Monday, September 26, 2016

Oakridge's 5th Period Sophomore English Class Discusses Theme in Chapters 5-8 of Vol. 1 of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Oakridge Sophomore Period 5’s Motion to Show Abandonment & Loyalty as the Main Theme of Chapters 5-8, Vol. 1, of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Opening Argument:

When we finished Volume One of Mary Shelley’s novel, one word came to mind: abandonment. In Chapters 5 through 8, the section begins and ends with characters being abandoned by the ones they need the most. The Creature’s maker deserts him at the moment of his “birth,” and Justine is betrayed by the overzealous community she grew up in.


Henry Clerval serves as a contrary example to the idea outlined above, for he refuses to abandon his friend, Victor Frankenstein, when Victor undergoes hardship by becoming ill. Unlike our protagonist, Henry does not ignore his obligation to a friend for purposes of pursuing his studies. Instead, he puts friendship before his quest for knowledge.

Evidence of Abandonment as a main theme:

“I ought to be thy Adam...” - Victor Reacts to His Creation by Garret K, Will G, Mack N, Dylan W, & Yates B

The completion of Victor’s project sparks a negative reaction within him such that Victor’s response to the animation of the monster was not one of excitement and pride, but of regretful revulsion and disappointment. Like Alphonse or Walton’s father, we observe another example of a father’s disappointment, but not because of books this time. Before the monster exhaled the breath of life, Victor seemed to view his creation’s physical characteristics favorably, complimenting his “in proportioned limbs”, “teeth of pearly whiteness”, and “lustrous black” hair (58). However, after Victor dreams of Elizabeth and his mother, he only gazes at the monster in horror to the extent that his heart could no longer “endure the aspect of the being“ he “had created” (50). Why was Victor’s reaction to the animation of the Monster so hostile and exaggerated after being so invested in the project for nearly 2 years? What does Victor’s reaction to his creation reveal about his character? Perhaps his reaction reveals something about how he views himself; it could be a manifestation of his disgust for his own actions due to decisions such as robbing corpses, ignoring his family, skipping classes, etc. His reaction to the Monster’s coming to life definitely shows a tendency to react extremely to events that occur in his life. Victor may have felt abandoned emotionally when his father called his childhood interests “sad trash,” which could have left a psychic scar in Victor’s mind, leading him to treat his monster with the same apathy. With this in mind, abandonment seems to breed more abandonment in this novel, and the most obvious and most important instance (in terms of plot) is Victor abandoning the monster.

Has Absence Made the Heart Grow Fonder? - More on Victor and Elizabeth by Faith D, Berkley B, Janae P, Rachel C, Sheridan D

In previous chapters, Victor demonstrated a deep love for Elizabeth. His feelings for his family, however, were not as affectionate. Perhaps this is because he may have felt ostracised by his father, or because his mother died when he was young. We understand that Victor may have been able to leave his family for the university because he was not as emotionally close to them. We don’t quite understand why leaving Elizabeth for the university was so easy. Frankenstein soon replaces his family with the obsession of obtaining and manipulating the secrets of nature, in specific, the reversal of death. He labors over the creation of a “being” for many months, neglecting his own needs and health for that of his creation until it is brought to life. Victor immediately regrets his actions and in a dream he has on the night of the birth of his creation, he dreams of Elizabeth as “a bloom of health,” and being with her (59). After kissing Elizabeth, he draws away from her, and as he does so, the face of Elizabeth changes into the face of his deceased mother, “livid with the hue of death” (59). Perhaps the dream is Victor’s subconscious telling him that he harbors deep resentment towards Elizabeth, since the death of Victor’s mother resulted from her time spent caring for Elizabeth when she was ridden with scarlet fever. Maybe the dream caused Victor to realize that his feelings for Elizabeth have changed, or maybe his feelings are simply not as strong as they once were. Victor seems to emotionally abandon Elizabeth, disregarding her feelings and only thinking of his best interest.

Evidence of Loyalty as a main theme:

Abandonment’s Opposite: the Friendship of Henry Clerval by Mason H., Megan M., Mia M., Garrett S., Tushar K.

