Friday, February 14, 2014

The Contemplation of Guilt and Innocence_Revision_Craig

September 10, 17—
My dearest Margaret- It is my purpose to write to you all the details of the trials against Victor Frankenstein and his creation, the Monster! Early this morning, my crewmen stripped the boat of its sails, and, on the ice that has kept us stationary for many weeks now, stitched together and erected a grand tent. Engulfed by the white of the snowy mountains in its background, it is almost invisible to the sight. The Northern Ice Court House, they named it.
            Victor, with my assistance, was escorted from his bed and down the rope ladder that hung at the rear of the boat. Slowly he stepped foot by foot and hand by hand down the rope ladder where finally his feet hit the icy floor of the sea. Two men took hold of his arms and guided him to the court house entrance. Behind him, eight crew members grasped the waist and legs of the Monster as he made his way to the adjourning court house entrance.
            At the mark of nine o’clock, the trials began – I the sole spectator, the crewman the jury; and the chef and his assistant served as judges. The chef stood at the front of the room and raised his arms, motioning for the room to stand. He cleared his throat and began:
            “Despite centuries of judicial practice and reform, guilt remains a vague and obscure concept. Both Victor and his creation have, at times, maintained their innocence, and, at other times, they have both loudly proclaimed their guilt. Today we are gathered in this court room to sort through the details of the four violent acts of murder. We seek a guilty party, but more importantly, we pursue justice for the deaths of William Frankenstein, Justine Mortiz, Henry Clerval, and Elizabeth Lavenza, as well as the great lamentations these deaths have inspired in countless lives. The lives of Victor Frankenstein and his creation have become so intertwined that the guilty party cannot be discerned from the innocent party. As one develops, the other is always there, lingering and watching – they are each so constantly in the other’s thoughts, so constantly the motivators of the other’s actions, so constantly the blame for the other’s burdens. It is only when we separate the two defendants, and look individually at their actions and motivations, that we can ascertain guilt. The monster is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of trespassing, and three counts of stalking. Victor Frankenstein is charged with four counts of accessory to murder and four counts of reckless endangerment of the lives of the aforementioned persons.”
             With that he took his seat at the bench, picked up his crab mallet, which served as gavel, and called to commencement the trial of “People v. Victor Frankenstein.” Next door the chef’s assistant followed his master, announcing the commencement of “People v. Frankenstein’s Monster.” A torn sheath was dropped between the two court rooms, and the two trials began at once. I sat behind my dear and benevolent friend, Victor, reassuring myself of his innocence and hoping that on the opposite side of the torn sheath, behind which I could hear only the mumbled voices of the other court proceeding, guilt was to be the verdict of every count against that creature that I scorned.
            Victor’s lawyer stood in front of the jury and reading from a piece of paper he pulled from his pocket began:
            “I wish I could stand here and demand that my client, Victor Frankenstein, has maintained his innocence during the horrendous rash of events that have defined the latter part of his life. Following a passionate interest in the sciences, Victor was quickly recognized for his excellence in academia. He became enthralled with learning and improving and creating. At the University of Ingolstadt his ‘ardor was indeed the astonishment of the students, and [his] proficiency that of the masters. Two years passed in this manner, during which [Victor] paid no visit to Geneva, but was engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries, which [he] hoped to make.’ In his pursuits, Victor found that the endless possibility for discovery and knowledge is both the excitement and hazard of science.”
            Victor took the stand, his feeble legs bowing as he walked and his hands shaking with fever.
            “Why did you choose to study science at the University of Ingolstadt?” his lawyer asked.
            “‘None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder,’” Victor responded. His eyes glimmered with the passion he once held for the science he loved.
            “And what success did you have at the University?” the lawyer replied.
            “‘I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments which procured me great esteem and admiration of the university.’”
            “At the conclusion of your studies at Ingolstadt, what did you do?”
            “‘I thought of returning to my friends and my native town, when an incident happened that protracted my stay. One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice and carelessness did not restrain our inquiries. I revolved these circumstances in my mind…I became acquainted with the science of anatomy: but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body.’”
            “What were your motivations for studying the origin and decay of life?”
            “‘Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in the process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.’”
            Victor’s lawyer turned to the members of the jury. “Victor did not create his monster with malicious intent; he was chasing immortality for the sake of his family and to, perhaps, resurrect his late mother.” Victor recounted the details of his studies and of his creation of the monster. When Victor paused to catch his fleeting breath, his lawyer commentated, “Frankenstein was not plagued with guilt upon the animation of the creature; he was merely appalled at his realization of power. At the moment of animation a ‘breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart.’ Victor was disappointed and agitated by his creation but he was not guilty or remorseful.’” 
            It was then that the opposing counsel leaped from his seat and, speaking loudly and passionately, said, “Was it not you Victor Frankenstein who, after seeing your creature at the site of William’s murder, lamented ‘Alas, I had turned loose into the world a depraved wretch, whose delight was in carnage and misery; had he not murdered my brother? Was it not you, Victor Frankenstein who maintained this guilt during Justine’s trial and conviction? Was it not you who cried, ‘From the tortures of my own heart, I turned to contemplate the deep and voiceless grief of my Elizabeth. This also was my doing! And my father’s woe, and the desolation of that so smiling home – all was the work of my thrice-accursed hands!’? Was it not you, Victor Frankenstein who, upon meeting your monster in the Montravert Valley, found in your conscience sympathy for your creature? You told the monster that you cursed the hands, your hands that made him! Was it not you, Victor, who, following the death of Henry Clerval and Elizabeth, submitted yourself to your guilt saying, ‘I began to reflect on their cause – the monster whom I created, the miserable daemon whom I sent abroad into the world for my destruction,’ and vowing to, for the rest of your life, chase and destroy your creation.”
            When the prosecuting lawyer was finally winded, Victor’s lawyer retorted:
            “It was merely Victor’s hands that stitched together body parts to form the frame of a human body. It was the creation’s own malice, contention, and loneliness that created in him a violent evil. Victor Frankenstein, overcome with regret – but not guilt – blamed the monster for the deaths of his friends. ‘Begone, vile insect! or rather, stay, that I may trample you to dust! and, oh! that I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered!’ Victor told the monster who at once admitted his guilt. ‘I am malicious because I am miserable,’ he said. ‘Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind…Shall I respect man when he contemns me? I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction.’”
            The court proceedings carried on in this angry debate for several hours. Finally, when the lawyers were exhausted, Victor, looking fatigued and ill, took his seat at the defendant’s bench. His lawyer wiped sweat from his forehead, and for one final time stood at the front of the court room and delivered his closing speech:
            “Victor is not guilty of aiding the monster in his murders; he sought to prevent the murders noted in this case and even sought to prevent the murders of our kind for years to come by refusing the monster a female companion to mate with. Victor’s only crime is that he fell victim to science. Science is the state of knowing; it is distinguished from ignorance and misunderstanding. It was only through these deaths that Victor became a scientist; he has bestowed upon the world that the science of creation leads to death, destruction, and lamentation. Just as the Roman emperors learned, by removing the beating hearts and brains from the human body, that the heart is the not the brain – the two are separate and the brain is governing. Science is not in favor of life. The discovery of the circulation of blood came only from the deaths of thousands of animal subjects and hundreds of human subjects. Medical science only progresses through murder. If we could, we would be trying the institution of science for the millions of death it has bestowed upon the human race. The path of knowledge is strewn with death, but curiosity pushes us forward, to the answers that we can cling to as we pass along in history. The dichotomy between what sciences gives us and what we must give to the sciences is why Victor Frankenstein found himself drifting between guilt and innocence – proclaiming his guilt but also casting it fully upon his creation. It is science that drove Victor Frankenstein to assemble body parts into a machine, but it was hatred and scorn that drove the Monster to murder and violence. It was neither Victor Frankenstein’s intention nor his direct actions that instilled such hatred in the monster.”
            And finally, the last words were said in each trial; the juries exited the court house, and gathered on the ice. I remained inside, staring at my dear Victor, looking at the weakness in his face. He was still my Victor, a man of excellent disposition, integrity, and dauntless courage.
            The hours passed like days. How slowly time passes when the life of your friend hangs in the ragged hands of your crewman! After merely two hours of waiting, the jury finally returned from its deliberations on the ice. You will rejoice (as I was rejoiced) to hear that my dear Victor Frankenstein was found innocent of all charges.



