Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Module 7
|Mary Shelley's Life|
|Structure and plot of the novel|
|The Novel: Chapter Summaries and Interpretations|
|Chapter V: The Creation of the Monster (from the online novel )|
Questions for study
|Reference - Movie-Kenneth Branagh 's version|
|Free booknotes from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley|
Victor Frankenstein: In his early life, Victor is obsessed with the fields of science in alchemy. He creates a huge body from human parts and using the knowledge he has acquired, brings life to this monster. On creating the monster he realizes the evil that he has done and abandons his creation. He had hoped that the monster would dissolve out of his life, but the monster is determined to bring misery to Victor, and as a consequence, Victor spends the rest of his life trying to destroy his creation. Victor is the main narrator of the tale to Robert Walton.
The Monster: Created by Victor Frankenstein as an experiment whilst studying at Ingolstadt University, he is hideous and of gigantic proportions. He is abandoned by his creator, and rejected by all those he comes into contact with. He is intelligent and is able to converse eloquently, and soon understands how he came into being. The only purpose of his existence is to bring misery to his creator, Victor, and this he succeeds in doing. The monster represents the conscience of Victor, and there is a supernatural link between the two. They are both aware of each other’s presence. The monster narrates part of the tale to Victor Frankenstein.
Henry Clerval: He is Victor’s lifelong friend who is always there when Victor needs help or care. The monster kills Henry as part of his campaign of vengeance. He represents the main romantic character, and he studied languages at Ingolstadt University.
Elizabeth : Acquired by Victor’s parents as a playmate for Victor, she becomes his wife and is killed by the monster on their honeymoon.
Alphonse Frankenstein:Victor’s father, who indulged his son, he died of a broken heart on the death of Elizabeth.
Robert Walton: He forms the framing to Victor’s narration through letters to his sister, Margaret Saville. He is a sea Captain and Arctic explorer who tries to find a North-west Passage from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. He rescues Victor from and ice flow and delays his eventual death, during which time he makes an account of Victor’s tragic tale.
Caroline Frankenstein: Victor’s mother died of scarlet fever when Victor was 17. She was involved in charity work, just as Mary Shelley and her mother were. It is on one of her visits to the poor that she discovers Elizabeth and adopts the child as a playmate for Victor.
William Frankenstein: The monster strangles Victor’s youngest brother and this is the turning point of the novel, and engulfs Victor and his family in a spiraling cycle of misfortune.
Justine Moritz: She is accused of William’s murder unjustly, and is hanged. She goes to her death with dignity and becomes a martyr for the Frankenstein family who hold her in high esteem.
The De Lacey family: They are the monster’s adopted family with whom he resides undetected for some months, helping them to avoid starvation and degradation. The father of the family is blind and the monster is able to converse with him, but when the rest of the family sees the monster, they beat him and drive him from their home.
THE NOVEL: CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND INTERPRETATIONS.
Letters 1 – 4 from Robert Walton, Sea Captain to Mrs. Margaret Saville - Summary:
Robert Walton writes from St. Petersburg in Russia to his sister in England. He is preparing an expedition to navigate through the Arctic Ocean to the North Pacific in an aim to find a passage for shipping.
The first letter is dated December and it states that after many years of preparation the expedition should start in June of next year when the Polar ices are at their thinnest. He will need to travel to Archangel in order to obtain a suitable ship.
In March he writes again from Archangel saying that the work making ready his ship and crew is near completion, but he now feels lonely and desires someone with whom he can converse.
In July, he writes again, saying that the voyage is now well under way and that the weather is warmer than expected, and he feels confident that he will succeed in his endeavors.
The final letter is written on 3 separate days in August, and it describes how his ship is stuck fast in an ice field far from land. The crew are amazed to see a man “of gigantic stature” following a dog sled team traveling north. The next day, they find another man adrift on an ice flow near to death. It is Victor Frankenstein, and when he recovers, he tells a strange story to Walton.
Interpretation: This “introduction” in the form of four letters written by Robert Walton, is a technique used so that the reader has the impression that what is to transpire in the novel is authentic and has been verified independently by this ship’s captain, Robert Walton. If you like, the letters are independent evidence, and they appear at the start and finish of the book, thus ‘framing’ the main narration by Victor. Perhaps it is coincidental, but the initials of Walton’s sister, Margaret Saville – M.S. – can be interpreted, as Mary Shelley’s own.
Shelley also demonstrates her knowledge of contemporary exploration in the late 19th century, when there are many expeditions seeking the North-west Arctic Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans.
These letters demonstrate the romantic ideas of the author, but these will soon be eclipsed by Gothic influences. However, initially, the reader is intrigued by Walton’s expedition and there are certain similarities with the rhyme of “The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a close friend of Mary Shelley’s father. Clearly he was an influence on Mary when she was a child, and he too was a romantic writer.
The romantic sentiments of Shelley are clearly expressed in the 3rd letter.
It is when we reach the 4th letter that the Gothic element of the novel comes to the fore with Shelley’s descriptive writing portraying the fantastic atmosphere of the Arctic region. The reader obtains the first feeling of foreboding with the description of the monster, and then the mysterious stranger who clearly has a fantastic story to tell.