While there are many examples of abandonment in this section, Shelley makes it a point to present us with an opposite example of which there is but one—Henry Clerval, and his unwavering loyalty to Victor. This loyalty of Clerval is present despite the fact that Victor never writes to him, let alone even thinks of him. This loyalty is further emphasized when Clerval spends the entirety of the winter after the monster is created “consumed in [Victor’s] sick room,” “instead of being spent in study,” to nurse Victor back to health, after the nervous illness Victor contracts due to his horrific experience of animating life (63). Victor receives Henry with much enthusiasm, whereas his neglect towards Elizabeth continued at least until her letter: “Nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval … I grasped his hand, and in a moment forgot my horror and misfortune; I felt suddenly, and for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy” (61). Victor’s absence (as a friend) highlights Henry’s loyalty all the more; it highlights Victor’s continued self-willed isolation from the rest of his family as well. Shelley carefully constructs this juxtaposition to extol Henry’s loyalty, but more importantly to further expose the flaws of Victor (60). Reintroducing Henry into the story is a way to reintroduce loyalty as well as the need for companionship and community. Clerval exclaimed, “how glad I am to see you!”, which demonstrates that despite the absence, perhaps even aloofness, of Victor, Henry still thinks about, and concerns himself with, his friend (60). Indeed, it almost seems as though Henry is loyal to a fault; after all, is Victor using him, or at least not reciprocating the same kind of devotion? Clerval serves not so much as an accurate portrayal of a best friend, but functions more as a flat character, a simple vehicle through which Shelley can reveal more about Victor’s character. Also, Victor and Henry could not be more different; while the former is seemingly in a perpetual state of despair, depression, fear, and anguish, the latter is always in a good mood, full of vivacity, energy, and zest for life. Victor states, “[Henry] exerted himself to amuse me, while he expressed the sensations that filled his soul” (71). Shelley is perhaps intimating that the quality of loyalty leads to happiness, and is the facilitator through which relationships can be maintained, and, as in Victor’s with Elizabeth, even resuscitated. Ultimately, Clerval helps us as readers better understand Victor’s complex personality, showing Victor to be someone who can treat those dearest to him more like possessions, which can easily be put on a shelf to be neglected and to collect dust, only to be dusted off and used again when it suits Victor’s needs. While this speaks volumes about Victor, we wonder: Will Victor’s proclivity towards abandoning others further affect the lives of others that are closest to him? Will he learn his lesson about this before we meet him in the ice somewhere near the north pole?

Evidence of Abandonment & Loyalty as the main themes:

No Justice for Justine by Eric P.,James B.,Brad G.,Thomas W.

Justine’s court case is the death of justice in the book; it’s the moment that the Genevan society loses its innocence in the eyes of the reader. Even though Justine was adopted and of the working class, she was still considered a member of the Frankenstein Family and was greatly cared for by both Victor and Elizabeth. Before the incident, Justine’s appearance evoked kindness in all who gazed upon her (85). However, after she is falsely accused of the murder of William Frankenstein, “the kindness which her beauty might otherwise have excited was obliterated in the minds of the spectators” and the jury “viewed her unequivocally as evil” (85). This specifically shows the romantic idea that humanity’s natural innocence is robbed by social experience, just like the court, the church, and the surrounding community robbed Justine of her innocence. Justine was abandoned by her friends, whom she had known for a long time, due to the horrid crime that she was accused of and, as a result,  received no true defense of character or action from them. Even though Victor was convinced of her innocence, he ended up betraying her in his silence. The only one to truly stand for her was Elizabeth, who tried to convince the court of her innocence, but was ignored, perhaps because she is female. Although there was no definitive evidence of  Justine committing the murder, this was ignored, and the trial continued based on circumstantial factors at best. Justine, therefore, was abandoned by the law that was supposed to protect her. Her world was revealed to be one based on a broken, corrupted social contract. Victor was the only person who could convince those arround her of Justine's innocence, but he abstained because he would be labeled a madman if he spilled his unnatural tale. Justine was later abandoned by her religion when the priest pressured her to admit to committing the crime, claiming that it was the only way to receive absolution. Everyone in the courtroom, including most of her adopted family members, abandoned her “due to the fact that they might be associated with someone that is labeled as guilty”(85), but Justine’s episode did demonstrate one example to the contrary: the unwavering loyalty of Elizabeth.

Closing Argument & Question:

Chapters 5-8 of Volume 1 present episodes that demonstrate examples of both abandonment and loyalty by way of Victor’s creation, his illness, and the trial of Justine, but we’re left with the following question: If isolation is shown to have its dangers, can’t we say the same about living within a community when we consider the case of Justine? What is Shelley saying about the challenges of living in a community?

