Playing God: The Artist and the Scientist

The following was a final for a Gothic literature course. I wanted to look at a comparison of Basil from Dorian Grey and Victor Frankenstein. This is fairly quick academic work, something I would more think of like a brief magazine article in philosophically looking at what it means to be a creator. It’s not extensive, but an overview of an idea that could be something more, maybe not. But in a sense, this is academic conversation. It’s the polished, thorough work that a paper typically is, but it is merely a conversation you may have with a class or with an individual when you are just discussing themes and characters that may reflect those themes differently.

In Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Grey, both Victor Frankenstein and Basil are creators in different senses: the artist and the scientist. The artist paints or writes, while the scientist creates through biology and chemistry. However, Basil and Victor handle their creations in much different ways.

Basil fills the role of a kinder god. He loves his creation and goes out of his way to defend it and protect it. He views his creation in a “idolatry” way (Wilde 14). The painting of Dorian is beloved by his creator, while the basis of his creation is also beloved. Basil sees his power to create as something matching the power of a Creator. He goes so far as to say “I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before” (Wilde 13). His art, his creation, has gone beyond just that of a portrait, and has taken on a life of its own. Through his creation, he sees too much of himself. As opposed to what Wilde says, “It is the spectator, not life, that art really mirrors” (Wilde 4), Basil sees his creation as a “secret of [his] own soul” (Wilde 9). To Basil, the portrait of Dorian is the representation of himself in portrait form, and not necessarily that of the actual Dorian. After his creation, he understands the danger that sort of “power” offers, “we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us” (Wilde 7). Which creates an interesting take that the Creators regret their creations only after the work has been done.

Victor Frankenstein operates in much of the same fashion, in terms of regretting his creation after the fact. However, Frankenstein is far from the loving Creator that Basil is. Frankenstein fills more of the fire and brimstone role in his dealings with his creature. After he has created the monster, Victor sees it as a “deformed and abortive creation” (Shelley 38), as opposed to Basil’s idolization of his portrait. Frankenstein’s Monster even goes so far as to redeem himself in the eyes of Frankenstein, who wants nothing to do with his creation. Frankenstein does not worship his creation as Basil does. But the Monster, rather, tries to be accepted back because he will be “mild and docile to [his] natural lord and king” (Shelley 100). Victor’s only pursuit is to destroy his creation after he released it on earth.

The key characters within these texts all display the requisite emotions of the romantics. Dorian experiences envy for the portrait. Basil depicts love through his devotion for Dorian and the portrait. Frankenstein hates his creation, and the Creature loves, hates, feels jealousy, and only “misery” (Shelley 100). Wilde does not use these emotions to imprint a sense of morality into his book, but rather views these emotions as “instruments of an art” (Wilde 2). Likewise, Shelley never expressly says which character she sympathizes with, nor which one the audience should sympathize with, suggesting, like Wilde, she too has “no… ethical sympathies’’ (Wilde 1). Therefore, the Romantics and the Aesthetes do not have to be in disagreement with each other, but rather work together. Aspects of the Romantics can be adopted by Aesthetes to assist in creating a more beautifully useless, vital, and admirable work of art.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 3rd ed. Oxford World Classics. Oxford. 2014.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2010.