Walton, the Captain, is pleased to assist Victor, for he seems to be the answer to his prayers, and a release from his loneliness. At last he has a kindred spirit. Of course, the reader is intrigued by Victor’s story, and Shelley fuels this interest with the quote, “You may easily perceive, Captain Walton, that I have suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes. I had determined at one time that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won me to alter my determination.”
Chapter 1. Summary : So begins Victor’s tale, which he starts just before his own birth. His father, Alphonse Frankenstein, was a hard-working public figure who did not marry until late in life.
Alphonse had a close friend in a Mr. Beaufort, who had moved from Geneva to Lucerne in order to seek refuge from poverty and a damaged reputation. Alphonse is determined to help his friend start a new life. However, Beaufort’s health soon failed and he died leaving his daughter Caroline impoverished. With pity and a feeling of obligation to his friend, Alphonse decides to care for Caroline and eventually they become husband and wife, despite a large age gap. They moved to Italy to enjoy a better climate, and Victor was born and much spoiled by the doting parents.
When Victor was 5, Caroline and Alphonse adopt a little girl called Elizabeth from a very poor family who were unable to provide for her adequately, and Elizabeth was adopted in order to be a playmate and cousin for Victor.
Interpretation: The reader may think this is a somewhat complex arrangement, but it mirrors in many respects, Mary Shelley’s own childhood. Shelley came from a family of half-brothers and sisters, and a stepmother. There are further similarities in that Mary’s mother and Victor’s share the same interest of visiting the poor. Also, the mothers of both Mary and Elizabeth died during childbirth. The reader is clear that Elizabeth is not just a mere orphan, but another child that the Frankenstein’s had wanted of their own, but this had not been possible
Chapter 2- Summary: When Victor is 7, there is another addition to the family when William, a brother, is born. The family settles down in Geneva and Victor and Elizabeth have a happy childhood together. Another character is introduced, Henry Clerval, who is a creative child interested in books and folklore.
Victor’s father, a well-read man, encourages Victor to read from his extensive library, and at the age of 13, Victor becomes interested in the books of Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus, all alchemists. Victor has an insatiable appetite for knowledge and in particular for the sciences. At the age of 15, Victor is caught in a severe electrical storm, and he wonders at the possible applications this force could be used for.
Interpretation: The reader has the impression that Victor was a wild child, and that Elizabeth was the most important calming influence over him. We also have the first indication of Victor’s drive and determination to acquire more knowledge and understanding of the sciences and the forces of nature. Again, this mirrors Mary Shelley’s own obsession with learning as a child. Victor needs to know the answers to the laws that govern the physical world.
Alchemy was a subject studied in order to, for example, find the elixir of life, and also how to make gold from base metal.
There is also an indication that Victor is mainly a solitary person, and really only has one lifelong friend, who is introduced to us in this chapter, Henry Clerval. Henry is really a contradiction to Victor, who comes across as a Gothic character, whereas Henry is a romantic. Henry is more fascinated with the heroes of the past e.g. King Arthur. The Gothic element of the book emerges again through the description of the summer thunderstorm. This is to be a frequent symbol throughout the novel, and is usually introduces as a prequel to evil. This experience that Victor has during the storm is the turning point in his life, and serves as the catalyst to feed Victor’s passion to pursue a scientific field of learning.
Shelley also experienced such a storm in the summer of 1816 with her friends, when she started forming the idea of “Frankenstein”, her most famous literary work. We can assume that Shelley considers this force to be evil, and although the details of how Frankenstein’s monster is created are not described in the book, the hint is that this force of electricity is an important ingredient.
Chapter 3: Summary: The 17 year-old Victor is poised to become a student at Ingolstadt University in Germany, but a local outbreak of scarlet fever delays his trip. Both his mother and Elizabeth are struck down with the disease and only Elizabeth survives. Before Caroline dies, she reveals her desire that Victor and Elizabeth should marry.
Elizabeth takes over control of the household and Victor finds it difficult to say goodbye to his family at this time, but he is encouraged to begin his studies in Ingolstadt.
In Germany, two professors, Krempe and Waldman, become Victor’s main mentors. He finds Waldman’s teaching much more conducive and he soon has a close affinity to this professor.
In Victor’s narration he describes Professor Waldman as a 50 year-old who
has a striking appearance and although short in height, he is remarkably
upright with a sweet voice, being precise and calm.
Shelley demonstrates in this chapter that Victor faces a dilemma as to which path his student career should take. He receives conflicting messages from Waldman and Krempe. Whereas the latter ridicules Victor’s study of Agrippa etc., Waldman indicates that these alchemists were heading in the right direction although they did not obtain a full picture regarding this branch of science. He illustrates this by giving Victor a conducted tour of his own laboratory, and in doing so opens up new avenues for Victor to explore.
Shelley introduces the idea that technology pursued to its limits, is not entirely good, and she will demonstrate the evil side of such work later in the novel.
Chapter 4- Summary; Victor again shows his obsession with learning and he devotes most of his time to schoolwork. He soon gains a reputation as an inventor and controversial scientist amongst the professors and students alike.
He wishes to explore the possibility of creating life from death and the ultimate challenge would be to animate a dead body. In order to pursue this experimentation, he obtains body parts from morgues and cemeteries surreptitiously. He is now constantly working to succeed in this task obtaining very little sleep, and this affects both his health and his power of reasoning. The cycle of gory work carries on for months, and Victor has more or less cut himself off from the outside world, and in recent months he has failed to respond to letters received from home.
