There’s an argument floating around out there that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is all about sex, or the fear of sex. The theory goes that Frankenstein’s work is driven by the fear of sex and women, in creating the monster he subverts the role of women, they are no longer needed to create life and therefore nor is sex. I can hear you cry, where did they get that one from?
This all goes back to the idea of reading like a writer and interpretation, once again I emphasise the word, interpretation. We can’t ask Mary Shelley what she meant when she wrote the novel, if she meant anything at all, but it has been argued about over the years. It’s been interpreted as being about Frankenstein’s fear of sex because Victor sees his mother die in childbirth, he marries his childhood friend, cousin in the 1819 version, all very plutonic and he doesn’t even get to consummate his marriage before she is murdered. At this point we may interpret the creature as Frankenstein’s alter ego acting out the things he cannot do. He kills William, Victor’s younger brother who his mother died giving birth to, his very intimate friend he’s always pushing away, and Elizabeth his friend/cousin/wife he might not want to have sex with.
The idea that the creature is a reflection of Frankenstein is often given a dark spin, perhaps because The Creature is so often referred to as The Monster, yet The Creature appears to show more empathy, compassion and a deep down desire to be loved then Frankenstein. It’s his desire to be loved and belong being thwart of which is what drives him to murder, or so we might argue, is he the bad side of Frankenstein? Or is he the good that Frankenstein is lacking? There’s a moral quandary. I can’t give you a straight answer to that one because we’re simply interpreting. If I was to write this as a proper academic essay I could fill it with quotations and supporting evidence of ‘experts’ to argue one side but I’m simply trying to show you the breadth of interpretation. A practical demonstration of how writers were able to get around censorship.
One person sees The Creature as evil, another does not. One person sees Victor Frankenstein as afraid of sex, another sees him as afraid of death. One sees mirror images in the characters, one looks at them as entirely separate. With such a variety of interpretations is it a wonder that books and plays that passed the censor in some cases now seem to be full of sex to the modern audience?
Of course, it’s entirely possible that when the writers wrote them they genuinely had nothing to do with sex and it is simply modern preoccupations being reflected in interpretations, and they will change as society’s preoccupations change. Think of all the different adaptations of Frankenstein there are, each one is a different interpretation by a different person at a different time. In the days of Universal we had a mute creature both vulnerable and villainous, later adaptations The Creature found his voice again and could verbalise his pain, for example Kenneth Branagh’s version in 1994, he’s even been an action hero in I, Frankenstein.
This also shows the benefit of not explaining everything in a story, leaving gaps for the reader to interpret meaning allows them to take from the story what they want so it speaks to each reader differently. If Mary Shelley had told us the exact ‘meaning’ of her story would it have endured so long in so many different forms? Hard to say for certain.
To conclude, leaving space for the reader to interpret leaves space for them to make a story within your story, even if it’s a rude one.
For more writing advice see my archive page.