A romantic, ingenious, flawed scientist

Harry Treadaway_Victor Frankenstein1

“Man does not live only in the empirical world. We must seek the ephemeral or why live?”

— Dr. Victor Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful

Watching the TV series Penny Dreadful, I found myself falling in love with Harry Treadaway’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein (I mean, come on, you can never go wrong with the Treadaway twins!).

Strange, really, because I realized that this character – or this version of the eponymous literary character – was like myself in so many ways; an INTP.

I do not completely agree with the interpretations that this version should be an INTJ – I’d say more likely Dr. Jekyll being so – however, I consent that the Frankenstein book version verges on the edge between being an INTP and/or an INTJ. The distinction between Frankenstein being an INTP and Jekyll an INTJ in the series is very well illustrated in the conversations between them in season 3. But I digress.

I enjoyed Colin Clive’s manic rendition of the doctor in the iconic film adaptation in 1931 and I love James McAvoy and was highly entertained by his wild, eccentric portrayal of everyone’s favorite ‘mad scientist’ in the recent Victor Frankenstein movie, but I must say I favor the Penny Dreadful and Treadaway’s version more. Here, the character has been given more room and (beautifully written) material to unfold in. Aside from the absorbed, reclusive and arrogant characteristics of a scientist on the road to a new discovery, he has been given a more quiet, contemplative depth and romantic soul. He is a very bright, but also very young man who has not been through the trials of love (before series 2) and I see more of myself in this version than the others.

Am I the only one who sees his mind churning and churning behind that quiet exterior all along? Or am I merely projecting?

Victor is very much an INTP from the beginning of the series. First and foremost, he lives in his mind; distracted and preoccupied by his secretive ‘experiments’ at home and when contacted by the other main characters he seems both speculative of and intrigued by joining their mysterious mission. He never judges, though. That’s the imperative distinction from an INTJ, had he been one, in my opinion. He never seems to be totally unsympathetic towards the motives or behavior of the others, despite not quite knowing the full extent of it all; his instinct and intuition seem to tell him that they are flawed, yet good people who need his help in an extremely serious matter. He’s a loner who sees himself in them, wants to help the best he can, yet cannot bring himself to unburden his own problems or worries to them, only alluding abstractly to them now and then, and only asks for assistance once (before series 3) in an entirely mundane, but also very personal and confusingly emotional matter and thus does so in a characteristically clumsily INTP manner (any INTP will know which one if you’ve seen the series).

Of course, he also joins the company out of financial necesseties, curiousity and willingness to help as any doctor would, but even I would have instinctively done so as well, despite not being a medical doctor. He stays guarded about himself and his secrets like the others, revealing little, thus coming off as rather aloof and even coldhearted. Yet he cannot help exerting his skills, ideas and astute intelligence as well as being honest and blunt and at times passionately frustrated when others waver or become illogical. On the outside, he takes certain things less personal which the others or most people are more offended, affected or baffled by, while in return, being more affected by matters he has a direct role in or knows he can do something about but also takes the various outcomes into account meanwhile, laying his conflicted emotions bare. He does not deal easily with such emotions and thus turns to morphine and sinks into melancholy and depression, his romantic ideals clashing with his harsh logic and falling painfully short in real life.

Again, I have a way of projecting myself heavily onto certain fictional characters if I sympathize more than usually with them, but there are several scenes in the series where I feel like I would react exactly the same way as Frankenstein does. I know this is somewhat a spoiler, but at one point, Victor suddenly finds himself in love and gives a very heartfelt speech to his friend that spoke to me:

“It’s the oddest thing, Miss Ives. My whole life, I’ve thought I was… bound to live with exceptionality. I was not like my brothers. I was resolutely this… disjointed thing, freakish thing. So I came to celebrate what uniqueness I had. [Vanessa Ives: And now?] I wear a flower! I find, lo and behold… I’m just like everyone else.”*

Well, that is a matter for another time.

