“Suspended animation”: “Christabel” as Coleridge’s Frankenstein monster

In the “Preface” to “Christabel” Coleridge mentions that his “poetic powers have been…in a state of suspended animation” (161). This fragment of “suspended animation” recalls the desire of Victor Frankenstein to “bestow animation upon lifeless matter” (Shelley 78). If Coleridge’s poetic powers were suspended at the time of the “Preface” then the active animation of his poetic powers at the time of writing “Christabel” likens him to Victor Frankenstein. In terms of their intentions, Frankenstein seeks to reanimate “lifeless matter,” while Coleridge attempts to produce a physical representation of his intangible ideas. They both struggle towards a supernatural, perhaps superior creation. However, while they both possess lofty visions, they did not foresee the unfortunate outcomes, which denied them the satisfaction of accomplishment. Instead, their creations are ill received by society and trigger feelings of aversion in even the creators.

(Frankenstein “bestow[s] animation”)

In Frankenstein, Frankenstein sees the “dull yellow eye of [his] creature open,” and is gripped by the horrible realization of having failed to create his ideal vision (Shelley 81). Though the monster reaches a hand out towards him, Frankenstein runs away and “[seeks] to avoid the wretch” (82). Abandoned, the Creature feels resentment and hatred after the way he is mistreated by mankind, and he conducts monstrous crimes with the intent of making Frankenstein suffer. In his miserable, concealed state, the Creature lives in “suspended animation” rather than with the freedom and vitality suggested by Frankenstein’s intentions to “bestow animation.” The Creature later confronts Frankenstein, whom he accuses of “endow[ing] [him] with perceptions and passions and then cast[ing] [him] abroad for the scorn and horror of mankind” (164). He asserts that Frankenstein had abandoned him without providing for him the “sympathy of an equal…the affections of a living being” that would complete his existence, possibly even develop him into a peaceful, ‘human’ being (172).

(source)

Likewise, Coleridge agrees to publish “Christabel” before it is finished, and its incomplete form becomes something of a monster to Coleridge. The similarity between Coleridge and Frankenstein is realized if “Christabel” is treated as a tangible entity. As a poem, it is the unfinished creation of Coleridge’s imagination. Critics saw “something disgusting at the bottom of his subject,” in the uncanny figure of Geraldine, and attacked the poem (Hazlitt 159). Coleridge himself writes that ‘“Christabel” received “nothing but abuse”,’ and he eventually decides to “abandon Poetry altogether” after the discouraging reception of “Christabel” (Coleridge 159, 161). Coleridge did not abandon “Christabel” out of horror, but the negative criticism he received might have shrouded “Christabel” in distressing associations. “Christabel” may not be endowed with the same feelings as Frankenstein’s Creature, but it suffers a similar fate in its ill reception by society and in its subsequent abandonment by the creator.

To rectify his failed creation, Frankenstein contrives to create a companion for the Creature. When he destroys this attempt out of fear, he is reduced to following in the Creature’s steps, seeking revenge for the crimes for which he feels responsible, as the Creator of the monster. Coleridge’s path is similar in a way, when “Christabel” is criticized and “most of Coleridge’s revisions, annotations, and accounts of the poem responded to the reviews” (Halmi, et al. 159). Instead of writing the third part of the poem, Coleridge follows up on criticism on “Christabel”. What these two instances seem to show is that unfinished business, once exposed to the public, will come back to haunt the creator. The creations hold the creators accountable for their “suspended animation” and desire a more complete state of “animation” or existence, as shown by society. The Creature witnesses and demands a life with kindness and love, while “Christabel”’s partial narrative amongst a realm of complete poems calls for elaboration and termination.

Frankenstein eventually loses his pursuit of the Creature and succumbs to his weakened state, while Coleridge is criticized for his inability to finish the poem and later faces charges of plagiarism in “Christabel”. Had Frankenstein emotionally nurtured the Creature from its conception to its entry into the world, it may have been better accepted by society. Had Coleridge had submitted a finished poem for publication, he could have avoided the misinterpretations surrounding “Christabel” and no amount of criticism could have prevented the writing process, as the poem would have been complete. Coleridge’s reputation as a poetic genius could have been established without references to his inconsistency or lack of originality. These charges are unfortunately immortalized alongside “Christabel”, and if, like Frankenstein, Coleridge wished to “bestow animation” to his ideas, he has only succeeded in publishing a poem that is in a permanent state of “suspended animation.”

