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“The narrative structure, with its tendency to place stories within stories, distances the reader and

throws doubt on the accuracy of what is said” - Eve Sedgewick

In light of the view compare the presentation of the narrators within “Frankenstein” and “Lolita”.

In Mary Shelley's ‘Frankenstein' and Vladimir Nabokov's ‘Lolita', the narratives are often considered
unreliable, and in some places unconventional. Through being narrated by individuals who have
something to gain from being seen in a good light, a sense of distance between the narration and the
reader's perspective is created, hinting at potential inaccuracies within the ‘stories' told. However, one
can argue the possible satirical nature of the novels, in regards to their respective publication periods,
are an ‘attack' on the educated population of the time, alongside modern audiences who suffer the
same transgressions. The thematic features of them, specifically paedophilia within ‘Lolita' and
Galvanism in ‘Frankenstein', can be problematic regardless of the period and raise the question of
whether modern audiences should feel bad for their enjoyment of the novels.

The unreliability of the narration in each novel plays a hand in making the relationships appear unclear,
creating a cloud of complexity around the narrators who, with little regards to conventional norms,
often ignore common sense and morals. In ‘Frankenstein', the three separate narrators allow for three
different perspectives of the same story, with the narrative itself being confusing. The epistolary form
the novel begins in, written by Walton, allows room for errors and establishes an emotional connection
from the beginning, stating his “best years [were] spent under your gentle and femine fosterage” -
resulting in alterations of the story to seem more excitable to his sister, the recipient. The use of this
form during Shelley's time was more common, being depicted as diaries more than novels. However,
moving into the journal form as the novel progresses allows Walton's narration to be looked back upon
and revised which justifies the potential reliability. The use of this structure, ad the subsequent use of
multiple narrators, forces the reader to judge for themselves what is true and what is dramatized from
the letters. The reliability of Victor's narration shifts from reliable to unreliable when he finishes his
experiment, before he was obsessively objective, describing in detail what he was doing, which fits
with his character being a man of science. After the experiment, he begins to think of his flaws, errors,
moral dilemmas and doesn't tell the truth. The Creature acts as an inverted embodiment of Victor,
becoming a visual representation of ‘The Other', alongside the literal presence of Victor's dark
unchecked psyche. Unlike Walton and Victor, the Creature's narrative is free; not limited by social
norms because he is a “fiend” and “daemon”. Within the text, the various narrators slide from their
own stories into the histories of others; with each movement, we're asked to extend our “willing
suspension of disbelief.” As the novel multiplies its story-tellers and listeners, it renews the problem of
narrative authority.

In ‘Lolita', the narration is clouded by Humbert's attraction. While there are no ‘clear' examples of
dishonesty or unreliability, the reader often equates his unreliability to his warped mind and frequent
attempts to justify himself. The narrative structure seeks to toy with the reader, with the novel form
being established and used decades after the publication of ‘Frankenstein'. The strong passion of love
presented by Humbert's narration is the basic instinct of sex displayed in various forms of the novel. At
the beginning of the novel, Humbert utters “Lolita, the light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin and my
soul.”, displaying a mixture of deep pain, love, anger and regret he experiences. The 50s saw a time of
change, wherein writers began to shy away from traditional writing, beginning to question morals and
values which constructed society; this change is what allowed for the 1950s American publication of
‘Lolita'. Humbert is ambiguous in his reliability, similar to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's protagonists. It stems
from his hamartia, the love he has for himself, and often manifests itself in his desire for Lolita; he
never comes to terms with his “sin” and therefore is never able to overcome it. The reader often sees
this friction and can pity him in spite of it. Through the text, Humbert functions as a retrospective
focaliser; being able to see the past and present. With this, he tries to identify with his past self, “It is
with great effort of will that in this memoir I have managed to tune my style to the tone of the journal I
kept.” It is possible that over the years, his memories are colored because of, for example, the
intention behind the writing or Humbert’s current context. The unreliability within ‘Lolita' can also
often be seen within its film counterparts, specifically the 1962 adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick.
It's often criticized for being, seemingly deliberately, slow-paced and not exploring the themes, likely
because of the conservative time it was filmed in. This in itself emphasizes the idea of those presenting
the story, being the narrator in the novel itself or a director bringing it to life, can express and explain
however much they chose to.