Interpretation: In this chapter, Shelley brings to fruition the notion that science has an evil side to it. The main theme of the novel is now laid bare, and that is that knowledge must always be used for good and not evil. She makes this point based on her own romantic background, and perhaps her naïve outlook regarding science and technology.
Shelley holds back from giving the reader a full description of how the monster is created. Clearly this would be too much for the 19th century reader. She makes it plain, however, that the monster’s formation is the result of evil work, and the ultimate creation has, therefore, a Gothic element. This is perhaps demonstrated in Victor’s following quotation, “I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.”
Deep down, Victor knows that his work is wrong, but he justifies his actions by saying, “If no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Caesar would have spared his country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the Empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.”
Shelley makes the point here that Victor’s state of mind must be in question in that he can boost his own ego by making references to famous discoveries of the past. She also warns the reader that man must always be in control of science and not vice versa - when man’s experiments usurp the power of God, then that work is evil.
Chapter 5 :Summary: The monster is brought to life by Victor - an 8 ft. created man - and Victor experiences a mix of excitement and revulsion at “the monster”. He describes his creation thus, “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was a lustrous black and flowing; his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriance’s only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.”
Victor runs from his rooms and wanders the streets of Ingolstadt until Henry Clerval finds him. Henry had arrived to enroll at University and he takes Victor back to his rooms to convalesce. The monster has gone. Victor is relieved at this and feels a burden lifted from him. Henry spends the rest of that winter and the following spring bringing Victor back to full health. Henry writes home to Victor’s family in Geneva.
Interpretation: Although Shelley does not provide a detailed description of the monster’s creation, we are certainly treated to a full description of the final product. All the reader really knows is that the natural force of electricity plays a part, and those that have made films concerning this story have leapt upon this fact.
The author is in full flow in this chapter bringing together numerous Gothic elements to the tale – the eerie environment, the description of the monster, the clever development of fear in the reader, all adding to the Gothic tone of the book. Shelley also contrasts Victor’s creation of evil with that of God’s creation of Adam.
There is again reference to the rhyme of “The Ancient Mariner” when Shelley describes Victor’s wanderings in Ingolstadt. Victor feels desolate and alone, just as the Mariner did in Coleridge’s work. The knowledge that Victor has gained will turn out to be a curse and a heavy burden, just as the albatross was to the Mariner. Shelley cleverly breaks the strong Gothic tone by the introduction of Henry Clerval, Victor’s romantic friend.
Chapter 6: Summary: Victor receives a letter from Elizabeth which helps lift his spirits. She gives details concerning Justine Moritz who is the Frankenstein’s housekeeper and trusted friend. She was treated badly by her own family, but she has become indispensable in the Frankenstein home.
Henry encourages Victor to study with him Ancient and Foreign Languages, and the pair work happily and well together. Victor remains with Henry in Ingolstadt for a further year.
Interpretation:The information provided by Elizabeth concerning Justine is important. She was treated badly by her own family and was accused of causing the deaths of some family members.
It also gives details of how she became respected by the Frankenstein family. The letters also give details of how Victor’s brothers, Ernest and William are faring.
This information again mirrors Shelley’s own family life, in that she was not close to either her stepmother or half-siblings, and was treated more favorably by the Scottish branch of her family.
Clerval shows that he is a true friend to Victor, never prying into his work, but realizing that a diversion is necessary, and he encourages Victor to move away from the sciences and to study Languages instead.
Chapter 7: Summary: Victor’s father, Alphonse writes to Victor telling him to return home immediately as William has been murdered. He had been strangled and the locket that Elizabeth had given William of their mother, was missing.
When Victor arrives at the city gates, they are closed, and he has to wait outside until they re-open at dawn. He realizes that it is six years since he was last home, and two years since the creation of his monster.
There is a tremendous storm, and suddenly Victor glimpses the monster between flashes of lightning. Victor suspects immediately that the monster has had something to do with William’s murder. Suddenly the nightmare returns to Victor – he cannot reveal his suspicions regarding William’s murderer without exposing his scientific work. When finally Victor arrives at his home, he learns that Justine is accused of the murder. She was found with the missing locket in her pocket, although she cannot say how it got there. Victor hopes that the justice system will set free the innocent Justine.
Interpretation: Shelley takes us right back into the Gothic world which is introduced with the lightning storm, “A flash of lightning illuminated the object and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon to whom I had given life.” The reader is now aware that lightning is a recurring theme in this story. It reinforces the suggestion that the monster was brought into being by the use of electricity – a force of evil.
Up to this point, the monster had been at the back of Victor’s mind, and was slowly fading away, but in this dramatic fashion, it is brought back to the surface again. Victor instantly realizes that the monster is responsible for the murder of his brother, but he faces a dilemma that he cannot reveal this knowledge without there being enquiry into how the creation was brought about. Victor’s only hope is that justice will be done as regards Justine. Scholars have suggested that Shelley has taken the opportunity to make a remark concerning the English judicial system at that time. She suggests that justice was only served for the rich, and that the poor suffered greatly under it.
