Music in Guitar Playing

Music is again mentioned a few pages later in a specifically human context. The Monster observes the DeLacey’s using a man-made instrument, and he reacts very similarly to when he hears the bird:

“The young girl was occupied in arranging the cottage; but presently she took something out of a drawer, which employed her hands, and she sat down beside the old man, who, taking up an instrument, began to play, and to produce sounds, sweeter than the voice of the thrush or the nightingale… He played a sweet mournful air, which I perceived drew tears from the eyes of his amiable companion… until she sobbed audibly…” (74)

The manufactured sound is instantly perceived by the Monster as superior to birdsong. The music is not simply superior due to the complexity or degree of musical accomplishment achieved by Mr. DeLacey. Instead, the music is simply “sweeter” and elicits so much emotion that the daughter can even be heard crying at a distance. The piece performed by Mr. DeLacey is described by Shelley as an “air”, which is an extremely vague musical term. An air describes several musical styles across the timeline of music. During the Baroque period, the air was interchangeably used as an instrumental or vocal piece composed by such artists as Bach or Handel (Indiana). Later, however, the air could be used simply to describe a melody heard within a folk song. Shelley does not divulge class commentary quite yet and chooses to use a musical term that does not reveal any insight into social status. Instead, this passage merely ties human-produced music as superior to birdsong at eliciting emotion within the Monster.

Music appears lastly in the Monster’s story when he learns language. The Monster is immediately aware of the uncouth sounds that arose from his vocal cords and began to compare those with the DeLacey’s:

“[I committed to] apply with fresh ardour to the acquiring the art of language. My organs were indeed harsh, but supple; and although my voice was very unlike the soft music of their tones, yet I pronounced such words as I understood with tolerable ease” (80).

Language here is described as an art form akin to music. The Monster is dedicated to perfect the craft of dialect but is discouraged by his “harsh” tones as compared to their “soft” ones. Though the actual formation of words and sentences were relatively attainable for the Monster, it was the music-like intonation and swell of the sounds that were difficult for him. Perhaps it is from here that film adaptations of Frankenstein have adopted the monotonous and drone-like tone of the monster (Wierzbicki).

Music thus plays a significant role in the cognitive development of Frankenstein’s Monster. He immediately becomes aware of his affinity toward ‘rudimentary’ music of the birds and only finds more appreciation for it when he observes the DeLacey’s. He does not appear to be aware of the class implications that the guitar may have had in society. However, he does appear to perceive his own inferiority in societal ranking as he believes both the bird and the DeLacey’s to be superior to him in the realm of music. Thus, initial close reading of these passages already indicates some commentary on class by Shelley in relation to the Monster.

Image: Antonio Torres Guitar, Wilson Burnham, 2017 (Wilson Burnham Guitars). This is a well-known Torres guitar created in the mid-1800’s. This instrument is a synthesis of many European guitar styles. Mr. DeLacey most likely played an instrument similar to this one, as he lived around the same time as Torres was producing instruments such as this one. 

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