Suspended animation

 

Works Cited

Halmi, Nicholas, et al. Coleridge’s Poetry and Prose. W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Wollstonecraft Shelley, Mary. The Original Frankenstein. Edited by Charles E. Robinson, Vintage Books, Random House Inc., 2009.

Header image: http://www.foliosociety.com/book/RMR/rime-of-the-ancient-mariner

 

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4 thoughts on ““Suspended animation”: “Christabel” as Coleridge’s Frankenstein monster

  1. Wow! What an interesting and unique idea – I really enjoyed reading this blog. I found it such a compelling comparison and intriguing way of looking at it. The problem of course is that Frankenstein’s creation has agency and can continue to act whereas Coleridge’s work cannot (or at least not in the same way, though I appreciate it continues to interact with readers, etc). I also agree with you on the ill reception and abandonment of both – clearly their creators are both to blame. I also like your point that each creation ‘desires’ a state of full animation.
    I will think of this the next time I put out a piece of work that I am less than completely happy with! The monster lives on…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Neat idea! The most interesting correlation between Frankenstein and Coleridge, I think, as you suggested, is the guilt of their abandonment. Beyond the creation of the Creature in the first place, Victor Frankenstein seals his fate by abandoning it. The Creature has a beautiful passage blaming his sins on his Creator (Frankenstein), on the cruelty of Man and society, and the injustice of his situation. Perhaps, as you suggest, the narrative would have concluded quite differently if Frankenstein had not abandoned the Creature. Interestingly, however, in terms of relating Coleridge and Frankenstein while remembering one is a person and the other fiction, it seems of significance that Mary Shelley herself played a vital role in the fate of Frankenstein. After all Frankenstein is Shelley’s creation, just as much as the Creature is Frankenstein’s. In reflecting on the biblical catastrophe that Frankenstein has committed by creating the Creature, Shelley condemns her protagonist to an unfortunate end. Coleridge, dissimilarly, is not narrated by another author, though perhaps in a way he is narrated by the opium under which he wrote Christabel?

    Compelling outlook! I agree with Claire 🙂 (by Maya)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting topic for exploration. Drawing parallels between Frankenstein’s monster and Coleridge’s incomplete poem is a significant direction for analysis, because it highlights how much distress “Christabel” caused Coleridge. Moreover, like Frankenstein’s emotional upset in his pursuit of the monster, Coleridge’s dissatisfaction and aversion to the poem increased as it sat unfinished.
    One point that stood out to me in your post was that Coleridge’s completion of the poem would have dissuaded misinterpretations. But as students who analyze literature frequently in our studies, it is known to us that critics often read more into the literature than the author indented. In addition to that, part of Coleridge’s hesitation might have been due to the direction of the conclusion. After letting the poem remain unfinished for so long, it is likely that he had misgivings about the traditional endings exemplified in the Gothic. But in the other direction, having Geraldine triumph in the conclusion may not have been appealing either.
    In essence, however, I agree wholeheartedly. Just as Frankenstein’s monster grew more problematic, so too did Coleridge’s Christabel. I believe that the length at which the poem remained unfinished increased the intensity of the issue. Had Coleridge simply picked a direction for a conclusion, and went with it, it would have undoubtedly received acclaim one way or another, as he was a naturally talented writer. In his fear of comment and critique, he did, indeed, suspend the state of animation in the poem.

    Great post! This really gave me a lot to think about

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your comparison between the poet-Coleridge and the work-Frankenstein. The idea is subtle, especially you say “the similarity between Coleridge and Frankenstein is realized if ‘Christabel’ is treated as a tangible entity.” You establish the relationship for both of them are fragmentary and refer the dillmma, “Frankenstein eventually loses his pursuit of the Creature and succumbs to his weakened state, while Coleridge is criticized for his inability to finish the poem and later faces charges of plagiarism in ‘Christabel’.” Moreover, the article reminds me of looking at other works that is relevant with the status of “suspended animation”. According to my reading experience, as a early-nineteenth century term, “suspended animation” can also be applied to other Romantic-era authors’ works for the emphasis on the dislocation the individual life and the social life change.

    Liked by 1 person

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