Colley's 5th Period Honors Survey of British Literature Class
The Oakridge School
Sept. 26, 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oakridge's 3rd Period Sophomore English Class Shares Insights about Chapters 1-4 of Vol. 1 from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:

Victor's Creation: The Lab Report

Victor’s passion to discover the unknown secrets of nature allows him to develop his studies to the point where he isolates himself from his relationships and society to create a being that satisfies his obsession at the cost of consuming his life. His passion, however, may also be a way for him not to confront certain deeper issues concerning his ability to have meaningful relationships with others.

Materials Needed:
Chapters 1-4, Vol. 1, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

"Victor’s Passion for Science" by Ben B., Caz F., Sam D., & Nick G.

Victor develops a strong passion for natural philosophy and science in Chapters 1-4 of Volume One. Victor makes the decision to continue his studies further such that a childhood interest changes into an entire lifestyle, and passion quickly morphs from a potential profession to an actual obsession, which consumes his time, his relationships, and himself. Victor makes the decision to attend Ingolstadt where professors, such as M Krempe, promote the idea of modern science rather than its less sophisticated, pre-modern counterpart (such as Alchemy). Victor ‘s relationship with science is different compared to most scientists; like figures such as Agrippa, Victor studies science to discover the secrets behind all of nature.​He​ ​is​ ​fueled by​ ​passion,​ ​wonder,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​satisfaction​ ​of​ ​doing​ ​something​ ​never​ ​before done, making him more emotional than the modern, detached rationalist. Because of this Victor turns away from his professors, stops going to classes, and obsesses over anatomy which leads to the creation of his “monster.” Kempe's method of science was more pragmatic and part of the mainstream community of science practice while Victor’s pursuit remained more fantastical and mythical, therefore outside the norms of human society. Ultimately, we believe Victor uses his scientific studies as both an escape, and an excuse to hide some deeper concern on his part.

“Family Issues: a deeper meaning” by Camryn C., Dagny M., & Katheryn M.

Victor develops negatively as a character when he goes away to school by abandoning all of his relationships. Victor claims,“I loved my brothers, Elizabeth, and Clerval; these were ‘old familiar faces’ but I believed myself totally unfitted for the company of strangers” (46). After Victor departs for school, he seems to think he can’t relate to anyone other than his family or friends. However,  his behavior reveals that his connection to family has weakened as well, which the reader can see when he neglects to return any letters. Is he using his devotion to science as an excuse to not confront a deeper family problem? Did his perplexing childhood and the troubles that he endured, such as his father’s neglect (see below) and his mother’s death, shape Victor's unhealthy desire to create life, no matter the cost? Like all individuals, Victor’s early family life both nurtured his innocence at a young age but also contributed to its loss due to events such as the death of his mother, and the possible feeling of standing in Elizabeth’s angelic shadow. Victor’s mood about his life ranges  from “My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement” (23) to “no human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself” (23). Does the trauma and disappointment from his childhood make him a stronger person? Or does it cause him to make childish mistakes and decisions, such as his self-willed exile at the university? Instead of pursuing something he loves, such as science, it seems that Victor is more motivated by fleeing something he dreads, such as certain family experiences that have made it difficult for him to relate to others.

“Fathers and Sons” by Elliot W., Hiba A., Davis L., Brian D., Sarah T., and Kennedy T.

While Victor Frankenstein makes reference to his relationship with the other family members, much emphasis is placed on Victor’s relationship with his father, especially in Chapter Two, giving the idea that this relationship may be the most significant in the novel in terms of impacting Victor’s development.  When Victor discovers the writings and discoveries of late medieval philosophers like Agrippa, he is instantly seized with a passion to learn about the secrets of science.  When he shows it to his father, Alphonse dismisses it stating, “‘Ah Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash” (40). Victor later reveals that if his father had taken the time to explain to him why the works of Agrippa were out of date, “[He] should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented [his] imagination, warmed as it was, by returning with greater ardour to [his] former studies… [T]he train of [Victor’s] ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to [his] ruin” (41).  We see a parallel to Robert Walton and his father’s disapproval of Walton’s desire to seek adventure on the seas.  Walton writes, “... a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good uncle Thomas’s library… These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased the regret that I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father’s dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life” (16). Walton’s memory closely resembles the moment in the library where Victor found the books whose value was denied by his father, which provoked Victor’s interest all the more.  When Victor goes to Ingolstadt, he isolates himself from the rest of the world: Is neglecting his father the result of the neglect Victor felt as a child? Is the lack of an encouraging father the reason Victor creates the monster?  Does he need his father's approval?  Does he create the monster to prove to his father that he is better?  He does make the following confession: “A species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (55). Victor reveals his desire to play the ultimate “Father” role and perhaps this is the motivation behind creating the monster.