Chapter 8 Summary: At the trial of Justine Moritz, she proclaims her innocence, but nevertheless she is convicted and sentenced to be hanged the following day. Victor watched in silence as the nightmare unfolded, unable to stop the injustice.
Elizabeth and Victor visit Justine where she reveals that she made a false confession under prolonged questioning. Justine says that she does not fear death, but Victor is distraught that there will now be two innocent victims arising out of his evil work.
Interpretation: This chapter is Shelley’s commentary on the justice system, and it is no co-incidence that the victim of this farce is called Justine, a play on words of ‘justice’.
Justine is portrayed as being calm and assured of her own innocence. She expresses true grief over the death of William. She tells her story that she had been visiting a nearby village and when she heard that William was missing she made a search for him. Unable to enter the gates of Geneva, she spent the night in a barn where she was found with the locket in her possession. The reason why Justine gave a false confession was to avoid being excommunicated by the church. This information only serves to make Victor feel worse and he is in a living hell.
Chapter 9; Summary: Victor is now plagued with guilt and he decides to escape by having a short break which involves boating on Lake Geneva and a trip to the Swiss mountains. He hopes to be able to recover his senses. Victor: “I wept bitterly and wished that peace would revisit my mind only that I might afford them consolation and happiness. But that could not be. Remorse extinguished every hope. I had been the author of unalterable evils and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”
Interpretation: Victor now returns to a state of deep depression – a relapse to his previous attack in Ingolstadt when he created the monster. Alphonse is concerned at the extent of Victor’s suffering for he does not realize the burden that his son carries. Victor’s depression is so deep that he considers suicide so that the life he created now threatens to destroy his own.
Although Victor is the center of the story being also the narrator, the reader is now aware that Elizabeth has undergone a change since the murder of William and the conviction of Justine. She is also disturbed regarding Victor’s behavior and questions his sanity. The quotation above shows how Shelley explores man’s despair which at this time was a popular subject covered by romantic writers.
Chapter 10 Summary: Victor’s wanderings bring him to the glacier on Mount Montanvert and the monster confronts him again. Victor wishes to destroy his creation or die in the attempt, but the monster convinces Victor to listen to his story. The monster has been living in a hut and there he tells his story to Victor.
Interpretation; Again there are numerous Gothic references in this chapter, and further examples of Shelley’s descriptive writing is evident here. Victor: “I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice among which I had walked with caution; his stature, also, as he approached, seemed to exceed that of a man …………….. abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! The tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! You reproach me with your creation; come on then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.” In reply the monster eloquently responds, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. ………… I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king.”
Shelley reveals to the reader that this is an intelligent creation that is aware of its relationship to Victor, the author of his life. So we now have a twist to the tale in that this monster is a reasoning being and, therefore, just like any other man know the difference between good and evil.
Again, there is reference to a storm providing the reader with a hint of what is to come. This scene on the glacier parallels the earlier North Pole scenes and perhaps Shelley uses this pristine environment to contrast with the blackness of the monster and his evil intent. No doubt Victor is surprised at the eloquence of the monster, and this makes him curious to hear the monster’s story. The monster also likens himself to Adam who was God’s first creation, just as he is Victor’s.
Chapter 11; Summary: The monster tells his story to Victor and just like a child, his initial recollections are vague. He was forced to flee the city, no doubt driven out by the townsfolk, and he learned to live off the land. In the forest he came across the De Lacey family who were a brother Felix, sister Agatha, and their blind father.
Interpretation; The monster narrates the next five chapters, and the reader soon becomes sympathetic towards the monster and his description of the De Lacey family life. The De Lacey family is unaware of the monster’s presence. He observes them through a hole in the wall. He soon has an affection for his newly adopted family, and decides not to steal food from them, but to help them in their struggle for survival.
Chapter 12:Summary; The De Lacey family were originally quite well off, and they lived in France. However, they soon fell on hard times and were exiled from France and moved to Germany. The monster becomes a useful helper to the family by secretly hauling wood to the cottage and doing essential repairs at nighttime.
Interpretation: At first, the monster cannot understand why the family are unhappy, but he realizes this is a result of poverty and hunger. He decides to help the family as much as possible. He has seen his reflection in a pool of water and knows that he is hideous to look upon, but despite his ugliness, he is able to be a kind and benevolent creature.
The De Lacey family is aware that their burdens are easing and attribute this to a “good spirit”. Shelley is making the point that out of evil, good can grow, and although the creation of the monster in her view was an evil act, the fault does not lie with the monster, but with Victor.
Chapter 13: Summary: The monster continues his story concerning the De Laceys, and he tells how Felix is reunited with his lost love, Safie, a half-Turkish woman. In France, Felix had rescued Safie’s father, who was a Turkish Merchant, and had placed Safle in the protection of a Convent. She arrives at the De Lacey house, and so that she can communicate with them, Felix has to teach her languages. In this way, the monster also learns and is able to understand more and more concerning the conversations in the house.
Interpretation: Shelley demonstrates that it is necessary for the monster to be educated, and so she creates this relationship with the De Lacey family. Through this knowledge, the monster starts to question its own creation. The monster: “Of my creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no property. I was not even of the same nature as man.” He also suspects that he did not have any parents.
