Study Guide

Frankenstein Quotes

  • Appearances

    Letter 1
    Robert Walton

    Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has traveled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. (Letter 1.2)

    The beauty of the natural world inspires Walton to continue in his expedition.

    Chapter 1
    Victor Frankenstein

    Everyone loved Elizabeth. The passionate and almost reverential attachment with which all regarded her became, while I shared it, my pride and my delight. On the evening previous to her being brought to my home, my mother had said playfully, "I have a pretty present for my Victor--tomorrow he shall have it." And when, on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth as mine--mine to protect, love, and cherish. All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own. We called each other familiarly by the name of cousin. No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me--my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only. (1.7)

    Victor sees that Elizabeth’s beauty is the reason people love her. Yet this seems to be the reason he loves her himself.

    They consulted their village priest, and the result was that Elizabeth Lavenza became the inmate of my parents' house--my more than sister--the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and my pleasures. (1.6)

    Literally the only reason that Victor's family adopts Elizabeth is that she's pretty. Oh, sure, she's charming—but being charming seems like a subset of being pretty, not something separate.

    Chapter 2

    As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed. (2.9)

    The natural world is at once beautiful and capable of immense destruction.

    Chapter 4

    Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. (4.3)

    The beauty of the church is juxtaposed with the ugliness and decay of death.

    Victor Frankenstein

    The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage, but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature. And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time. I knew my silence disquieted them, and I well remembered the words of my father: "I know that while you are pleased with yourself you will think of us with affection, and we shall hear regularly from you. You must pardon me if I regard any interruption in your correspondence as a proof that your other duties are equally neglected." (4.10)

    The beauty of nature distracts Victor from his other worries. Nature’s beauty has the capacity to alter human feelings

    Chapter 5
    Victor Frankenstein

    I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch --the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life. (5.3)

    The beauty of Elizabeth and the goodness for which it stands are threatened by Victor’s scientific endeavors and the ugly thing he has created.

    How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? 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 of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips. (5.2)

    Shmoop is as unprejudiced as anyone else, but we have to say we feel for Victor here. Some things are just scary—like stitched-together corpses. What did he think the creation was going to look like?

    I stepped fearfully in: the apartment was empty, and my bedroom was also freed from its hideous guest. I could hardly believe that so great a good fortune could have befallen me, but when I became assured that my enemy had indeed fled, I clapped my hands for joy and ran down to Clerval. (5.12)

    Victor assumes that because his creature is hideous, he must be an enemy.

    Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived. (5.4)

    As if the monster weren't ugly enough before the spark of being, he's even worse before. Notice that the "spark of being"—i.e., something like the soul—makes him even more hideous? It almost sounds as if the monster is ugly on the inside from the very beginning.

    Chapter 6

    Justine has just returned to us; and I assure you I love her tenderly. She is very clever and gentle, and extremely pretty; as I mentioned before, her mein and her expression continually remind me of my dear aunt. (6.7)

    Justine’s beauty makes her an object worth loving.

    The pretty Miss Mansfield has already received the congratulatory visits on her approaching marriage with a young Englishman, John Melbourne, Esq. Her ugly sister, Manon, married M. Duvillard, the rich banker, last autumn. Your favourite schoolfellow, Louis Manoir, has suffered several misfortunes since the departure of Clerval from Geneva. But he has already recovered his spirits, and is reported to be on the point of marrying a lively pretty Frenchwoman, Madame Tavernier. She is a widow, and much older than Manoir; but she is very much admired, and a favourite with everybody. (6.9)

    People admire Madame Tavernier in part because she is good-looking.