Works Cited and Consulted:
Bissonette, Melissa. “The Monster and the Law”. College Literature 32. Print.
Gigante, Denise. “Facing the Ugly: The Case of Frankenstein”. ELH 62.2 (2010): 565-587. Print.
"Science." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014. <>.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola: Dover Publications,    Inc., 1934. Print.
Vincent, Patrick. “This Wretched Mockery of Justice: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and     Geneva”. European Romantic Review18.5 (2007): 645-661. Print.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Strictly as fiction, the introduction could use more work (how did they get to the point of the trial), but it works fine when thinking of it more as an essay which is framed creatively. The true introduction - the monologue beginning the trial - is dense and insightful. While this is a good idea and highly workable even without pursuing everything, I would be most impressed if you followed up on your claim that the *concept* of guilt requires examination.

The crab mallet is a nice, goofy touch.

"A torn sheath was dropped between the two court rooms, and the two trials began at once." -- this duality in the trial is a beautiful little commentary on one of the characteristics of the book which makes it so weird and compelling.

Your long list of quotes shows a good knowledge of the book, and the combination of quotes is interesting (I recognize all of them, but you should have used page numbers, even if it's a bit awkward). But the framing/argument *between* the quotes could use further development. Your own ideas about the duality of the novel and the structure of guilt and innocence within it should be growing more clear through this section. One example: the distinction between guilt and regret is one that you could have used to return to your ostensible opening topic - the very nature of guilt & innocence.

The monologue on the nature of science shows flashes of insight. For instance, your concern with *concepts* again emerges here: "Science is the state of knowing; it is distinguished from ignorance and misunderstanding." Your interest in duality is strengthened here: "Medical science only progresses through murder." These are thoughtful, worthwhile lines, but the monologue ideally needed to be more coherent. Does the concept of guilt and innocence not apply to Victor because science transcends those categories, for instance? You come close to saying that, and the verdict hints at it, but the winning argument about Victor's innocence, which is clearly rooted in certain ideas about guilt, innocence, and science, needed to become more fully articulate. This monologue is why we paid the price of admission - but it's not really done yet!

I admire this: "The dichotomy between what sciences gives us and what we must give to the sciences is why Victor Frankenstein found himself drifting between guilt and innocence – proclaiming his guilt but also casting it fully upon his creation. " But ending in such ambivalence is dangerous - at the least, I'd like to hear more about what this ambivalence between guilt and innocence means (maybe for Victor - or maybe, better, for the world). This is good material but really could use further development and polishing - it's fertile ground for a 2nd revision.

Next time, cite more normally.