It is clear in this chapter that Shelley has two main themes that are developed here. Firstly, knowledge must be used for good, and secondly, both man and the monster have good and evil sides to their nature.
Chapters 14 and 15; Summary: The monster continues with his story concerning the De Lacey family.
They were a well-to-do French family, living in Paris, enjoying wealth and social status. Felix was concerned about the unfairness of the French judicial system and together with Safie’s father; they hatch a plot to undermine the French system with a view to freeing her father, a Turkish merchant, from a death sentence. During this time, Safie wrote to Felix encouraging his endeavors. The monster has copies of these. However, the French authorities discover their plans and the De Laceys are deported, losing all their wealth. The De Laceys’ fortunes look up on the arrival of Safie who brings some wealth with her.
The monster still views the family from a distance, but as Safie improves her education, so does the monster. He wears Victor’s overcoat and is now able to understand the books in one of the pockets of the coat, which are Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, and Victor’s own Notebooks, which explain how the monster was created. The monster is horrified to learn how he came into existence.
Interpretation: These chapters are designed to show how the monster feels towards his adopted family and how he shares in their misfortune. Remember that the monster is the narrator here, and he tells Victor of the injustices suffered by the De Lacey family. The monster feels empathy towards the De Laceys, because like him, they have suffered from injustice.
The reader also starts to develop pity for the monster, for as he gains in knowledge so he realizes that he is alone and a misfit. It is interesting that one of the books in Victor’s overcoat pocket is Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, and as Adam had Eve, the monster wonders why he doesn’t have a mate. This is the first seed of an idea, and he will later ask Victor to provide him with a companion of another sex.
So, Shelley makes the reader feel pity for both Victor and the monster.
Chapter 15 ends with the monster revealing himself to the De Lacey family, firstly to the blind father, which goes well, but when the rest of the family see him, they beat him and drive him off. Later he returns to the De Lacey home, and finding it deserted he burns it to the ground.
Chapter 16: Summary: The monster relates to Victor how he reverts to living off the land and his travels bring him closer to Geneva. One day he meets William Frankenstein, and when he realizes whom the boy is, he murders him by strangulation. He takes the locket and plants it in the pocket of the sleeping Justine.
Interpretation: The reader’s sympathy for the monster grows, as it is clear mankind has wronged him, being rejected by his adopted family. His aim now is to find Victor, the only person with whom he has a relationship. Victor is his father, his creator.
He has lived off the land for many months and has tried to be caring. He saved a little girl from drowning in a stream, but again men misinterpreted his actions and he was driven away and was wounded as a villain. During this long period of solitude he vows vengeance on all mankind. The first act of his vengeful campaign is the murder of William, and also the implication of Justine in the crime.
Chapter 17: Summary:
The monster perhaps expects Victor to have a solution for both their predicaments, but the monster soon realizes that Victor wishes to be rid of him, and return to a normal way of life.
The monster offers him a way out. The monster: “I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself; the gratification is small, but it is all that I can receive, and it shall content me. It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from the entire world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another. …………….. Oh! My creator, make me happy; let me feel gratitude towards you for one benefit!”
Victor relents and agrees to recreate a monster to be a mate for him.
Interpretation: At first Victor sees a way out of his nightmare when he agrees to provide a creature for the monster as a companion. Just as Victor’s doting parents provided a mate for him in the form of Elizabeth, so now Victor will provide a mate for the monster.
Shelley makes it clear that the monster’s mate is primarily to be for companionship – a platonic relationship – and no mention is made regarding the monster’s sexual needs. Shelley clearly puts great store in companionship, for this is mentioned in Walton’s letters at the start of the book.
It is also interesting how Shelley develops the relationship between Victor and his creation. It is almost like a father/son connection, and Victor eventually gives in to his “son’s” pleadings.
Chapter 18: Summary: Before Victor embarks on creating a second monster, he wishes to know what the latest developments are in the scientific world. He, therefore, plans a trip through Europe to London and he will ask Henry Clerval to join him, on the pretext that it will be a holiday. The two depart on their tour, but Victor senses that they are being followed. Eventually the two arrive in London.
Interpretation: In Chapter 18, Shelley takes the opportunity of describing her own travelogue through Europe and up the Rhine, the journey being mirrored now in the book by Victor and Henry. Again this chapter provides a respite from the Gothic theme of the novel, and provides the reader with an illustration of the romantic writing prowess of Shelley.
Chapter 19: Summary: In London, Victor suggests to Henry that they should part company. Victor has received an invitation to visit Scotland from a friend, and he now has enough information to commence his work on the second monster.
He travels to a sparsely habited island in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. He starts to gather the raw materials in order to create the second creature, but unlike his first experiment, he experiences no joy in the venture.
Interpretation: Victor’s strange behavior in England causes Henry to wonder about Victor’s sanity, and clearly Victor is in torment. He was of a mind to destroy the monster, and he now finds himself creating another one.
He has picked a remote corner of Europe in which to create the second monster, and Shelley does not give details of how Victor acquires his material on such a desolate island.
Chapter 20:Summary: At last Victor sets about creating the second monster. As he suspected, the monster had trailed Victor and Henry’s tour through Europe into England. He is anxious to see his mate and he approaches Victor’s workshop on the remote island in the Orkneys.
