“…there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of all the common pathways of men…” – Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Like Robert Walton, I have spent my life in pursuit of ‘the marvellous’ – that which permeates my soul with wonder, admiration and astonishment. The contra to this manner of existence is the rejection ‘the mediocre’. Arguing the objectivity of mediocrity is a decidedly pointless exercise, and as much as I appreciate Ayn Rand (I am an ideas person to the core), I operate under the viewpoint that ‘mediocrity’ is relative. The term itself is an easily understood concept that denotes a state of being that is neither good nor bad. But the characteristics comprising ‘neither good nor bad’ or ‘barely adequate’ tend to be vague, and thus dependant on the individual’s perspective. As I cast an introspective gaze upon myself, I find it interesting that the values that I prescribe to ‘mediocrity’ have changed as my life has played out.
There came a stage in my life, not so long ago, that, in order to preserve the essence of myself, I felt the inescapable longing to escape suburbia, which I did. And amazing things have happened there since. Not to say that life has been by any means easy – it certainly has not – but hauling myself out of my comfort zone into the unknown, treading the uncommon path (relatively speaking of course), was as right a decision as I will ever make. As a result, the complacency of my Pleasantville was rudely awoken and the lethargy of a lurking grey existence was washed away by brilliant colour.
As I speak so harshly of my suburban life, I am once again drawn to the tragedy inherent in Mary Shelley’s horrific tale. Victor Frankenstein abandons his family life in Geneva in pursuit of academia – in pursuit of an excess in knowledge, in pursuit of the extraordinary. So enamoured with natural philosophy is Frankenstein, that the man develops an unyielding desire to supersede the boundaries of human capability. Doctor Victor Frankenstein aims to create life.
“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”
The crazed Doctor robs graves and endeavours experiment after experiment until he achieves his goal. Frankenstein rejects his perception of average in pursuit of the divine – for the Doctor, it is not good enough to merely understand the principles of life, he wishes to replicate creation and in so doing exceed the bounds of what he perceives to be mediocrity. Yet Dr Frankenstein’s creation is not sublime, it is monstrous, and upon the realisation of his dream Dr Frankenstein descends into an abyss of madness.
As the novel progresses and Frankenstein emerges from his mad illness, circumstances force him to face the destructive consequences of his arrogance. The mediocre existence of mortality persecutes Frankenstein’s consciousness and yet, ironically, the yearning to escape the bounds of his human deficiencies, and the realisation of his desires, escalates Frankenstein’s mental and emotional torment.
“Despair! Who dared talk of that? The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death, felt not as I did, such deep and bitter agony. I gnashed my teeth and ground them together, uttering a groan that came from my inmost soul.”
The Doctor’s anguish is hellish. He is consumed by his creation – the creature haunts him until the end. The life of Dr Frankenstein teaches that the pursuit of the marvellous comes at a price. Frankenstein’s rejection of the status quo destroys his very existence.
“Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!”
The magnificence inherent in literature is birthed from its ability to elicit personal insight, which often alters upon each reading. Shelley’s Frankenstein holds a deep significance for me at this stage in my life. Take the goth and fantasy out of Frankenstein’s afflicted existence and his plight becomes universal. In my case, my desire to transcend mediocrity and the literal realisation of that desire is bittersweet. As I live my dreams in a foreign land, which I now call my home, I have forsaken that which was my home in the very beginning. Can one have two homes? Can one have two families? Just as mediocrity is subjectively defined, so too is home and so too is family – the gist remains the same but the components change. But life is not a definition or a theory; it is an existence and the vitality of that existence may often come at the expense of others. The moral implications of living a life true to an identity, and a self-described (although externally influenced) code of ethics, are vast. At what price comes the realisation of dreams? Perhaps there is no cost. Perhaps there is a great cost.
“You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.” – Frankenstein, Mary Shelley