Anyway, Treadaway is amazing at showing these intricate layers of being an INTP; the specific strengths and weaknesses that follow each other hand in hand, when you are brilliant and want to use this brilliance, yet your analyst’s mind also inevitably makes you aware of the fallacies, responsibility and involvement such brilliance brings with it. It creates an unproductive, moral conflict that you can ruminate upon, by principle for all eternity really, but in order to make such misgivings true or not, you realize you must do something about the matter at stake and since doing nothing about it will mean you’ll never know if your misgivings were real or not, in desperation you see no other alternative than, unfortunately, pushing this moral conflict to the back of your head in order to bring the experiment forth. I find this mirroring something in myself. Out of sheer practicality and necessity, we [INTPs] need to push back this inkling feeling to concentrate on this other obsessive feeling, putting everything else on hold or letting them sort it out themselves, we don’t really care, to be honest.

Like right now, where I should be working on my thesis, but instead I suddenly had this impulse, this feeling that I needed to write about how I saw myself in Dr. Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful, so I did and thought it a little post, but now – as usual – it has ended up being a minor essay. Thus, forgive this cluttered, rambling post since I find myself in the midst of my obsession at the moment.

Where eating and sleeping are irritating and time-consuming and others’ opinions mirror this little inkling voice in the back of our [INTP] heads, but we push them away and push it back because we don’t want them to overshadow whatever little, ingenious thought or discovery that might pop up regarding our current obsession. Our minds are expanding, overriding with all these important thoughts and we need to get all the thoughts out somehow to make space for new ones. Compulsively questioning the fact that ‘it can happen’ and simultaneously knowing ‘it may not‘. Jumping from one thing to the next. Back and forth. Wavering. Always wavering in-between. Like Victor does in Penny Dreadful. One moment he is almost convinced of what he thinks and feels is right – or so he tells himself – until he realizes it is wrong or something or someone makes him realize it. Sometimes it is too late and only then he realizes his mistake. He is so very human and vulnerable in these moments, grapping his head and crying because he knew – he knew deep down something was wrong, but he didn’t listen and the guilt is unbearable!

When you feel so conflicted and yet so aware of life, so sure and yet so uncertain about its paradoxical patterns that keep changing and shifting; feeling both clever and naive, introverted and passionate, logical and emotional, keen and curious to discover life yet reluctant to throw yourself into things headlessly and facing the consequences no matter what you do.

I imagine this being Frankenstein’s mind, because I know this all too well. I feel I know him. So strange. These intimate, fictive kinships that feel so strong and close and ever-lasting, yet never materialize.

Do you see how things got so out of hand for Frankenstein? That he wasn’t ‘simply and always’ a mad, unscrupulous scientist? I’m not saying he isn’t wrong, because he is, but he also realizes this – albeit too late. Yet, better late than never, right?

If we look beyond the gory phantasm of cutting up corpses, only to sew them together and perform galvanism, which has all too many eerie parallels to the serial killers of our lifetime, you must remember Frankenstein had entirely other motives in mind than getting any sick pleasure from cutting up corpses. Well, I should not have to point this out, really, it’s obvious. But this is also an INTP speaking, speaking in a state of ecstasy I guess, and thus I cannot be entirely objective. I will try not to defend nor deny him, but treat him like I would treat myself: critically and analytically.

Instead think of the complex of Frankenstein in a broader, but no less complex spectrum, or, to start with, think INTP; how we tend to hastily, passionately and even obsessively jump over the minor details and tedious practicalities in order to get to the bigger picture and the points we are trying to make. It never excuses the faults we may unintentionally make along the way, eventhough we may be more or less aware that there may be consequences to our actions and bringing our – to the general public; outrageous – ideas to life. And that’s exactly what Shelley’s Frankenstein is: a both critical and celebratory analogy of, in my eyes; bringing our ideas to life, how far we are willing to go and that there are always consequences of our actions. Hasn’t our whole life been about this simple notion – all other matters aside?