With mixed feelings of guilt and temper Victor destroys the half-finished creature in front of the monster, saying that he will not continue. The monster says, “Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery ………. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue and cold and hunger. Do you dare destroy my hopes?” Victor responds, “Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness.”
The monster disappears into the night and Victor worries who the next victim of the creature’s evil will be next.
Victor prepares to return home, but he must first destroy his laboratory, and dispose of the body parts he has accumulated. He sets out in a boat in order to dispose of the body parts, but a storm pushes him out to sea and eventually he is cast ashore in Ireland and he is unceremoniously taken to the local magistrate, Mr. Kirwin, accused of murder.
Victor cannot repeat the experiment, and he destroys the partly created monster when confronted with the obscenity that is the monster and has been his work.
One of the considerations Victor had, was the possibility that his second creation might be more evil than the first, and the pair might endanger the entire human race.
The monster, on seeing his mate in ruin, issues the threat, “I shall be with you on your wedding night.” This is perhaps a ploy by Shelley in order to keep the reader interested. We are again right back in the midst of a Gothic tale. All the elements are present again; the bleak scenery, the storms, the visions of experiments and body parts, all conjure up a typical Gothic atmosphere.
Chapter 21: Summary: The body of Henry Clerval has been washed up on the beach, murdered by strangulation, the monster’s hallmark. At least two witnesses saw a large creature near the body, but as Victor has appeared on the scene around the same time, and being a stranger, he is the prime suspect.
Victor is seriously ill and is near death, and when he can verify his whereabouts at the time of the murder, he is acquitted of the crime. He could not have killed Henry as he was on the Orkney Islands at the time.
Alphonse arrives in Ireland to bring Victor home once he has been nursed back to health. His meager existence on the remote island and his time spent in the Irish jail have taken their toll on him.
Interpretation_The journey that Victor and Henry had undertaken has ended in tragedy for them both.Henry is dead, and Victor faces continued persecution from the monster. Victor has the further burden that yet another innocent has been murdered because of his evil experiments in Ingolstadt.
Chapter 22: Summary: Eventually Victor and Alphonse arrive in Paris. There Victor receives a letter from Elizabeth. She is concerned that Victor loves another. When they arrive in Geneva, he apologizes to Elizabeth for his behavior and confirms that he is ready to marry her. They are married almost immediately, but there is still the shadow of the monster hanging over Victor. The pair leave on their honeymoon.
Interpretation: On their trip home, Victor tries to confide in his father, saying that he is responsible for the deaths of Justine, William and Henry, but his father will not accept this, and he just considers that his son is exhausted and doesn’t know what he is saying.
The reader may wonder why the monster strangles his victims. This is symbolic. The monster was created by the hands of Victor, so in a way, Victor sees the deaths of these three innocents as being carried out by his hands – the hands of the creator.
Elizabeth is keen to marry Victor, but he is less enthusiastic because of the threat made by the monster to be there on his wedding night.
Chapter 23 : Summary: On their honeymoon, Victor cannot rest. He leaves Elizabeth in their bedroom and armed with a gun, prowls about the Inn looking for the monster. The monster gains access to the bedroom and as she screams, Elizabeth is strangled. Victor rushes to the room to find Elizabeth “lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down and her pale and distorted features half-covered by her hair.”
Victor vows that he will have his revenge, and sets off in search of the monster.
Interpretation: Needless to say, throughout this chapter, a storm is raging about the Inn, and we are aware of the strong ties between Victor and the monster.
He senses the demon’s presence and cannot rest. While he searches the Inn, the monster murders Elizabeth. Whenever the monster is close to Victor he is aware of its presence. When Victor brought the spark of life into the monster’s body, he also created an invisible link between himself and the creature, so that their fates and lives would be intrinsically intertwined forever. Victor’s first concern is to return to Geneva to protect what remains of his family, but Alphonse dies shortly afterwards of a broken heart. Shelley makes it abundantly clear that the link between Victor and the monster works both ways, for we have seen that he was able to track Victor across Europe to the remote island off Scotland in the previous chapters.
Chapter 24: Summary: Victor continues his narration, “As night approached I found myself at the entrance of the cemetery where William, Elizabeth and my father reposed. ………………… The spirits of the departed seemed to flit around and to cast a shadow which was felt but not seen, around the head of the mourner.”
Victor asks the spirits of the dead to help him in his quest for vengeance, and he feels that he has their approval, and then there is a loud and fiendish laugh from the monster, inviting Victor to pursue him.
There then begins the chase from Geneva, through the Mediterranean and Black Seas, across Russia, north and further north to the Arctic Circle.
The monster seems to be able to travel tirelessly, while Victor grows weaker and all that keeps him going is the lust for vengeance. The monster steals a dog sled team, and Victor can never quite catch up to him. However, on the cracking ice, they come close to one another and it is at this time when Robert Walton finds Victor on his ice flow in the Arctic Ocean.
Victor asks Robert to continue his quest in destroying the monster if he fails.
Interpretation: Yet another element essential to the Gothic novel is introduced by Shelley - spirits of the dead, or ghosts.Victor seeks their help in obtaining vengeance for he feels that he cannot join with them until this is accomplished. The monster mocks Victor at the cemetery with his fiendish laugh.
