The Loss of the Frame Narrative of Frankenstein in Film
One of the central features of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is the frame structure that encapsulates the entire tale. It is a particularly complex device, and features the narrations from several different viewpoints – primarily, Robert Walton is writing letters to his sister Margaret Saville, and contained in these letters is Victor Frankenstein’s firsthand account of his life, which also includes extended quotations from the creature, as well as letters from Elizabeth Lavenza, Alphonse Frankenstein, and Henry Clerval. Since so much detail is spent of crafting this intricate arrangement, why then would filmmakers decide to remove it entirely? Is it simply to save time? To aid in comprehension? Or does it serve a more important goal in shaping viewer’s reactions to both the creature and Victor Frankenstein himself?
A cynic could simply say – yes, the removal of the narrative is due to the fact that it is not the most comprehensible and interesting structure to a film. However, scholar James A. W. Heffernan explores this further by stating that the “faithful re-creation” of the frame narrative would “never show the monster at all – would give us only the sound of his voice over the shouts of what he perceives…” (142). And being able to visually experience the creature is essential not only due to the fact that the story is being reproduced in an almost entirely visual medium, but also due to the fact that we must “face-more frankly and forthrightly than the critics of the novel usually do – the problem of the creature’s appearance” (142). In the novel, the creature’s description tends towards images more strange than grotesque, with his hair being “lustrous black” contrasted with “yellow skin” and a “shriveled complexion”, and Victor even states that he had taken “such infinite pains and care” to “select his features as beautiful” (Shelley 37). The audience must see the creature as a hideous being, despite the utmost attention being paid to his construction as beautiful, because it highlights the error of Victor’s original goal – to create life by himself, without the aid of womanly intervention. When he assembles this creature, he is also destroying the idea of procreation, and his “artistic ambitions run[s] monstrously awry” (Heffernan 144). The audience is therefore repulsed both by the creature’s appearance, and by extension, repulsed by such a person whose own ambition and vanity drove him to create a being that finds himself an outcast, “the miserable and the abandoned…an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on” (Shelley 177).
Heffernan, James A. W. “Looking at the Monster: “Frankenstein”and Film.” Critical Inquiry 24.1 (1997): 133-58. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1344161>.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.