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A Monster in the Closet

Published on April 21st, 2016 at 03:45 am

By Ashley Kasha

The Romantic Period brought into question what it means to define sexuality and gender. This period began in the late eighteenth century and was characterized by the reverence of the values of innocence, imagination, inspiration, intuition and individualism. These values all dealt with sensitive topics and brought out the more sentimental side of authors. Such passionate values could often be deemed as feminine characteristics therefore questioning the normative gender roles and sexualities of the authors and characters of literary works. Queer theory can be used to analyze these texts and aims to destabilize the generalized consensus of what it means to be or be attracted to certain genders. Biology doesn’t determine a sexual identity and this is demonstrated in many literary works spanning over centuries of time. One of these classic works is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which reveals that society creates its own monsters. It presents many male characters that walk the fine line between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Most notably, Victor Frankenstein’s reckless pursuit of knowledge reveals his queer nature. The creation of his monster transforms himself into his own monster, incapable of recognizing his gay disposition. The character of Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is undeniably a homosexual because of his sensitive characteristics, close relationships with other men and destructive denial of his feelings. This can be proven through the examples of his coming out to Robert Walton, his creation of a male monster, and his love of Henry Clerval.

At the beginning of the epistolary novel, Walton narrates a series of events to his sister. He describes feeling alone on his voyage and needing a male companion. Then he meets the stranger, Victor Frankenstein. Elizabeth Goldhammer describes the setting that Frankenstein is found in. She writes, “The blank slate of the Arctic enables Victor to project his masochistic, queer desires for his supplement outside of the confines of society, and Victor’s sexual impulses are apparent when Walton rescues him” (Goldhammer 3). When Victor is in nature and apart from the constraints of society, he is able to display his true sexuality. He no longer fears going against the standards of the population. When he meets Walton, he furthers his acceptance of his feelings. The two men bond and talk about what they want to find in life. Walton states, “I spoke of my desire of finding a friend – of my thirst for a more intimate sympathy with a fellow mind than had ever fallen to my lot; and expressed my conviction that a man could boast of little happiness, who did not enjoy this blessing” (Shelley 22). Walton seeks a male companion displaying that he may be gay by nature. When he finds Frankenstein he takes care of him and listens to his story showing that he would like to be more than friends. Shelley conveys Frankenstein’s response to Walton by dictating, “We are unfashioned creatures, but half made up, if one better, dearer than ourselves – such a friend ought to be – do not lend his aid to perfectionate our weak and faulty natures. I once had a friend, the most noble of human creatures, and am entitled, therefore to judge respecting friendship” (Shelley 23). Victor responds to Walton by showing him that he relates to the search for a male companion. He hints that he is also gay and understands Walton’s turmoil. Douglas Sadownick views this exchange between the two men as them coming out to each other. He writes, “… These two men have ‘revealed themselves to each other as gay men, using probing, indirect, and coded language – as gay men have done for centuries and continue to do in the present.’ … Since the mid-18th century, the word ‘friend’ has been a ‘code word for the lover of another man” (Sadownick 1). These two men have revealed their feelings to each other in a restrained manner in order to still be accepted in society. They want to be gay and show it in a small way, but still aren’t fully comfortable with announcing it to the world. In conclusion, Victor Frankenstein is a homosexual because he comes out to Walton and accepts their relationship.

Additionally, Victor Frankenstein is proven gay because of his choice to create a male monster instead of a female one. He searches through charnel houses for body parts to piece together his creation, a male companion that he can connect with. Once his creation is complete, he gets ready to put it to life. Shelley writes, “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! – Great god! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness” (Shelley 47). Before his creation is alive, he views it with such disbelief of how wonderful it is. But once the monster becomes alive, he views it as ugly and terrifying, so he quickly runs away. This displays Frankenstein’s rejection of his own homosexual feelings. In his mind he wants to be gay but he can’t put it into practice due to society’s disapproval. Elizabeth Goldhammer explains that the monster is a doppelganger of Frankenstein and that he is displaying Frankenstein’s true feelings about his sexuality. She writes, “The Creature is Victor’s double, a manifestation of his creator’s sexual identity. This doubling reveals Victor’s paradoxical relationship with his repressed sexuality…Victor hides from his double as an act of rejection of his sexual identity, but conversely seeks his creature outside of the confines of civilized society” (Goldhammer 1). The monster mirrors what Victor feels. He wants to connect with men in theory but can’t escape the restraints of society. When he tries to go against society’s norms by creating a male monster and showing his homosexuality, he immediately regrets his decision resulting in his departure away from the monster and the suppression of his feelings. As the novel progresses, Victor begins to connect with the monster, allowing his queer feelings to show. Yet, Sadownick conveys that Victor does not know how to handle these new feelings. He writes, “As quickly as Victor falls in love with the monster, he suffers a hateful reversal… The good doctor ‘seems to be exhibiting homosexual panic-- hysteria resulting from a clash between intense homosexual desire and social condemnation” (Sadownick 2). Victor doesn’t want to be outcast in society because of his homosexual nature and spirals out of control. He becomes very sick and secludes himself. As he pushes away from the monster, the monster becomes more violent and destructive. Initially he is docile but as time progresses he learns behaviors based on what he perceives of his surroundings. This demonstrates society’s rejection of homosexuality. Frankenstein’s doppelganger, the monster, keeps on killing people paralleling Frankenstein’s internal rejection of being gay. Overall, Frankenstein’s queer nature is revealed because of his creation and reaction to the monster.

