- Jun 2021
To Mrs. SAVILLE, England. St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17--. YOU will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings
"Frankenstein" does not begin in the way we expect. This seems pedestrian and boring. What you might not realize is just how clever this ruse is and how much information is packed into the very beginning.
The epistolary aspect introduces a frame narrative. The letters belonging to Margaret Walton Saville give us the story of her brother Robert Walton. Walton conveys to her (and us) the story of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein's narrative yields the story of the Creature. The Creature's story includes the story of Safie and the De Lacey family.
The outer "frame" belongs to Margaret Walton Saville -- notice that these are the same letters, or "initials," (M. W. S.) as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Notice as well the place and the date. You may not know it but St. Petersburgh is like Las Vegas, Brasilia, or Dubai. It is an out of the way place, not particularly hospitable to humans, where a major city was artificially created. It was originally a swamp but the leaders decided to create a major, new city as an exemplary modern metropolis (and center of culture).
This is a leading theme of the Enlightenment and the book: the dream of the artificial and planned, which is entirely new.
Notice also that the book is squarely set in the eighteenth century, in the Enlightenment.
Note, as well, that December 11 should strike one as a time of winter darkness and not at all propitious for an arctic expedition.
Lastly, we have the first intimation of the lively controversy (in this book and elsewhere) between men and women: female domesticity (and due caution) versus male ambition and the drive for adventure.
To me this shows just how artfully constructed this text actually is, right from the start. Which reveals it to be not boring.
But, supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.
Finally (in this second paragraph), we again have insight into the political and scientific issues of the day: the search for the famed "Northwest Passage" (big, big deal) and the awareness of a major source of danger for polar navigation: the distortion produced in magnetic equipment as one came nearer to the source, at the pole.
It is obvious, is it not?, that most people are motivated by social goods: fame, power, money, and prestige. Because that is the world we live in.
It's all about the Benjamins! Then and now!
What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle; and may regulate a thousand celestial observations, that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent for ever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man
The "wondrous power" is, of course, the power of magnetism. Magnetism and electricity (not yet unified) are mysterious forces exciting scientists, adventurers, investigators, and the general public, all at that time. Physics, chemistry, and biology are all also jumbled somewhat together still.
But the fact that these are fundamental forces of nature -- just like gravitation -- are clearly on display. As well, another theme and another question: "ardent curiosity." (Good thing or possibly bad?)
Not many surprises here! Be careful what you wish for!
as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves, and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my day dreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is for ever visible; its broad disk just skirting the horizon, and diffusing a perpetual splendour.
A very pregnant passage that also only seems boring and uninteresting at first glance.
First point: feelings, "nerves," emotions are highlighted and a big deal is made about their communicability ("Do you understand this feeling?").
Next: this "scientific adventurer" is a "romantic poet"! ("Inspirited," "day dreams," "imagination," "beauty and delight.") No surprise then that a major theme of the novel is: the power of the imagination.
Unfortunately, he is also delusional: in mid-December, the sun would not be very visible at all! Why don't more people get this? Robert Walton is well-intentioned but also kind of a nut (IMHO)!
- Apr 2021
Socrates appeared in a balloon, investigating the heavens, in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds.
one Socrates, a wise [sophos] man, who speculated about the sky above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause. [18c] These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods
Socrates first has to rebut a popular caricature: Socrates, the natural scientific investigator, who debunks belief in the gods.
And I must beg of you to grant me one favor, which is this—if you hear me using the same words in my defense which I have been in the habit of using, and which most of you may have heard in the agora, and at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, [17d] I would ask you not to be surprised at this, and not to interrupt me. For I am more than seventy years of age, and this is the first time that I have ever appeared in a court of law, and I am quite a stranger to the ways of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, [18a] and after the fashion of his country—that I think is not an unfair request.
After speaking about 'shame', this is a rather shameless appeal to the sympathies of the jurors.
ashamed, shameless: it is not clear to us modern readers just what this might mean.
you shall hear from me the whole truth [alēthēs]: not, however, delivered after their manner
Socrates promises the whole, unvarnished truth.
their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was—such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth [alēthēs]
Here is the central opposition of this speech: rhetoric (persuasion) versus truth.
O men of Athens
Socrates is directly addressing the members of the jury, which were quite large (in comparison to our own).
While we typically use the word 'apology' as a way of expressing regret, here the term has a technical meaning: it means Socrates' legal justification or self-defense.
This subtitle is critical: it explains the subject matter (the concept of number) and the technique (logico-mathematical investigation).