Besides, transcending the boundary of life and death is no more grotesque and gothic than life itself – as it has shown itself again and again. In a sense, we have already transcended this ‘boundary’ long ago when we created religion and reincarnation and thought ourselves to have a spiritual life beyond death, when we discovered remedies and medicin to cure sickness and prevent premature death, when we invented machinery to resemble and magnify our skills and replace us in those trades that wore and prematurely killed our mortal bodies and so on. Shelley, along with many of her mostly male contemporaries, managed to create a literary analogy of the wondrous, expansive, unlimited, yet, in the end, also ‘self-villainous’ human mind, history, existence and future. An analogy that transcended its own slightly undermined period genre of gothic (science) fiction.

Hence, if you see my bookcase (yes, sadly I have only one, overstuffed bookcase at the moment), you’ll see a strong fascination with Victorian age literature. Well, I have a little of everything and I only intend to get more (and more bookcases, I must remember that). Maybe because this era was so full of paradoxes; the child of Enlightenment, the thunderous beginning of the industrialisation and with major scientific discoveries, clashing with a strong, religious and ignorant moralizing; repressive, hypocritical cultural values placed on man and woman alike. Well, especially women. But it was also an era steeped in unbearable tragedy and sadness because of the real-life high infant mortality rate, extreme poverty and rapid spread of sickness in the clustered cities, and so on. It is not a genre of happy endings, nor do I wish it to be, because it only illustrates how horrid living conditions our ancestors lived under at the time. I cannot ‘stay’ in this era for long. But I keep coming back to it from time to time, simply because it keeps fascinating me and has such incredible stories. But I digress once again.

In that metaphorical sense, Frankenstein becomes the living paradox of man. Not the duality of mind and being like the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, though it is another aspect along this notion, but the incessant, unstoppable force of the human mind; what mankind has sacrificed in order to create; the complexity of the intentions behind and the results after. We’ve so long sought to divide what in reality connects; what is humanity, yet it also seems so very human and right to do so in order to try and understand; to separate good from bad, death from life, religion from science, fiction from reality, God from man, man from beast. Nothing is simple.

Even if God exists, Shelley indirectly points to how His role in reverse could be seen as human, and how man also creates his life on earth as we have already witnessed, thus establishing this paradox of a parent-child-relationship that seems both deterministic and indeterministic: Frankenstein, in the end, living with the responsibility and guilt of being the godlike Creator of his most abstract thought and cannot see himself free of his creation, while the Creature lives with the pain of being the created and forever belonging to a Creator. Man becomes half-monster and monster becomes half-man.

The novel and Penny Dreadful both pose the always so fascinating, universal question, whether you believe in God or not: Has God created man or have we created God? Or rather: Has God created man and thus also become a part of our creation? That the one cannot exist without the other, because we can no longer distinguish between them; no longer think ourselves out of this mystery?

And just like man cannot escape God and vice versa, man cannot escape that he came from the animals (in a swirly mix of science and religion); he cannot escape the beast or demon(s) within, nor can the beast or demon rid itself of its humanity. This inner paradox will always seem universal and ambiguous at best. As Stephen King argues about the novel: “its classical unity is broken only by the author’s uncertainty as to where the fatal flaw lies—is it in Victor’s hubris (usurping a power that belongs only to God) or in his failure to take responsibility for his creation after endowing it with the life-spark?”*

No, it is not always easy to sympathize with or trying to understand an INTP such as this – or in any case. At least, I think it is hard to show it. Or maybe I’m projecting again? I really cannot say, can I, being an INTP myself? (Though I’ve not taken to the extremes as Frankenstein has).

Once again, I can only conclude my strange and yet so natural kinship with this character and that I think many feel split about what to think and feel about Victor Frankenstein, hence Mary Shelley’s ingenious authorship. Fascinated, yet split.

Hm, have we not heard that one before? … (*nudges*: Sherlock Holmes)

*revised 09/11/2017*


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