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Victor Frankenstein, who takes over the role of narrator as he tells his harrowing tale to the captain. He describes his youth, his upbringing, his family, his early interest in science, and the way in which that interest lured him down a dangerous path of inquiry. He had begun to wonder if the dead could be reanimated, if new life could be created from what remains after the soul has left the body. Resurrection by science?

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Not so much. I see by your eagerness, and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted: that cannot be; listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject. I will not lead you on unguarded and ardent as I then was, to your destruction and infallible misery.

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge. The thrill of victory and discovery is transient.

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Almost as soon as he succeeds in bringing his creation to life, Frankenstein comes face-to-face with a being whose hideousness seems to augur the presence of an equally unappealing nature. This seemingly superficial but sadly accurate observation of how humans make judgments will become all the more important as the book progresses and as the monster—whose ugliness, size, and obvious abnormality are ultimately what make him a pariah—takes over the narrative and tells his own sad tale.

Frankenstein flees the monster and spends a restless night wandering the streets, where, by lucky accident, he runs into his friend Henry Clerval, who has just at that moment arrived from Switzerland. The coincidence averse may have reason to wonder at many such points in the book.

My hand was already on the lock of the door before I recollected myself. I then paused; and a cold shivering came over me. I threw the door forcibly open, as children are accustomed to do when they expect a spectre to stand in waiting for them on the other side; but nothing appeared. I stepped fearfully in: the apartment was empty; and my bedroom was also freed from its hideous guest. What Victor first experiences as relief and joy is in fact a recurrence of exhaustion, fear, and horror; the monster has escaped.


Victor falls ill and is nursed back to health by the loyal Clerval. Little William has been murdered. It has often been remarked: the strangeness of Mary Shelley calling the dead child William, which was the name of her own beloved son, born in January But it has just as frequently been observed that it is common for writers, especially young ones, to spur themselves on with some version of their fantasies of the worst that could happen. Like Victor, who knows that his monster is guilty of the crime but is certain that no one will believe him if he tells the truth, the reader can only watch as Justine is convicted of, and executed for, killing the child.

Now his only wish is that Victor will create another artificial being, a mate for the monster, so that he will have a companion and not be doomed to go through the world alone. In the process of telling his unhappy story, the monster shows himself capable of a complexity of moral and philosophical reflection that the other characters—spurred by near-diabolic ambition or overwhelmed by tragedy—cannot or will not allow themselves. Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?

He appeared at one time a mere scion of the evil principle, and at another, as all that can be conceived of noble and godlike. To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being; to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared the lowest degradation, a condition more abject than that of the blind mole or harmless worm.

For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased, and I turned away with disgust and loathing. How brilliant of Mary Shelley to have put these thoughts and these speculations into the brain and the mouth of a monster, and how savvy of her to realize that the questions he poses have never and will never be answered.

Nor will we tire of asking these inquiries into the limits of science and the essence of a human being. Her novel functions as an intellectual challenge, inviting us to ponder the profound issues raised by the monster and by the very fact of his existence.

Which of us is immune to the fear that we, like Victor Frankenstein, may discover that our own work, our proudest creations, the offspring of whom we are so proud may turn against us—and that, with all the best intentions, we may wreak mayhem and havoc on those we love most, and least wish to hurt? In October , when Charles Dickens was writing the first chapters of Great Expectations , he described his plans in a letter to his friend and future biographer John Forster:.

The book will be written in the first person throughout, and. Then he will be an apprentice. You will not have to complain of the want of humour as in The Tale of Two Cities. I have made the opening, I hope, in its general effect exceedingly droll. I have put a child and a good-natured foolish man in relations that seem to me very funny. Of course I have got in the pivot on which the story will turn too—and which indeed, as you remember, was the grotesque tragicomic conception that first encouraged me.

In an earlier exchange of letters, Forster had expressed some reservations about the pressure that it would exert on his friend to write another big novel in segments to be published weekly, and about the effects that this pressure might have on the work itself. The sacrifice of Great Expectations is really and truly made for myself. The property of All the Year Round is far too valuable, in every way, to be much endangered. Our fall is not large, but we have a considerable advance in hand of the story we are now publishing, and there is no vitality in it, and no chance whatever of stopping the fall, which on the contrary would be certain to increase.

By dashing in now, I come in when most wanted.

If it were possible I would like to devote the fifty minutes of every class meeting to mute meditation, concentration, and admiration of Dickens. However, my job is to direct and rationalize those meditations, that admiration. All we have to do when reading Bleak House is to relax and let our spines take over. Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science.

Let us worship the spine and its tingle. Many things amaze us about the life and work of Charles Dickens: his energy and productivity, the depth and range of his vision, the beauty of his sentences and the freshness of his wit, his ability to combine a prodigious literary career with parallel lives in the theater and as an editor, publisher, and traveler, to keep up a voluminous correspondence, to make his own business arrangements, to undertake charitable projects, and to head a household that included ten children.