In addition, Frankenstein’s homosexual desires are displayed through his relationship with Henry Clerval. Henry Clerval is a childhood friend of Frankenstein who serves as a foil to his character by being a genuine being that has no interest in science. He is the polar opposite of Frankenstein, yet opposites attract. Frankenstein narrates, “…Clerval called forth the better feelings of my heart; he again taught me to love the aspect of nature, and the cheerful faces of children. Excellent friend! How sincerely you did love me, and endeavor to elevate my mind until it was on a level with your own!” (Shelley 57). When Victor starts secluding himself from society due to his guilt for being gay, Clerval is the only one who can bring him back. The two have an inseparable bond. Frankenstein even goes to say that he loves him, illustrating that they are more than just friends. Shelley also uses the word, ‘friend’ in this passage, which Sadownick stated as a code word for queer feelings. This furthers the homosexual nature of their intimate relationship. When the monster kills Clerval, Frankenstein is heartbroken. Sadownick relates, “The violent aspect of Frankenstein's internalized homophobia – hatred, revenge, even murderousness – a condition that in my estimation is the primary cause of many serious psychologically-rooted problems that afflict many gay people” (Sadownick 4). The monster represents Frankenstein’s deep-seated internalized homophobia. Frankenstein’s doppelganger killed Henry because of the nature of their relationship. Frankenstein was becoming too intimate with him in a homosexual way, which scared him. This went against society’s norms and therefore his subconscious felt it had to be terminated. Yet, Frankenstein is deeply hurt by this incidence and still misses him showing that he cannot fully suppress his homosexuality. Frankenstein is blamed for Clerval’s death and doesn’t reveal to the public that the monster was the one committing all of these murders because this would mean he would come out to the public. Goldhammer states, “Nevertheless, Victor’s silence is a way to deny his sexuality: if the public is ignorant of his deviant Creature, spawned from erotic urges, then the public will continue to be ignorant of Victor’s erotic desires towards men” (Goldhammer 3). If Frankenstein reveals that the monster is guilty, he reveals that he is gay. He cannot do this because he fears how society will treat him. Even though his dear friend Clerval is one of these victims, he decides that keeping his queerness a secret is more important. Overall, Frankenstein’s gay nature is developed further by his relationship with Henry Clerval and his reaction to his death.

In conclusion, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein displays a protagonist that is coming to terms with his homosexuality. Victor Frankenstein is revealed as a queer through his experiences with Robert Walton, the monster, and Henry Clerval. Initially Frankenstein is afraid to accept his true self do to society’s constraints. But as the story progresses, he comes to terms with it. After the monster terminates everyone he loves, and he meets Captain Walton, he is able to admit to someone that he is gay. When he is in a place remote from society’s influence, he is able to accept his true sexuality. When analyzed by the Queer Theory, this Romantic work opened the doors for other writers to convey touchy subjects. It revealed that homosexuality is not something that needs to be suppressed. It is something that can be openly talked about and accepted. Overall, Shelley’s Frankenstein serves as an example of what happens when society constrains the populous. Frankenstein was afraid to come out to the world and therefore handled it poorly and destructively, turning him into his own monster. Society truly does create its own monsters and will not be able to contain them unless it transforms. Closed-minded individuals will continue to be closed-minded unless they are introduced to unlike individuals. This is the only way that society will progress.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. Clayton, DE: Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics, 2006. Print.
Goldhammer, Elizabeth. "The Queer and the Creepy: Homosexual Desire in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Elizabeth Goldhammer." Albeit. Tracy Bealer and Natalie Leppard, 01 Mar. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Sadownick, Douglas. "The man who loved Frankenstein." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 14.6 (2007): 15+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.