aroused by the image in the locket a she gazes “on the dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips” before his sexual passion is replaced by rage. However on finding Justine alone he gazes at the sleeping girl and remembering the locket is engaged once again in an attempted seduction: “Awake fairest, they lover is near”. Despite his body thrilling to the sight, he is once again unable to pursue his seduction and invents a pretext for killing Justine: “the crime had its source in her, let her be the punishment”. It is the telling of this tale in the frame in which the Creature is using his rhetoric to seduce Frankenstein that leads to the request to create the Eve-Creature. The honesty of the Creature’s narrative is designed to win the agreement of Creator to make a partner.

One can also see the Creature as a failed seducer in his attempts to win over the De Laceys. He watches over his family from “afar” and is material in assisting their recovery and relative prosperity before he decides to go to the next stage – integration. In his conversation with De Lacey, who is sightless, it is his ability to talk eloquently that seems to be the winning feature of the scene. He wins De Lacey’s confidence: “ I have no relation or friend on this earth”, before seeking to win his confidence in a story about his raising by a “French family” which avoids the need to tell the truth whilst managing not to be a direct lie. He finally resorts to emotional blackmail, crying: “You and your family are the friends whom I seek. Do not desert me in the hour of trial”.

The two stories are recounted in the Creature’s narrative and need to be seen in the context of his purpose – the seduce or win Frankenstein to his request for a partner. His wish is clearly for sexual consummation and he needs to extract a promise from Frankenstein to assist in his desire. Frankenstein will, while telling this tale attempt exactly the same from Walton at the end of the novel: “Swear to me Walton, that he shall not escape, that you will seek him…”. Although Frankenstein promised a moral tale at the beginning of his narration, the Creator and the Creature seem to have the same purpose in their narrative – to extract a binding promise form the listener.

Thus promises seem to dominate the Frames of the novel. In addition to the two mentioned, Walton has promised his crew that he would sail South as soon as the ice melted, only to seek to humour Frankenstein and renege. So we should consider the litany of broken promises in both the main narratives and the minor plot devices. Apart from the obvious breaking of the promise to create Eve-Creature, which absolves the Creature form his promise to leave the known areas of the Earth, promises are a feature of the narratives of Walton’s crew and the De Lacey’s which echo each other in the early frames. The apparent digression by Walton to discuss his first mate serves to show the power of a promise kept against the odds and bringing misery on the promiser. He remains “silent like the Turk”, a simile which gains relevance only when the tale of Safie is told at the centre of the novel. Here we see Safie’s father -a Turk – renege on a promised marriage and become the catalyst for all the woes to befall the De Lacey family. That both promises are concerning marriage is, of course, relevant given the role that Frankenstein’s broken promise on the same subject will play in the destruction of his own marriage to Elisabeth. The Creature makes a promise atop Mont Blanc when he promises to “quit the neighbourhood of man” and in so doing ensures his temporary seduction of Frankenstein to do his bidding. Whilst Frankenstein never speaks the words “I promise”, his adoption of the Creature’s request is evident form all that follows. In fact this is the last in a series of failed seductions. However powerful the Creature’s rhetoric, he has no hold over Frankenstein once the latter is out of the range of his voice and the Eve-Creature is eventually destroyed. It is this destruction that sets in train the events of Frankenstein’s wedding night thus ensuring that no marital harmony will exist in the novel.
At the heart of the destruction of the family and marriage lie broken promises. The promises are extracted by the force of rhetoric and all are driven by male narrators. It seems that women have little power to persuade by rhetoric in this novel and are regularly to fall victim to broken promises and failed seduction.

The single female who is untouched is Margaret, Walton’s sister. She sits outside the framework of the novel and is protected from the power of both Frankenstein’s and the Creature’s rhetoric by the power (or otherwise) of Walton’s narrative. Although the tale is meant to be “strange and harrowing” it is Walton who hears the “full toned voice” swelling in his ears and it is he who is seduced by the tale.