Formal Bias and Frankenstein

Before Danny Boyle’s theatrical adaptation of Frankenstein ended its run in London last Sunday, I managed to catch one of the dozen or so performances that were broadcast into cinemas worldwide. There was a lot to like — outstanding performances and set design — but especially pleasing was what I originally thought of as the adaptation’s fidelity to its source material. Notwithstanding the abridgement of certain scenes, the erasure of peripheral characters like Robert Walton and Henry Clerval, and the dramatisation of events in chronological sequence rather than the explication of events in retrospect, Mary Shelley’s narrative survived largely intact. The creature escapes from Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory in Geneva only to be persecuted by wider society; he observes the De Laceys from a distance and is befriended by the old blind patriarch before the younger De Laceys turn against him; he returns to Geneva where he kills Frankenstein’s brother and orders Frankenstein to create for him a bride; and, when Frankenstein refuses, the ensuing struggle between he and his creature takes the two of them on their cataclysmic journey to the North Pole. For the most part, Boyle’s adaptation of Shelley’s novel appears to be an extremely faithful one.

In a sense, though, the fidelity of the translation from the page to the stage is precisely what makes the adaptation essentially and radically different. It’s not possible to make a faithful visual adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, since Shelley’s Frankenstein invests so much importance in the essentially abstract and non-visual nature of its own artform. Continue reading →