Who would love a freak?
Quasimodo (Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo), Erik (Le Fantôme de l’Op by Gaston Leroux), the creature (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley), and Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves or The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu) and, now, Benedict Lambert (Mendel’s Dwarf, Simon Mawer) all share something in common. Can you guess? It’s very obvious. Love. They each wanted to love someone who would love them in return. Now, I’m not trying to be the sappy romantic among my peers but I am making the observation that love is the emotion which gives these characters their very human nature. This emotion allows us as the reader to relate, connect, and empathize in order to look past the physical outward “deformities” and find the human within the monster.
Take Benedict Lambert, the character we are all most familiar with. I found myself very early on disliking his general attitude about the world. His supposition that no one could respond to him normally or treat him as a “normal” human being was very annoying to me. Something about the way he observed everyone, looking for an awkward cough or sideways glance made him somewhat of a paranoid character who took himself too seriously. It wasn’t until I began to understand his sexual frustrations when I wondered how much his arrogance was a mask for depression and a need for acceptance. Enter Miss/Mrs. Jean Piercey. From Benedict’s earliest descriptions he openly admits his sexual arousal, but in other more subtle details (his fascination with her eyes, and his delight in her laugh) he made me realize his deeper affection for her. Only then could I begin to forgive his earlier attitudes and try to see him as more than a dwarf with a god syndrome, but someone with profound emotions and difficulties acting on them. (On a side note, as he begins to express his emotions and act on his desires, I quickly lost sympathy because they were perverse and not what one usually associates with “love”.)
In the novels listed above (and this is a very general connection, for they each differ in themes and genres) the characters experience alienation from society, as Benedict does, and the frequent solution to their isolation/detachment is the emotional bond shared with another human being: love. Their successes or failures in this endeavor vary from story to story. Once again, it’s difficult to make a general statement connecting such different literary works (without thorough analysis), but my point is that the emotional need for reciprocated love is the avenue for the reader to connect with the characters and see them as humans instead of monsters.
– Laura Young