Also unusual and admirable is the consistency of his ability to inspire, with such deceptive effortlessness, that tingle between the shoulder blades. But what most impresses many of his readers, and surely what most astonishes writers, is that he wrote and published his long, complicated, densely populated, elaborately plotted, and thematically ambitious novels in weekly or monthly serial installments. Accustomed to the luxury of time and leisure, the freedom to do major and minor revisions, to produce multiple drafts, to have months or years in which to add or delete a single comma, we can barely comprehend the imagination and the technical skill required to compose an eight-hundred-page masterwork in regular installments of a length determined not by the needs of the artist but for the convenience of the printer.

Though Dickens wrote notes for some of his novels and sketched out the conclusion of Great Expectations in advance, this working method demanded a prodigious ability to keep a large cast of characters and an elaborate narrative constantly in mind. The astonishment we feel when we contemplate this strenuous mode of composition has, in my opinion, been best expressed in the question posed about Dickens, in an introduction to David Copperfield , by the novelist David Gates.

He had separated from his wife, Catherine, an acrimonious rupture in the course of which he had forced his children to side with him against their mother. He had weathered a public scandal involving rumors that his sister-in-law Georgina was the mother of his sons and daughters, as well as gossip the truth of which has been alternately established and challenged that he had taken as his mistress the eighteen-year-old actress Ellen Ternan. He had begun to suffer from attacks of painful rheumatism and facial neuralgia.

Great Expectations is rich in set pieces, in scenes so vivid and fully imagined, so nearly complete in themselves, that we can shut the book and be sure that, whether we like it or not, an image or sequence has been branded forever on our psyches. A fire had been lately kindled in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it was more disposed to go out than to burn up, and the reluctant smoke which hung in the room seemed colder than the clearer air—like our own marsh mist. Certain wintry branches of candles on the high chimney-piece faintly lighted the chamber: or, it would be more expressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness.

It was spacious, and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite indistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember it seemed to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstance of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.

There is, of course, no substitute for reading the novel, but I do want to recommend, to lovers of Great Expectations , the BBC miniseries based on the book. The casting of the remarkable Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham suggests something that, as far as I know, has never been intimated by any of the previous cinematic or theatrical adaptations of the novel: namely, that Miss Havisham was, and—regardless of the ruined state in which Pip meets her—is still a great beauty.

Why this matters to creators

Utterly mad and ferociously vengeful, but lovely nonetheless. Quotable aphorisms and astute psychological observations are liberally sprinkled throughout the novel. Though Dickens has been accused of using verbal and physical tics as a means of creating caricatures without having to delve beneath a shallow and quirky surface, the gestures and habits of speech in Great Expectations are particular and telling.

The way in which Pip catches the convict at the Three Jolly Bargemen stirring his rum-and-water with a file—a bold and secret reference to the stolen tool with which Pip helped free Magwitch—is among the most inspired examples of a small but meaningful physical gesture anywhere in fiction. There are scenes of action and high suspense. Though the tightly constructed plot and massive cast of characters are appealing enough in themselves, the general reader, the writer, and the literary critic can find further entertainment in tracking an elaborate web of patterns and themes through the novel.

Fathers and sons, names and naming, generosity and selfishness, lying and sincerity, crime and punishment, love and sacrifice, sex and class, imprisonment and freedom, cowardice and courage, and forgiveness and revenge are just a few of the many threads with which Dickens stitches together his grand design. For example, we repeatedly marvel at the skill with which Dickens piles on evidence to persuade us that Pip is correct in what he believes—what he wants to believe—about the identity of his benefactor.

You can open the book at random and find that the scene you are reading is thematically and structurally related to every other scene in the book, and functions like a column or beam to support the whole. Inevitably, we are reminded of all this by the enormous change that occurs in Pumblechook when Pip, now under the protection of his mysterious benefactor, appears at his door in the finery newly acquired from the tailor and haberdasher.

Joe, Pumblechook invites Pip to look down upon the simpletons who have raised him. Then he asked me tenderly if I remembered our boyish games at sums, and how we had gone together to have me bound apprentice, and, in effect, how he had ever been my favorite fancy and my chosen friend?

Writing for research | Raewyn Connell

If I had taken ten times as many glasses of wine as I had, I should have known that he never stood in that relation towards me, and should in my heart of hearts have repudiated the idea. Yet for all that, I remember feeling convinced that I had been much mistaken in him, and that he was a sensible, practical, good-hearted, prime fellow. For, as Dickens promised Forster, there is plenty of humor in Great Expectations —sly turns of phrase, satirical observations, entertaining disasters such as the dismal performance of Hamlet that Pip and Herbert attend.

Often, in his work, Dickens—who hated disorderly households and was obliged to live in one as long as he remained with his understandably harried wife—finds great hilarity in depicting domestic chaos.

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Here, the joke is at the expense of the family of Matthew Pocket, whose wife is so obsessed with social position that Flopson and Millers, her inattentive servants, have assumed complete command of the home, much to the disadvantage of the neglected and imperiled baby. Pocket was out lecturing; for he was a most delightful lecturer on domestic economy, and his treatises on the management of children and servants were considered the very best text-books on those themes.

But Mrs.