‘Lolita' and ‘Frankenstein' share the use of framed narration, with fictional editors interposing
themselves between the narrators and readers. The authors are sophisticated and elusive in their style
and voice; creating an assumption they're aimed towards more educated audiences, those who thrived
in capitalist societies. One can notice parallels between the themes in each novel, and many argue in
‘Lolita', Nabokov reworked fundamental themes found in Shelley's ‘Frankenstein'. ‘Lolita' consists of
multifaceted themes such as love, pain, sex, puritanical ideas, psychology and exploitation; with the
basic content of the novel being a desire for sex permeates throughout the story.

In ‘Frankenstein', the framed narrative allows us to compare the beginning of Victor's tale and his
description of Elizabeth, to the end of his tale - where he is first presented with Elizabeth by his parents
and calls her a “gift” and at the end of the novel where she is “thrown” onto the bed; both words give
the impression the Elizabeth, and women as a whole, are weak and passive. Thus, through Walton's
framed narrative, distances us from the monstrosities Shelley depicts in Victor's narrative. Similarly to
the presentation of the Creature, Nabokov is often noted for his portrayal of controversial characters
are isolated from the world, often known as ‘Others'. Colin Wilson, author of “The Outsider”, suggests
an outsider is “at first fight… A social problem. He is the hole-in-corner man.”; Humbert represents the
social problem to which Wilson refers as he, rather than let society dictate rules, lives impulsively and
pursues what he needs, disregarding the legality of these needs.
A characteristic shared by the novels is the distortion of sexual or romantic relationships through the
presentation given by the narrators. Although the character of Victor is conventional, the idea of
creating a ‘wife' for the Creature only then to destroy it invokes the potential of a problematic
relationship. The destruction of the female Creature is where the gender issues within ‘Frankenstein'
become more clear, raising the question of Victor's motive in the first place - the possible desire for
long term companionship, comparable to a father/son relationship. Susan Snaider Lanser argued “The
creature whose voice, if not female, is also not humanly male”, emphasising the idea Victor
intentionally made the Creature a ‘male' rather than a woman, indicating Victor's destruction of the
female creature can be seen as a culmination of the theme of passive women. In this view, women are
meant to be protected, managed and controlled by males - if they show the slightest potential for
power, they must be destroyed. After the destruction of the female Creature, Victor says “...never will I
create another like yourself equal in deformity and wickedness.” By equating his creations to one
another as “equal”, it helps to justify the idea the original Creature can't be entirely considered male,
despite being assumed to be biologically male.

In ‘Frankenstein', issues of gender identity are explored through the creation of an unnatural monster
set in an otherwise idyllic society. With its characters that exemplify the idealized gender roles of the
time, the creation of Victor's monster poses critical questions about the social make-up of the
nineteenth-century British society. The unusual nature of the creature's birth serves as a counterpoint
to foreground the significance of female gender roles in British society and suggests that far from being
companions to men, women instead play a central role in contributing to the stability of the social
order. With the hyper idealized portrayal of the female gender in ‘Frankenstein', Shelley goes further
to explicate the significant influence of maternal figures, who are presented in a more sympathetic
light. Elizabeth is described as “docile and tempered” yet “gay and playful”, these paradoxical qualities
underscore Elizabeth's role as a model Victorian woman whose sole duty concerns tending to her
family. Through the novel, Elizabeth's selfless nature is also evinced through how she “continually
[endeavours] to contribute to the happiness of others, entirely forgetful of herself” - the use of
“entirely” here acts to underscore the female gender's complete exile to the background of the
Victorian social milieu. Similarly, the phrase “gentle and affectionate disposition” further identifies
Elizabeth with maternal qualities and entrenches her role as the primary caregiver for the family. This
presentation of characters brings light to problems that were prominent in the world of women in
literature being portrayed as weak, disposable and subservient to men.