    Justine, you may remember, was a great favourite of yours; and I recollect you once remarked that if you were in an ill humour, one glance from Justine could dissipate it, for the same reason that Ariosto gives concerning the beauty of Angelica--she looked so frank-hearted and happy. My aunt conceived a great attachment for her, by which she was induced to give her an education superior to that which she had at first intended. This benefit was fully repaid; Justine was the most grateful little creature in the world: I do not mean that she made any professions I never heard one pass her lips, but you could see by her eyes that she almost adored her protectress. Although her disposition was gay and in many respects inconsiderate, yet she paid the greatest attention to every gesture of my aunt. She thought her the model of all excellence and endeavoured to imitate her phraseology and manners, so that even now she often reminds me of her. (6.5)

    Justine’s beautiful countenance is representative of her happy, good nature.

    I must say also a few words to you, my dear cousin, of little darling William. I wish you could see him; he is very tall of his age, with sweet laughing blue eyes, dark eyelashes, and curling hair. When he smiles, two little dimples appear on each cheek, which are rosy with health. He has already had one or two little WIVES, but Louisa Biron is his favourite, a pretty little girl of five years of age. (6.8)

    Aw, William is a cute little boy. Too bad he's got such an ugly personality that he has to die.

    Chapter 7

    During our walk, Clerval endeavoured to say a few words of consolation; he could only express his heartfelt sympathy. "Poor William!" said he, dear lovely child, he now sleeps with his angel mother! Who that had seen him bright and joyous in his young beauty, but must weep over his untimely loss! To die so miserably; to feel the murderer's grasp! How much more a murdered that could destroy radiant innocence! Poor little fellow! one only consolation have we; his friends mourn and weep, but he is at rest. The pang is over, his sufferings are at an end for ever. A sod covers his gentle form, and he knows no pain. He can no longer be a subject for pity; we must reserve that for his miserable survivors." (7.16)

    Henry expresses affection for the dead boy by describing his lovely physical attributes.

    I wept like a child. "Dear mountains! my own beautiful lake! how do you welcome your wanderer? Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid. Is this to prognosticate peace, or to mock at my unhappiness?" (7.20)

    Nature has the power to evoke strong emotions because of its beauty.

    While I watched the tempest, so beautiful yet terrific, I wandered on with a hasty step. This noble war in the sky elevated my spirits; I clasped my hands, and exclaimed aloud, "William, dear angel! this is thy funeral, this thy dirge!" As I said these words, I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me; I stood fixed, gazing intently: I could not be mistaken. 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. What did he there? Could he be (I shuddered at the conception) the murderer of my brother? (7.24)

    The hideousness of the monster’s crime is reflected by the tempestuous weather.

    During this short voyage I saw the lightning playing on the summit of Mont Blanc in the most beautiful figures. The storm appeared to approach rapidly, and, on landing, I ascended a low hill, that I might observe its progress. It advanced; the heavens were clouded, and I soon felt the rain coming slowly in large drops, but its violence quickly increased. (7.22)

    Beauty and violence are contained together in the natural world.

    Chapter 8

    The appearance of Justine was calm. She was dressed in mourning, and her countenance, always engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful. Yet she appeared confident in innocence and did not tremble, although gazed on and execrated by thousands, for all the kindness which her beauty might otherwise have excited was obliterated in the minds of the spectators by the imagination of the enormity she was supposed to have committed. She was tranquil, yet her tranquility was evidently constrained; and as her confusion had before been adduced as a proof of her guilt, she worked up her mind to an appearance of courage. When she entered the court she threw her eyes round it and quickly discovered where we were seated. A tear seemed to dim her eye when she saw us, but she quickly recovered herself, and a look of sorrowful affection seemed to attest her utter guiltlessness. (8.2)

    Ooh, complicated. Justine is pretty, which would normally make people like her—except that, in this case, they think she's a monster. She's acting calm, because acting confused made people think she was guilty—but trying to appear calm just makes her look, well, stressed. It looks like judging people based on their appearances isn't as straightforward as it seems.

