“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”
—John Milton, Paradise Lost
This is the first installment of a blog post series on a project that I designed and am working on called Digital Frankenstein, which is a comprehensive DH examination of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, involving topic modeling, text collation, and data visualization like mapping and word clouds. I first proposed the project for Dr. Alan Liu’s Mock Project Prospectus Assignment in our Intro to DH winter term graduate course, and have since been working on putting the project into motion. This video that I made introduces the scope of the project and animates the mapping process that I discuss in this post.
The focus of this post and one of the facets of my project that I’m most intrigued by in terms of the DH possibilities for Frankenstein is mapping the novel. Frankenstein is an ideal candidate for DH applications because it is a novel deeply invested in spatiality, geographic place, and movement. The epistolary structure and the nested narrative framing of the novel are the most interesting structural qualities of Shelley’s text. Mapping the novel can visualize these complex narrative framing devices and can reveal, for example, whether there are any patterns to the shape or structure of character journeys and can test numerous theses relating to character mobility. Considering the relationship between gender and mobility, the female characters are more immobile than their male counterparts. We can see this, for example, in Elizabeth Lavenza’s journey and Justine Moritz’s path. Both Elizabeth and Justine are localized to the Geneva area in stark contrast to the male characters who venture farther; far-flung travel is coded as masculine in the novel.
While mapping Frankenstein on these platforms offers a more interactive contribution to traditional visualizations created on the text, mapping Frankenstein also poses a unique challenge to our current DH tools and pushes on the boundaries of visual representation. I used Esri Storymaps to map the character paths in Frankenstein, with a focus on the three major character paths and narrative frames in the novel: Robert Walton’s, Victor Frankenstein’s, and the creature’s.
What I discovered is that these DH mapping tools can provide an interactive way of tracking character paths, but there are also significant limitations. To my knowledge, there is not existing DH tool that allows for the mapping of a nested narrative framework, and I think it’s a key area of development as we consider ways to represent works of literature like Frankenstein that pose challenges to existing visualization methods. The challenge of mapping the nested structure of the narrative is a unique contribution to the mapping of literary works and simultaneously allows for a renegotiation of the boundaries of visualization tools used to visually represent literature. Here I have simulated the possibilities for mapping Frankenstein in this manner.
I begin with Robert Walton’s journey as conveyed in his letters that frame the entire narrative, onto which I overlay Victor’s path that is contained within Walton’s, and then the creature’s narrative, which is nested within Victor’s and—by extension—Walton’s journey.
This technique would allow for a representation of all of the character journeys as they are presented in the novel, show points at which the characters’ paths converge and overlap spatially and temporally (as with the mirrored trajectory of Victor and the creature), and visualize the nested structure that is so essential to the novel.
Stay tuned for more Digital Frankenstein installments and project updates!