In ‘Lolita', the three female characters all have some form of a romantic relationship with Humbert, all
of which can be problematic. Within the novel, Humbert is seen to become angry with the women he
has relations with, “A mounting fury was suffocating me - not because I had any particular fondness for
that figure of fun…”, with the idea he believes a woman, who should be in possession and control,
shouldn't impact his “comfort and fate” through her actions. Rita is the only woman, other than Lolita,
for whom Humbert continues to care for after sharing sexual relations. She, however, finds temporary
emotional fulfilment with Humbert. Her fulfilment is induced by the understanding she gives Humbert.
She is the last of the three female characters to appear and is present for the least amount of time,
being described as “twice Lolita's age” and “three-quarters of [Humbert's]” and although she is petite
in size, Humbert is quick to point out she is an “adult”. Humbert is not especially attracted to her when
they first meet; his senses are only “very slightly stirred” but he decides to “give her a try.” Despite
this, he speaks of he affectionately, “But let me say (hi, Rita-- wherever you are, drunk of hangoverish,
Rita, hi!) that she was the most soothing…”. This in itself helps to create a contrasting idea of
Humbert’s view of woman; perhaps indicating that he only treats Lolita badly because she’s young and
under his control, whereas Charlotte and Rita are adults and are able to fully think for themselves.
Charlotte is the eldest female character introduced to the novel, and is the vaguest - she doesn't try to
understand who she is, and instead tried to be what she thinks a woman of her age and position
should be. Similarly, her clothing, which is not in the least bit attractive, are chosen for practical
reasons - to clothe her. Although Charlotte's clothing is modest and “common-sensical”, Humbert
hasn't forgotten what Lolita already knows -clothing can be used to captivate the opposite sex. Tristan
Gans' essay “Gender and Power in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita” addresses the idea of trying to dominate
female characters by referring to them with possessive pronouns, mentioning Humbert has “a
psychological need to win, to possess, and to control”.

Within both of the novels, masculine dominance is present in terms of literary and cultural context,
within the idea of all the narrators being men. The French Revolution showed how ‘society' will try to
conquer the “monster” that threatens to take over, with Victor creating the creature representing how
man enabled the Revolution. Humbert's fate seems classically tragic, a perfectly realized expression of
the moral truth. The masculine dominance within ‘Lolita' emphasizes the idea that a woman's role was
not down to fate but social construct, “I would shed all my masculine dominance and literally crawl on
my knees to your chair, my Lolita”; by having sexual relations with a women of superior status, the
male transgressors bring themselves to conquer the females of high society, bringing them disgrace
and ruin. However in the novels, specifically ‘Frankenstein', the female characters are portrayed as
“morally good” characters. Nabokov's work often doesn't portray anyone in a favourable light,
however, the character of Charlotte is considered more ‘innocent' than not, indicating the
relationships within the novels can be considered problematic because the narrators make them out to

Similarly, the narrator's presentation of these relationships can represent an ideal of Marxist feminism,
ideas of inequality within capitalist societies. Within ‘Frankenstein', ideas of feminism stem from the
aftermath of Victor creating life without the help of a woman. Victor realizes he has overstepped his
boundaries as a man as those around him are killed off one by one as a result of the creation of the
monster. This could be seen as analogous to men in society during the 19th century and before;
overstepping their boundaries by creating a patriarchal society. In addition to her proposition a
patriarchal society will lead to chaos, Shelley uses the character of Victor to illustrate that men are not
the strong leaders of society they claim to be. Shelley's mother, a feminist who encouraged women to
think and act for themselves, died whilst giving birth to Shelley. She stood as a feminist icon, arguing
that men and women should follow the same conventions regarding modesty and sex, a prototypical
version of the double-standard idea. While Shelley elucidates the marked importance of women as
guiding, maternal figures in the family, the novel also explores the centrality of female gender roles as
bulwarks of the social order. Victor sees Elizabeth as something to gain pleasure from rather than a
human with feelings - to him, she was “beautiful and adored”. Although this could be seen as an
exclamation of affection, it may also be an instance of him admiring her as a person based on her
beauty. The use of “beautiful” to describe her rather than kind, intelligent or interesting can link back
to the idea of the female Creature acting as a passive woman that deserves to be destroyed. Where
once Elizabeth's “gentle voice would soothe [Frankenstein] when transported by passion”, the scarcity
of such feminine characters at the end of his life directly signifies the absence of affectionate
influences to temper his fury. Alongside the death of female nurturing, this thematic paucity of female
influences culminates in a barren wasteland, with two masculine figures stuck in an endless
cat-and-mouse game, devoid of female influence and consequently the “prey of feelings unsatisfied,
yet unquenched.”

