Anne- My Frankenstein

To Locate the Monstrosity One Must Search Further than the Monster

Anne McDonald

Frank and I

How we see monsters is dependent on how we view normality. The unnatural part of nature is thought of as alien. Frankenstein shows the creation of alienness.

Perhaps I, too, am a monster created by medical miracle-working. I was a breech birth and lived only because of neonatal intensive care. As a consequence of damage at birth I have athetoid cerebral palsy and was once diagnosed as having profound intellectual impairment. I still cannot walk, talk, or feed myself At the age of three I was placed in St Nicholas' Hospital, a government institution for people with severe disability, and I stayed there without education or therapy for twelve years until Rosemary Crossley established communication with me in 1977. 1 now communicate with facilitation, and am just completing a humanities degree at Deakin University. As part of that course, I had to read Frankenstein.

Millions of people have seen Frankenstein's monster on film or television, but only a few have read Mary Shelley's original 1818 novel.

Her monster is a quiet philosopher who loves small children -

    Suddenly, as I gazed on him, an idea seized me, that this little creature was unprejudiced and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity.

and talks like a preacher. Like Karloff in the movie, he is loving and loyal and he is betrayed and insulted by his maker.

    ... the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed are turned into bitter and loathing despair

Mary Shelley tries to make her creature pathetic enough to turn the heart of the world towards it, but the world hates deformity and soon trains the creature to behave like a good monster should, killing and destroying. Even his creator, who should love him.. hates him from the beginning - that is, hates himself, for Frankenstein describes the creature as my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave.

Nothing will content Frankenstein but the eradication of his simulacrum.

    Its gigantic stature and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy demon, to whom I had given life.

To be misshapen is read as being monstrous. The deformed in body must be warped in soul. It stands to reason that those we hate must hate us. As the creature says,

    All men hate the wretched. How, then, must I be hated, who are miserable beyond all living things?

The hated, the hateful other revenges itself, dogging the lives of its enemies and destroying their families. Forced to live an outcast, it asks only for a mate -

    One as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me.

but the thought of monsters coupling revolts Frankenstein, and he destroys the possibility of sexual love, as we forbid it to what we see as the fat and stupid residents of mental retardation institutions. In the book, as in the popular myth, the sex life of the monstrous can only become real in the form of murder. Too much marred by the shortcomings of his creator's art to overcome his creator's prejudice, the monster tries to kill love in his creator's home by murdering Frankenstein's wife, too, on her wedding night

Mary Shelley's first child was born prematurely, and died soon after birth. One night she dreamed that the baby was not dead, and they had brought it back to life by rubbing it in front of the fire. In Frankenstein the dead child of Mary Shelley takes on a new form. Her guilt at having failed to give life is reproduced as Frankenstein's guilt for having succeeded. The mother still loves her dead child, and in the introduction she describes her book as if it was both the child and the monster.

    And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I had an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days...

The death of the child overlays the life of the monster, creating a person with a disability.

I am a person with a disability. The probable cause of my disability was an accident at birth. I can say with the creature

    Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity.

For the first two decades of my life I was small and twisted by contractures.

    I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome.

When people met me in the street they behaved as if I was a monster too tiny to harm them. Perhaps if I had been strong enough to wound or kill I would have been treated like the monster -

    Some fled, some attacked me <with> stones and many other kinds of missile weapons...

but I outdid him in the tortures I would do if I could. He says

    My feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and glutted myself with their shrieks and misery. ... My daily vows rose for revenge - a deep and deadly revenge, such as would alone compensate for the outrages. and anguish I had endured.

I wrote in Annie's Coming Out

    Death never appealed to me: I wanted revenge... the strongest emotion I felt was hate, and hate makes you strong.

If I had remained at home I would have broken up my family.

    ... my father's woe, and the desolation of that late so smiling home - all was the work of my thrice-accursed hands!

I went into an institution that saw its role as sheltering society from the sight of monsters;

    If they were disfigured, distorted, or disturbed then the world should not have to see or acknowledge them.

Only once in ten years did I go outside its walls, and that was because there was a strike. Never being released, I had no idea what the world outside was like; I had to learn about it as the monster did, by listening to people talk - though the talk on the wards was in Yugoslav, and less philosophical. The nurses viewed us as the villagers viewed the monster, as the work of the devil. Rules were laid down to prevent them using folk magics to exorcise us, rules that were often broken. New residents were viewed as dangerous until they had been operated on by a witch.

The children with distorted speech who could not be understood were feared because they might be cursing you in the devil's language.

Sputum with human form, I heard you normal people tell each other. When I count my injuries, I say with the monster

    Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal when all human kind sinned against me? .... I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at and kicked and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.

I read Frankenstein as a pioneering study in disability. Drawing on her guilt for her stillborn child, her abortion, Mary Shelley throws out a challenge to male assumptions about beauty. Like lesser disabilities, death turns people into others, strange and horrible. Like lesser disabilities, unwonted qualities may hide themselves in the midst of the horror.

 

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