    Chapter 11

    "It was about seven in the morning, and I longed to obtain food and shelter; at length I perceived a small hut, on a rising ground, which had doubtless been built for the convenience of some shepherd. This was a new sight to me, and I examined the structure with great curiosity. Finding the door open, I entered. An old man sat in it, near a fire, over which he was preparing his breakfast. He turned on hearing a noise, and perceiving me, shrieked loudly, and quitting the hut, ran across the fields with a speed of which his debilitated form hardly appeared capable. His appearance, different from any I had ever before seen, and his flight somewhat surprised me. But I was enchanted by the appearance of the hut; here the snow and rain could not penetrate; the ground was dry; and it presented to me then as exquisite and divine a retreat as Pandemonium appeared to the demons of hell after their sufferings in the lake of fire. I greedily devoured the remnants of the shepherd's breakfast, which consisted of bread, cheese, milk, and wine; the latter, however, I did not like. Then, overcome by fatigue, I lay down among some straw and fell asleep.

    It was noon when I awoke, and allured by the warmth of the sun, which shone brightly on the white ground, I determined to recommence my travels; and, depositing the remains of the peasant's breakfast in a wallet I found, I proceeded across the fields for several hours, until at sunset I arrived at a village. How miraculous did this appear! The huts, the neater cottages, and stately houses engaged my admiration by turns. The vegetables in the gardens, the milk and cheese that I saw placed at the windows of some of the cottages, allured my appetite. One of the best of these I entered, but I had hardly placed my foot within the door before the children shrieked, and one of the women fainted. The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel, quite bare, and making a wretched appearance after the palaces I had beheld in the village. This hovel however, joined a cottage of a neat and pleasant appearance, but after my late dearly bought experience, I dared not enter it. My place of refuge was constructed of wood, but so low that I could with difficulty sit upright in it. No wood, however, was placed on the earth, which formed the floor, but it was dry; and although the wind entered it by innumerable chinks, I found it an agreeable asylum from the snow and rain." (11.9-10)

    People reject the monster, although good-natured and kind, simply because he is scary looking.

    Chapter 13
    The Monster

    Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned? (13.17)

    Hm. The first problem seems to be that the monster has no money, friends, or property. His appearance comes second. Unfortunately, the way he looks means that he has no way of fixing problem #1.

    I admired virtue and good feelings and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers, but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows. The gentle words of Agatha and the animated smiles of the charming Arabian were not for me. The mild exhortations of the old man and the lively conversation of the loved Felix were not for me. Miserable, unhappy wretch! (13.19)

    It doesn't take long for the monster to go from ugly-and-kind to ugly-and-murderous, and the whole transformation takes place because he's ugly. So what's the difference between being innately ugly and only surface ugly? Just a few bad interactions?

    Felix seemed ravished with delight when he saw her, every trait of sorrow vanished from his face, and it instantly expressed a degree of ecstatic joy, of which I could hardly have believed it capable; his eyes sparkled, as his cheek flushed with pleasure; and at that moment I thought him as beautiful as the stranger. She appeared affected by different feelings; wiping a few tears from her lovely eyes, she held out her hand to Felix, who kissed it rapturously and called her, as well as I could distinguish, his sweet Arabian. She did not appear to understand him, but smiled. He assisted her to dismount, and dismissing her guide, conducted her into the cottage. Some conversation took place between him and his father, and the young stranger knelt at the old man's feet and would have kissed his hand, but he raised her and embraced her affectionately. (13.5)

    Felix associates beauty and sweetness in Safie.

    Her voice was musical but unlike that of either of my friends. On hearing this word, Felix came up hastily to the lady, who, when she saw him, threw up her veil, and I beheld a countenance of angelic beauty and expression. Her hair of a shining raven black, and curiously braided; her eyes were dark, but gentle, although animated; her features of a regular proportion, and her complexion wondrously fair, each cheek tinged with a lovely pink. (13.4)

    Safie is soooooo pretty. She's also kind, loving, and loyal—which makes us wonder if appearances are only deceiving when it comes to men.

    Chapter 15

    "I endeavored to crush these fears and to fortify myself for the trial which in a few months I resolved to undergo; and sometimes I allowed my thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with my feelings and cheering my gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation. But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him." (15.11)

    You'd think that the monster would know something about not judging by appearances, but you'd be wrong. He wants his companions to be "amiable"—but first of all, he wants them to be "lovely."