Shelley again emphasizes the psychic connection between Victor and the monster. The two always seem to know each other’s whereabouts.
The monster is quite well aware of this connection between the two, but he goads Victor by leaving him messages during their trek across Russia. The monster: “Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north, where you will feel the misery of the cold and frost, to which I am impassive. You will find near this place, if you follow not too tardily, a dead hare; eat and be refreshed. Come on, my enemy; we have yet to wrestle for our lives, but many hard and miserable hours must you endure until that period shall arrive.” We have reached the end of Victor’s narration, and the picture he has painted. This is framed by the letters at the beginning of the book, and the end of the tale is now told by Walton, completing the framing of Victor’s narration. The barren Arctic will again be the closing Gothic scene of this story.
Final letters from 26th August – 12th September :Summary: Walton tells how Victor supports his incredible story by producing the letters of communication between Felix and Safie. Victor gives Walton a warning and begs him learn from his mistakes. “Would you also create for yourself and the world a daemoniacal enemy? Peace, peace! Learn my miseries and do not seek to increase your own.”
Walton is in no doubt of the truth of Victor’s tale, for they had seen at a distance the horrendous image of the creature.
Victor is very ill and his quest to destroy the monster has squeezed all the life out of him. Walton is depressed by the fact that Victor would have been a great friend and kindred spirit, but he is on the verge of death. The crew of Walton’s ship is near mutiny. They wish to return to warmer waters before the ice crushes the ship. Walton criticizes them for their lack of adventure, but he realizes that his goal will not be achieved.
Victor senses that the ship may head south, and he tells Walton that he wishes to remain in order to destroy his creation. Victor realizes that Walton cannot lead his men to their deaths. Soon he realizes that he is dying and he is concerned that the monster will live, “That he should live to be an instrument of mischief disturbs me: in other respects, this hour, when I momentarily expect my release, is the only happy one which I have enjoyed for several years. The forms of the beloved dead flit before me and I hasten to their arms. Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition.”
The monster breaks into the ship’s cabin where Victor’s body lies.
The monster relates his story to Walton and why he began his reign of terror. He realizes that he must stay in the frozen north until his death, for man will never accept him. The monster points to Victor’s body and says, “He suffered not in the consummation of the deed. Oh! Not the ten-thousandth portion of the anguish that was mine during the lingering detail of its execution ……. My heart was poisoned with remorse. Think you that the groans of Clerval were music to my ears?” The monster goes on to say that after Clerval’s murder he returned to Switzerland heartbroken and overcome and he pitied Frankenstein, and he hated himself. Victor had denied the monster of his mate, so he denied Victor of his mate. This was sheer revenge. The monster’s diabolical design is now over as he stands over his last victim.
He promises that he will not harm Walton or his crew, and he leaves the ship to live out the rest of his days in the land of ice. His parting quote is, “I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame.”
The monster leaves the ship and disappears into the mist.
Interpretation: These final letters complete the frame of the novel. As in the initial letters, these final ones are there to make Victor’s story more convincing. Walton testifies that he has seen the letters in Victor’s possession and also the monster.
Walton is clearly a good narrator and is evidently surprised at the eloquence of the monster.
With Victor dead, all the reader’s sympathy is thrown on the monster. At least Victor will be with the spirits of his loved ones in the supernatural world. The monster, however, has no one. We again are reminded of one of the books in the monster’s possession, Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, and the creature makes clear reference to this by saying, “But it is even so, the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil …….. I am alone.” The monster realizes that even the devil has a host in purgatory with him. He will be utterly alone. He will cease to exist when he burns on his own funeral pyre. With the death of Victor, the reason for his existence has ended. His sole purpose was to torment his creator.
Questions for study with ideas for answers
Q: Frankenstein is described as a Gothic novel. What are the ingredients, which define this type of work?
Ideas: Gothic novels are usually set against a backdrop of mystery and foreboding. The action usually takes place in wastelands, such as the Arctic ice, or on bleak mountaintops. Where Victor conducted his experiments they were either in his eerie lodgings in Ingolstadt or in his remote dwelling on the Orkney Islands.
In every good Gothic tale, there is a strong element of the supernatural. Shelley demonstrates this in the actual creation of the monster, where the hint is that Victor harnessed the forces of nature such as lightning, to give the spark of life to the collection of body parts he had assembled. This creation had a supernatural link with its creator, and vice versa, and whenever they were close to one another, they sensed the other’s presence.
The appearance of ghosts is also a key element, and before Victor embarks on his crusade of vengeance he goes to the graves of the innocents killed at the hands of the monster to commune with their spirits and seek their approval for his quest.
There is also a need to shock the reader, and it is said that when Lord Byron first heard Shelley’s tale, he ran from the room screaming. No doubt this was due to his fertile imagination. Although Shelley holds back from giving precise details of the actual creation of the monster, she does not spare the reader regarding the description of the finished product. It should be noted that the thought of bringing to life a dead body would have made the average reader in the 19th century feel very uncomfortable.
Many of the main characters in Gothic tales are flawed, and this brings an element of sub-normal behavior to the plot. Victor was clearly a spoiled child, who developed an unhealthy passion for his experiments in Ingolstadt. Often the characters provide a link between the natural and supernatural worlds, and this was certainly true of Victor and the monster in this tale, as both seemed to have a 6th sense.
