अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

March 25, 2008

Shelly, Monk, Russell and Frankenstein …

… unite in The Spirit of Solitude.

Byron too.

Actually, it is not Frankenstein but Frankenstein’s Monster. I used to get it wrong. A lot of people still do.

The sackful of books I had mentioned earlier, included a 1904 edition of Shelly’s ‘Poetical Works’. Yes, I have a book that was printed more than hundred years ago. One of these poems is called ‘Alastor: Or, the Spirit of Solitude’. Ray Monk’s biography of Bertrand Russell is called ‘Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude’. And ‘Frankenstein’ was, of course, written by Mary Shelly (who happened to be P.B. Shelly’s wife, in case you are not aware).

Note the unshakable sexism or general bias in ‘Shelly’ sufficing to refer to ‘P. B. Shelly’ but not to ‘Mary Shelly’.

The above may just be interesting trivia, but there is something else related to the title of this post which is not so trivial.

I had watched a film version of ‘Frankenstein’ as a child on TV. After that, innumerable times, I have read about the book as well as film versions. Almost always the only themes that are discussed are some variations on man’s meddling in God’s creation or the unimaginable effects of scientific magic.

Many years ago when I read Mary Shelly’s original ‘Frankenstein’, I was completely taken aback by the fact that (what seemed to me) the main theme was not mentioned anywhere. Not prominently at least.

Of course, someone might have mentioned it prominently and I may not have come across it. I don’t know everything, you know.

Today I happened to pick up that 1904 book and came across the poem mentioned above. And I was amazed to see that the poem is on the same theme which I had thought was one of the main themes of ‘Frankenstein’. It can also be mentioned here that the idea for this novel was conceived during a long conversation among the Shellys and Byron in the Alps.

If you are not too straitjacketed, you can find similarities between Byron and Frankenstein’s Monster and also between the hero of the poem mentioned above and Frankenstein’s Monster. And Ray Monk used the title of that poem for his biography of Bertrand Russell. Not fascinating?

I hope you do understand that having similarities doesn’t mean being the same. And also that similarities in such a context have to be of some significance. That doesn’t include the fact that all of them had two eyes and two ears etc. Moreover, the similarities are uninteresting without the differences.

What’s the bloody theme?

The theme is quite a familiar one, except that the intensity is what makes it special. That intensity is in the individuals concerned. In how the society responds to the individuals. And vice versa.

But I have already mentioned the theme more than once.

The Spirit of Solitude. What else?

Pray, what does ‘The Spirit of Solitude’ mean?

Well, it doesn’t exactly mean what you may at first think. For example, it doesn’t only mean that the individual concerned Likes to be Alone. He might. Usually. But not always. Remember that old saying? Man is a social animal? Well, even misanthropes need some company. Friendly company. Reliable company. It also means other things which I will talk about later.

By the way, neither the Shellys nor Bertrand Russell can truly be called misanthropes. Byron was perhaps one. Was Frankenstein’s Monster a misanthrope? Well, whether he was or was not, but he certainly was forced to become one, as the novel quite clearly (and in detail) shows.

I don’t know about Ray Monk.

Aren’t you going overboard, comparing a monster to those literary and philosophical giants?

No, I am not. I have thought quite a lot about it and tried to find evidence for and against it. Frankenstein’s Monster, as presented in Mary Shelly’s novel, was hardly the monster he is made out to be in the movies, in popular culture and even in language (as in “BJP has created a Frankenstein”: That monster is much more dangerous than poor Frankenstein’s ever was).

But the connections get still more interesting.

I have not Googled all this information. I have earned it all in the old fashioned way.

The connections get interesting because Bertrand Russell, in his great and unique ‘History of Western Philosophy’ called ‘Frankenstein’ an allegory of the Romanticist movement of the 19th century. (Byron, Shelly and Keats were the central figures of that movement in literature). This is one of my favourite (favorite) books, but I have no hesitation in saying that Russell got it (at least partly) wrong. He also missed the theme I have mentioned. I mean he was right in pointing out some of the shortcomings of the Romantics, but he got the Frankenstein part wrong. I don’t agree with his interpretation of the novel or of the character.

Since Shelly has done the work for me, I will just point to him to further elaborate on the theme.

No apology for name dropping because, as I said earlier, I have earned it all. In the old fashioned way. Even if I am writing about it in the new fashioned way.

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