    The Monster

    "At that instant the cottage door was opened, and Felix, Safie, and Agatha entered. Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me? Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage. Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung, in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained. I saw him on the point of repeating his blow, when, overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage, and in the general tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel." (15.36)

    The monster’s last attempt to find a place in society is ruined when the family returns to their blind father.

    Chapter 16
    William Frankenstein

    "He struggled violently. `Let me go,' he cried; `monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go, or I will tell my papa.'

    "`Boy, you will never see your father again; you must come with me.'

    "`Hideous monster! Let me go. My papa is a syndic—he is M. Frankenstein—he will punish you. You dare not keep me.' (16.27-29)

    William immediately thinks that the monster is, well, a monster. How does a six-year-old kid learn about ogres? (Don't say Lord of the Rings.) Could it be that we're all innately prejudiced?

    The Monster

    "As I fixed my eyes on the child, I saw something glittering on his breast. I took it; it was a portrait of a most lovely woman. In spite of my malignity, it softened and attracted me. For a few moments I gazed with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips; but presently my rage returned; I remembered that I was forever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow and that she whose resemblance I contemplated would, in regarding me, have changed that air of divine benignity to one expressive of disgust and affright. (16.32)

    The monster is upset that normal people will not treat him with kindness merely because he is not attractive.

    "I was scarcely hid when a young girl came running towards the spot where I was concealed, laughing, as if she ran from someone in sport. She continued her course along the precipitous sides of the river, when suddenly her foot slipped, and she fell into the rapid stream. I rushed from my hiding-place and with extreme labour, from the force of the current, saved her and dragged her to shore. She was senseless, and I endeavoured by every means in my power to restore animation, when I was suddenly interrupted by the approach of a rustic, who was probably the person from whom she had playfully fled. On seeing me, he darted towards me, and tearing the girl from my arms, hastened towards the deeper parts of the wood. I followed speedily, I hardly knew why; but when the man saw me draw near, he aimed a gun, which he carried, at my body and fired. I sank to the ground, and my injurer, with increased swiftness, escaped into the wood.

    This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind. But the agony of my wound overcame me; my pulses paused, and I fainted." (16.19-20)

    The monster’s good deed is not rewarded because people assume he is evil from his appearance.

    Chapter 17

    A fiendish rage animated him as he said this; his face was wrinkled into contortions too horrible for human eyes to behold; but presently he calmed himself and proceeded—(17.6)

    The monster’s ugly appearance is equated with fiendishness.

    Robert Walton

    Great God! what a scene has just taken place! I am yet dizzy with the remembrance of it. I hardly know whether I shall have the power to detail it; yet the tale which I have recorded would be incomplete without this final and wonderful catastrophe. I entered the cabin where lay the remains of my ill-fated and admirable friend. Over him hung a form which I cannot find words to describe—gigantic in stature, yet uncouth and distorted in its proportions.

    As he hung over the coffin, his face was concealed by long locks of ragged hair; but one vast hand was extended, in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy. When he heard the sound of my approach, he ceased to utter exclamations of grief and horror and sprung towards the window. Never did I behold a vision so horrible as his face, of such loathsome yet appalling hideousness. I shut my eyes involuntarily and endeavoured to recollect what were my duties with regard to this destroyer. I called on him to stay.

    Walton sees the monster and confirms that he is as terrible looking as Victor said.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Letter 1
    Victor Frankenstein

    The innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery, according as they fulfilled their duties towards me. (1.6)

    When Victor talks about his childhood, he suggests that parents play a big role in how their kids turn out, either "to happiness or misery." Sure, blame it on your folks. Everyone else does.

