Sensing the Divine: Frankenstein’s Creature and the Mer de Glace

The Ice Snake of Mer de Glace, the valley glacier located on the northern slopes of the Mont Blanc massif. Photo taken August 10, 2005 (Source: Pedro Albuquerque/Flickr).

In celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus,” Glacierhub examines how glaciers are often experienced as consecrated ground, connecting us to our creator, purpose and reason for existing.

This is the final article of the GlacierHub four-part series on “glaciers in the symbolic domain”. Looking back, we began with “The Myth of Glacial Safety,” which analyzed perceptions of unstable glacial environments and how humans frame them as stable and safe climes. Secondly, we observed the transformation of a relationship in response to a glacial environment and a planet’s cryosphere in “Journey Over Gobrin Glacier: Le Guin, Environmentalism and Science Fiction.” The third article in the series examined how glacial environments are used to connect us to both the past and the future in “A Glacial Escape: Connecting Past, Present & Future in the Novel “Antarctica.” Our final article is about experiencing the sublime in glacial environments.

Original cover of “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” (Source: Amazon).

In “Frankenstein,” first published in 1818, Shelley writes about a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein who, through his experiments, creates a grotesque creature with developed self-awareness and perspicacity. Historically, scholars have considered “Frankenstein” to be the first science fiction novel. It is also believed to have inspired the entire literary genre of horror.

The crux of the novel rests in Victor Frankenstein’s abandonment of his creature. Upon bringing his creation to life, Victor is repulsed and runs away to escape his creature. The creature also flees to the forest where he begins a process of educating himself and learning about the world around him. As time passes, Victor and the creature cross paths with one another several times. Their most notable meetings occur on top of the highest mountain in the Alps: Mont Blanc.

Mer de Glace in Chamonix (Source: Edwin.11/Flickr)

Mont Blanc, which means “white mountain,” is the tallest mountain in the Alps at 15,772 feet. It stands between Italy and France in the Graian Alps, a mountain range located near the western side of the Alps. Mont Blanc is also known to be the deadliest mountain in Europe. Mer De Glace glacier sits at the top of Mont Blanc. Mer De Glace means “Sea of Ice” and is considered to be the largest and longest glacier in France.

Recently, climate change has dramatically impacted the Mer De Glace glacier. The glacier has retreated more than 1000 meters since 1870, and the surface has dropped approximately 100 meters since its position was measured in 1909. If the history of Mer De Glace’s retreat appears dramatic, its future looks apocalyptic. A recent study demonstrated the Mer De Glace glacier is expected to retreat another 1200 meters between now and 2040. With a significant acceleration of the melt rate occurring, this may be the last century to see the Mer De Glace.

Mer de Glace comparison: 1909 and 2017 (Source: Eduard Spelterini/Dr Kieran Baxter).

A paramount scene in “Frankenstein” is when Victor ascends Mont Blanc to assuage his melancholy spirit aside the Mer De Glace glacier. Victor believes, “The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnising my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life.” Upon reaching the summit of Mont Blanc and carefully crossing the Mer De Glace, he further acknowledges, “My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy.”

As Victor basks in the glory of the glacial sublime, he notices a man bounding toward him with “superhuman speed.” While Victor’s crossing of the ice had been difficult and time-consuming, the creature running toward him “bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution.” Victor understands the creature to have murdered his young brother and framed an innocent friend who was subsequently hanged for her crimes.

It is here, on the Mer De Glace, where Victor experiences the divine. He recalls how the glacier fills him with “sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy.” Victor’s emotional state vacillates on the ice; moving through gratitude and awe to terror and fear. He is all things at once, representing the omnipotent and totalizing ways of God. Through his actions, we see how Victor struggles with his comprehension of the divine, just as he struggles crossing the ice of the Mer De Glace. While on the ice, he reflects on his own attempt at being Creator and the monster he produced as a result.

An ice cave in the Mer De Glace glacier (Source: Sarah/Flickr).

The story continues with Victor accompanying the creature to a nearby ice cave, where the creature narrates his life’s events to his earthly creator. During this lengthy scene, the creature compares himself to Adam: “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence… He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator”.

The creature tells of acquiring knowledge of Adam and Eve by reading Milton’s 1667 epic poem “Paradise Lost,” which recounts the biblical story of Genesis, the creation of the universe and the exiling of its first human inhabitants from a garden. To the creature, “Paradise Lost” had “moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting.” The creature thus fashioned himself and his actions through the words of Milton’s portrayals of the divine.
The way in which the creature bounded across the ice and lived in peace on the glacier can also be viewed as representing his connection with the divine. Whereas Victor struggled to understand the consecrated supernatural and failed in his attempts at being God-like himself, the creature’s embodiment of divine insight is demonstrated through his comfortable connection with the Mer De Glace.

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