In ‘Lolita', Humbert manipulates the female characters, giving an implication he's anti-feminist; he is
the ultimate representation of the privileged bourgeoisie. As a true capitalist, when given the chance,
Humbert takes back the money he'd given Lolita and in showing his true power over her “[brings]
prices down drastically” because he is afraid “she might accumulate sufficient cash to run away.” The
reader's identification with Lolita reaches its zenith, as she finds further parallels to her own life and
the socioeconomic situation in this arrangement. She eventually dies during childbirth, which acts as a
symbol of the fruitlessness of the capitalist system. The ‘American Dream' during the 50s, caused by
the prosperity of WW2, the economy was booming but traditional gender roles resumed themselves;
women stayed at home and political correctness was at an all-time high. The ‘perfect' life of the 50s
couldn't stand the test of time as it produced individuals, such as Nabokov, who couldn't stick to the
norm and began to challenge society. Regardless of the context of the relationship, it is assumed
Humbert is in love with Lolita. One of Humbert's main goals in his testimony is to persuade his “jury”
he is in love with her; he is somehow able to have the reader consider his disturbing and inconceivable
claim as truthful, an indicator of his powerful cogency. Similarly to Victor, Humbert often focuses on
the appearance of Lolita above anything else, emphasizing her “honey-hued shoulders” and “juvenile

Neither novels are considered feminists tests, despite Shelley's mother being considered a feminist
herself. However, Nabokov never directly betrays any feminist undertones in his ‘misogynist' novel - it
recognizes female sexual development and introduces it to a public that would otherwise deny
sexuality to women their entire lives.

Transgressive behaviour is what leads the narrators to their blindness and subsequent fall. Victor's
moral transgression is his rebelling against God, wherein he goes against the periodical belief of life
and death being God's work. Shelley's use of intertextuality with Milton's “Paradise Lost”, whereby the
Creature refers to himself as Adam; “I ought to be thy Adam…” which likens Victor to a vengeful God.
By referring to himself as Victor's “master”, the balance of power tips in the Creature's favour.
However, he takes on the role of Satan who, before his fall, challenged the divine order and revolted
against God, seeking control of Heaven; the Creature challenges the control and supremacy of his
creator. His societal transgression is how he goes about assembling the creature, and the way he uses
science as a means to an immoral end. ‘Frankenstein' is often referred to as the “Modern
Prometheus”; famously punished for exceeding boundaries, by being tied up and having his liver
pecked out by an eagle everyday, only for it to grow back. His transgressive personality leads to his
excessive and extreme behaviour, which are typical elements of a Gothic protagonist. Victor sees
something of himself in Walton and tells him the dangers of overreaching ambition; which once again
links to the intertextual references made to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's “The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner”, Victor is cursed and warns others.

In ‘Lolita', the unlawful and moral transgression of Humbert is the immoral crime of molesting and
raping an underage girl. He makes no effort to deny he is guilty of such an offence and often tries to
justify his actions. The great promises can only exist in the imagination, and can be infinite in the
imagination; reality is deception and change, and the consummation of desire quenches its source.
Nabokov portrays sexual transgression as a form of destructive self-indulgence renders individuals
liable to violate others. This stance represents an intellectual reaction to the pathos of global ideas that
served as a basis or the rise of totalitarian regimes, and their humanitarian atrocities during the 30s
and 40s. Nabokov refers to Edgar Allen Poe, “Oh Lolita, you are my girl as Vee was Poe's…”, despite
Virginia being 13 when she married 27-year-old Poe. ‘Lolita' appears to have no form of ‘warning'
against transgression, creating ideas of the ‘Lolita concept', common in many modern novels; such as
the character of Lola Quincey in Ian McEwan's “Atonement”.

Overall, while ‘Frankenstein' depicts the story of a hero who is ruined by his unchecked pursuit of
knowledge, in ‘Lolita' the tragedy of the hero stems from his obsessive drive for sex and violent nature;
the narrators in each novel fail to foresee the consequences of their actions until they are ruined.
Humbert's unreliability is established by his involvement in the story, alongside his questionable
morals; he tries to gain the reader's sympathy throughout the novel. ‘Lolita' has arguably become more
relevant in past years, with a modern movement towards targeting toxic sexual behaviour with things
such as the #MeToo movement. This in itself emphasises the idea that despite Nabokov himself
referring to Humbert as a “hateful man”, there are positive lessons to be learned from the novel.
Within ‘Frankenstein', the narrative structure depends on the reader's belief or disbelief of the events
of the noel; by using embedded narratives and employing these narratives carefully and delicately,
Shelley can bridge a significant gap between what is believable and what is not. To a modern audience,
the main takeaway is the idea that we should be aware of anyone feeling rejected or different,
emphasizing the link between mental health issues and the feeling of being outcasted.