Q: One of the key elements of the story is Victor’s state of mind. Show how the events in the story affect his behavior.
Ideas: Shelley deliberately provides a detailed study of Victor’s childhood, as this has a direct bearing on how he acts in later life.
He was clearly a precocious child, doted on by both his parents who provided for his every need. This even went to the extent that they provided him with a playmate that was groomed to be his wife. He also showed a strong desire to learn, and perhaps his father should have channeled this passion, rather than allowing Victor to read all types of books suitable, or not. Victor’s view on life, therefore, was that anything was allowable, and he could flaunt the conventions of that time. This makes him arrogant and self-centered.
When Victor arrives at University, his arrogance and thirst for forbidden knowledge drives him to conduct illegal and evil experiments without having any consideration for the consequences. To him, it is almost a game and he still acts in an immature manner. This turns out to be a dangerous game as it becomes an obsession, and his main desire is to boost his ego and the monster he creates becomes a talisman. When it is too late, he realizes the wrong he has done and shirks all responsibility by allowing the monster to disappear into society. During the experiment, Victor became obsessive and had no thought for himself, his health, his family or his friends.
Victor adopts the head-in-the-sand attitude until the monster inflicts the first act of tragedy by killing his brother, William. Victor cannot face up to his responsibilities and confess his crime in creating the monster. This leads to the further innocent death of the housekeeper Justine Moritz.
The years of constant work in Ingolstadt have had a long-lasting effect on Victor’s powers of reasoning and judgment. Although physically recovered, his mental reasoning is flawed. In some strange way, he still hopes to escape from the monster, and he does not realize that he is forever linked with the creature. Vainly he hopes to be able to shake the monster loose, and although he promises to create a mate, it turns out he doesn’t intend to keep this promise.
Only with the death of his wife at the monster’s hands does he resort to obsessive behavior by pursuing the monster with a view to destroying it once and for all.
Q: In your copy of the novel, you will note that there is a Preface, which was written for the 1817 publication by Shelley’s husband, Percy and also an Introduction to the 1831 publication written by the author herself. What are the purposes of these?
Ideas: It was through Percy’s support that Mary was persuaded to expand her original short story, and publish Frankenstein as a Gothic novel. At this time there were not many Gothic novels around, and Percy was keen to put Frankenstein in the context of other works. He wished to make sure that the reader would not dismiss the story as pure fantasy, but to provide it with an element of authenticity, hence the framing of the story. He also emphasizes that it is not just a gory tale, but also a look at human nature. He also wished to ensure that it was distinguished from romantic novels of that time, and although Frankenstein has elements of passion and logic, it also has supernatural overtones, and involves remote and desolate settings. The Preface also provides a story as to how the novel came into being and mentions the happenings in the summer of 1816 in Geneva, Switzerland, with Lord Byron and company.
Mary Shelley’s Introduction of the 1831 publication gives further information concerning the gathering of five writers in Switzerland during the summer of 1816, which included her husband Percy, Lord Byron, Lord Byron’s mistress who was also Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairemont, and John William Polidori who wrote The Vampyre’s Tale, published in 1819. Mary’s purpose in this Introduction was to stress that it was her husband who encouraged her to write this work, and as such she has affection for the work, particularly since her husband’s death.
Therefore, without Percy’s encouragement, Frankenstein, would never had gone to publication. It had started as almost a joke, as all five writers had agreed to write a ghost story, but Mary’s work outshone the rest, and Percy saw the worth of her work, and so he was determined that she should expand it into a novel. She also gives details of her own childhood, so that the reader can see how this mirrors the happenings in the novel itself. She states “I busied myself to think of a story, a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.” She clearly succeeded in this, but wished to stress that this was just an experiment on her part, and not to be repeated. Although it is evident that this was her forte, she was born before her time, and perhaps the general readership were not ready for this type of work. Shelley: “And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper.”
Shelley also gives details about minor alterations made to the work since its original publication, but stressing that they mainly related to style and not content.
Q: ‘Frankenstein’ has three main storylines. What are they?
Ideas: Firstly, there is Robert Walton’s story, which frames the other two narrations, and takes the form of letters to his sister. He has for many years wished to navigate a route joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Arctic, or the North-west Passage. He, like Victor, is determined to succeed at all costs, even perhaps at the cost of his crew, who are on the verge of mutiny. He is portrayed as a lonely man who can find no company in his crew. Victor briefly provides this companionship and Walton’s quest is interrupted by the rescue of Victor. At the end of Victor’s life, he gives Walton the warning to curb his ambition or it may have dire consequences. This is the only spark of hope that comes out of this novel.
Secondly, the main storyline is Victor’s tale, his emergence from a blissful childhood into the dark world of experimentation with the forces of life and death.
Thirdly, and perhaps the most difficult storyline to appreciate is that of the monster. Although he is far more violent than Victor, he perhaps obtains more sympathy from the reader, being the object of rejection and prejudice to those with whom he came into contact. He was a ‘child’ so far as experience was concerned, abandoned at ‘birth’ to face the hardships thrown at him by society. Faced with total rejection, his only aim in life becomes the destruction of Victor, his creator, but this must be done slowly so that the misery suffered matches his own.