As we discussed in class, the creature is very similar to a child in many respects. It follows, then, that his learning process would be parallel to that of a child’s. He spends the beginning of his life in pain at the fact that he has entered the world, and then proceeds to ignorance. Eventually, once he starts observing the DeLacey family, he begins to learn from them. He does this exactly as a child would do, by first mimicking their speech, and connecting the names of objects to things in the room. Once he understands, he then moves on to reading. He watches Felix read aloud, and while he is puzzled at first, he then discovers “that he uttered many of the same sounds when he read as when he talked” (117). For the creature, reading books is a key way of learning about the world. As he reads, there is opened before him “a wide field for wonder and delight” (123). For him, reading is a way to see and understand a world that he has not yet seen or experienced.
The way in which the creature learns from reading can be compared to the way Catherine Morland learns from reading in Northanger Abbey. They both use reading to explore a world that they are unfamiliar with in order to broaden their bases of knowledge. They are both passionate about their new knowledge, and they both hope to connect with people using the new facts they have learned. The creature states “these wonderful narrations inspired me with strange feelings” (124). Catherine is similarly inspired by the knowledge of gothic literature that she gains from reading Udolpho.
The knowledge that Catherine gleans from reading, however, is unfortunately much less practical than the knowledge the creature receives. While it is true that Catherine is described as average, while the creature is shown to be an extremely fast learner, Catherine’s choice of material is decidedly inferior to that of the creature. The creature chooses works that will show him the true state of the world, in order to advance his understanding of it. He praises a work by stating that through it he “obtained a cursory knowledge of history, and a view of the several empires at present existing in the world; it gave me an insight into the manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth” (123). He wishes to truly understand the world he has brought into, so that in time he can help the world understand him. In contrast, Catherine reads for pleasure, and does not seek to understand any portion of the world that does not directly relate to her. She uses reading to supplement her imagination and take up her time. Jane Austen’s attitude towards Catherine is clearly one of mockery and humor. Catherine attempts to show herself as a serious reader, and through this Austen shows that she is a very nice, but very silly girl. Mary Shelley, however, shows an attitude of understanding and respect towards the creatures thirst for knowledge. The creature is obviously using reading for a positive use, and Shelley uses that to humanize him and perhaps even elicit pity from the reader.