“Elizabeth: The Object of Victor’s Affection?” by Katie R., Emily I., & Natalie B.

Elizabeth makes us question whether Victor’s personality is split in some sense. She plays a major role in Victor Frankenstein’s life, and through her intuitive and selfless disposition, she reveals an interesting contrast between the two as well as flaws in Victor’s personality. Victor is very attached to Elizabeth, as seen when she writes him and he feels her genuine concern, revealing his heartfelt emotions. Throughout the novel, there is an interesting contrast between Elizabeth’s and Victor’s personalities. Elizabeth stays at home while Victor goes to the university, and she shows interest in literature while he studies science.  Victor is also a dark person who is very obsessive while Elizabeth proves to be a more positive character as demonstrated when Victor states, “She indeed veiled her grief, and strove to act the comforter to us all.” (45). She was the foundation of the strength of the family in the aftermath of Victor’s mother’s death. It is puzzling, however, to think that these two very different people are engaged. For instance, the language that he uses in association with Elizabeth, in addition to how he treats her, is a bit controversial. In Chapter Two, when he first meets her, he states, “No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in with she stood to me- my more than sister, since till death she was to be only mine” (37 emphasis added). Victor reveals his affections for her and thinks of her fondly, but as he gets older, he begins neglecting her in favor of his scientific pursuits. Considering his neglect for her along with his possessive word choices (“she was to be only mine”), it seems fair to say that Victor sees Elizabeth more as an object than an equal partner. A point was made in the Google docs that Victor has the strange ability to turn relationships on and off abruptly. When he is with Elizabeth, he seems to be very happy, almost as if her personality is contagious to him. But when they are apart, he reverts to his obsessive pursuit. Victor is very consumed by his work that he forgets his entire family including his wife to be, making us question the depth of his relationship to Elizabeth and whether science is his excuse to avoid the deeper challenges that come with being in a serious relationship.

Victor Frankenstein reminds us of William Wordsworth's poem "Line Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" when the speaker compares his former self (from five years prior) to his present self stating, "Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first / I came among these hills; when like a roe / I bounded o’er the mountains… more like a man / Flying from something that he dreads, than one / Who sought the thing he loved.” Victor's motive for pursuing his passions is compromised because it is fueled by a desire to flee something he dreads the idea of having to confront. Victor fails to find grounds for defining his pursuit in terms of seeking something that he loves.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Oakridge's 1st Period Sophomore English Class Reflects on the Opening Letters from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:

To Our Fellow Readers of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, DFW

Arlington, TX, Sept. 19th, 2016.

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings” (15). That’s right; we’ve decided to read one of literature’s most horrifying novels together, and you too have embarked upon the journey, so think of these letters as a log about what we will encounter together at each stage of our reading quest. Our first stop on the journey is the opening letters from Robert Walton who is travelling to the northern regions of the Arctic in search of a northwest passageway to the Pacific Ocean. Did it strike you as odd to begin the novel in the arctic when we know we're starting a story about a European scientist who raises to life a stitched-together corpse only to experience disastrous consequences as a result of his questionable experiment? It struck us as odd: Why do we begin the novel near the North Pole?
Shelley presents us with parallels between the two characters, Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein, in order to set up suspense about the novel, to foreshadow possibilities about the story of Victor Frankenstein, and to help the reader understand how both characters become “Slaves of [their own] passion.” When Robert Walton discovers Victor dying on the ice, he resuscitates “the stranger” and quickly develops a bond with his new passenger. During this time, Walton describes Victor as a “slave of passion” (29), but we believe this to be one of the many parallels that make Walton an interesting comparison to Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist of the novel. Walton too is not in control of his passionate desires which drive him to accomplish his task at all cost: “I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought…” (29). In class, someone wondered why the stranger (who is revealed to be Victor) wanted to tell Walton his story, and we noted that it’s after Walton proclaims the above statement that the traveller is prompted to share more about his past experiences. Walton seems to struggle between choosing what’s best to satisfy his passions and what’s best for both his health and his crew’s livelihood, and Victor witnesses this struggle in his new friend, which is why he states, “I had determined, at one time, that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won me to alter my determination… when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale;” (30-31). We think Victor wants to caution Walton once he recognizes  his parallel fervor and passion. There are elements of Walton’s quest that make it noble in the eyes of Victor and the eyes of the reader, such as discovering new knowledge and embracing the sublimity of nature, but there are also reasons to question Walton’s motives, such as his willingness to endanger his crew, his inability to accept failure, and his desire to seek glory and fame.
On the Google doc about the opening letters, someone commented that Walton’s passion to discover new knowledge drives him into the wild, which isolates him from community and human relationships (JA/1/Colley). Walton pursues his quest at the cost of being isolated, much like the fate of the ancient mariner (whom Walton alludes to in the 2nd letter). The reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” got us wondering if accomplishing Walton’s task would serve as his “albatross moment” - namely something he can never take back with consequences that will forever haunt him in later years of loneliness. He claims in an early letter, “I shall satiate my curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (16)), but what is the cost of attaining such a trophy? When does one’s passion become obsession? Where is the line? When does following one’s passion become morally questionable and perhaps even dangerous? Obviously Shelley’s allusion to the mariner invites us to pose such questions about Walton’s quest, and as stated above, Walton’s experience seems to run parallel to Victor’s (which we will learn more about in the chapters that follow).. As stated earlier, Victor recognized their common predicament, and in a way, Victor seems to play the role of the Mariner from Coleridge’s poem who stops a younger man on his way to a wedding so that the ancient seaman can share his cautionary tale about shooting the fateful albatross. Walton therefore plays the role of the “wedding guest,” and Victor attempts to halt the wedding guest’s isolated journey by sharing his story in an act of communal friendship and goodwill.
Are there other parallels between Walton and Frankenstein that can be noted this early in the reading? What other reasons might Shelley start her novel in the arctic with Victor inexplicably found in the wilderness? What impact does meeting our main character in such circumstances have on the reader? And why reveal the facts using letters? One thing is for sure, meeting the characters in such circumstances raises our level of intrigue and even builds suspense for a story that we know will have terrifying twists and turns. What are your thoughts on the opening letters?

