The Shape of a Man

Ward’s woodcut illustration of this scene blurs the boundary between “shape of a man” and “gigantic stature”, between figure and landscape.

Illustration (left):
Woodcut from Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley with engravings on wood by Lynd Ward (New York: Smith and Mass, 1934), p. 242.

About two o’clock the mist cleared away, and we beheld, stretched out in every direction, vast and irregular plains of ice, which seemed to have no end. Some of my comrades groaned, and my own mind began to grow watchful with anxious thoughts, when a strange sight suddenly attracted our attention, and diverted our solicitude from our own situation. We perceived a low carriage, fixed on a sledge and drawn by dogs, pass on towards the north, at the distance of half a mile: a being which had the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature, sat in the sledge, and guided the dogs. We watched the rapid progress of the traveller with our telescopes, until he was lost among the distant inequalities of the ice.

Reader and narrator alike catch sight of the monster for the first time in the Arctic landscape. Shelley’s description here flits between the monotony of the “vast and irregular plains of ice” and the oddity of the newly glimpsed “gigantic stature”. The double-take from Walton, the narrator, and his attraction to this “strange sight” remembers reports of strange visual phenomena associated with the Artic from the aurora borealis to the “luminous phenomena” discussed by O’Reilly. Only when we meet the doctor in the next scene is the provenance of this figure in the “shape of a man” placed. Ward’s woodcut illustration of this scene blurs the boundary between “shape of a man” and “gigantic stature”, between figure and landscape. The monster is depicted straddling two crags of ice; proportion is handled such that the figure appears the landscape’s equal, and the visual rhyme between the towering figure and third ice crag jutting upwards in the background emphasizes the monster’s monumental dimensions.