Your Affectionate Fellow Readers,

Mr. Colley's 1st Period Sophomore English Class

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dr. Anne Frey of Texas Christian University will be giving the keynote address at the 2017 Frankenstein Colloquium at The Oakridge School

Dr. Anne Frey, Associate Professor, TCU English Department
The Oakridge School is thrilled to announce that Dr. Anne Frey of TCU will be delivering the keynote address at the 2017 Frankenstein Colloquium on Jan. 30th. We are so thankful she agreed to join our celebration, and we look forward to hearing thoughts and insights about Shelley's Frankenstein from one of DFW's foremost experts on literary Romanticism. Dr. Frey is Associate Professor of English at TCU, where she teaches courses in British literature (especially Romantic poetry and prose) and law and literature.   Her book, British State Romanticism:  Authorship, Agency, and Bureaucratic Nationalism was published by Stanford University Press in 2010, and she has published articles on authors such as Jane Austen and Percy Shelley in a variety of scholarly journals. She finds a way to teach Frankenstein​ almost every semester.. 
British State Romanticism: Authorship, Agency,
and Bureaucratic Nationalism by Dr. Anne Frey
We are so excited and grateful that Dr. Frey will be joining our students this January to discuss Mary Shelley's greatest work of literature 200 years after its original publication. Make sure you stay tuned for more announcements about the upcoming program for January 30, 2017.

Jared Colley

Thursday, September 1, 2016

More on Planning a Collaborative Acting Workshop for the 2017 Frankenstein Colloquium

An adjustment to last week's call for theatre collaborators:

Last week, we published a blog post asking if there's any interest collaborating in a theatre workshop using one of the many stage adaptations of Frankenstein. After speaking this morning with our Theatre Director, Brad Deborde, we've decided to narrow the focus to a single scene from Nick Dear's stage adaptation of the novel. We're planning to host a special session on January 30, 2017 for students who want to prepare a performance of Scene Twenty-Four from Dear's work. The scene can be found here for those who might be interested. The idea is that students from various schools could prepare performances of the scene to be acted out in front of an audience of observers followed by discussion and reflection among participants in the workshop. Oakridge students will be planning to participate, and we'd love to have other contributors from other campuses.

Why Scene Twenty-Four?

Scene Twenty-Four really stuck out for us at Oakridge because it's the moment when the creator and creature finally meet face to face. It's a dramatic scene, for sure, and it could be played in many ways, making it rich material for different performances followed by discussion among participants. Take a look at the link and please spread the word by making this opportunity known to the relevant students and faculty members on your campus.

You can contact me or Brad Deborde if students from your school want to be a part of this special workshop in January!

Jared Colley

Brad Deborde