    Chapter 15
    The Monster

    Sometimes I allowed my thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with my feelings and cheering my gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation. But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him. (15.11)

    The monster may have learned a lot about making fire, but all he knows about human society he's gotten from books. This is kind of like watching a bunch of romantic comedies and then being sad because you keep passing by that cute bakery without running into a quirkily adorable girl.

    I was dependent on none and related to none. The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them. (15.5)

    You and us both, monster.

    Chapter 16
    The Monster

    "Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery." (16.1)

    So, fun fact: in 1798, this guy Thomas Malthus warned people that overpopulation was going to destroy the planet, and that one solution was to get people (especially poor people) to stop having so many babies through family planning which, in the early nineteenth century, meant "stop having sex." Guess who wasn't a fan? William Godwin, Mary Shelley's dad, who thought that we could all just get along if we'd just try harder. (A lot of the Big Six felt this way, too.) What did Mary Shelley think? We're not sure. But that phrase "the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed" sounds a lot like a condemnation of people having babies willy-nilly—especially considering that "wanton" is a word used a lot for excessive sexual activity, which, before our own age of family planning, tended to mean excessive babies.

    One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race. (Letter 4.21)

    Uh-oh. It's never a good sign when you start telling your sister that it's not a big deal if someone dies, as long as you fulfill your scientific goal. Walton is about two and a half steps away from full-on mad scientist, here.

    The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows." (3.14)

    M. Waldman claims that modern scientists have pretty tame goals compared to the ancient alchemists, but to Victor this is staggering stuff: they're unlocking the secrets of existence. (Can you imagine what he'd do with an iPad?)

    "It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being; all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct. A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses. By degrees, I remember, a stronger light pressed upon my nerves, so that I was obliged to shut my eyes. (11.1)

    This is Mary Shelley giving us her version of what it's like to be an infant: surrounded by sensations, overwhelmed by sights, sounds, and smells, and not too happy about any of it. Judging by how most babies react to being born, we'd say she might be on to something.

    When night came again I found, with pleasure, that the fire gave light as well as heat and that the discovery of this element was useful to me in my food, for I found some of the offals that the travellers had left had been roasted, and tasted much more savoury than the berries I gathered from the trees. I tried, therefore, to dress my food in the same manner, placing it on the live embers. I found that the berries were spoiled by this operation, and the nuts and roots much improved. (11.7)

    The monster is a little (okay, big) scientist: like Frankenstein, he's trying to understand existence by trial and error. Luckily, his "errors" are more like, "oops, I burned my berries" than, "oops, I created a monster."

    "Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible. I sickened as I read. `Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. `Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust?" (15.8)

    Ouch. This is not a birth story any kid wants to read. The monster found Frankenstein's diary and learned first-hand just how much his creator hates him. What kind of life can you have if you know that your parent(s) wish you'd never been born?

    "I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?" (17.5)

    Poor monster. This seems like pretty clear proof for the idea that our personalities are created, not born—unless, like Frankenstein, he's just making excuses for himself.

  • Other

    Letter 2
    Robert Walton

    I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow," but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the "Ancient Mariner." You will smile at my allusion, but I will disclose a secret. I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of ocean to that production of the most imaginative of modern poets. There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious-- painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour--but besides this there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore. (Letter 2.4)

    Walton describes his desire to travel and explore the world. He is an exploratory person both in terms of physical travel and the mental exploration of intellectual discovery.

    I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans. How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother! I am too ardent in execution and too impatient of difficulties. But it is a still greater evil to me that I am self-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common and read nothing but our Uncle Thomas' books of voyages. At that age I became acquainted with the celebrated poets of our own country; but it was only when it had ceased to be in my power to derive its most important benefits from such a conviction that I perceived the necessity of becoming acquainted with more languages than that of my native country. Now I am twenty-eight and am in reality more illiterate than many schoolboys of fifteen. It is true that I have thought more and that my daydreams are more extended and magnificent, but they want (as the painters call it) KEEPING; and I greatly need a friend who would have sense enough not to despise me as romantic, and affection enough for me to endeavour to regulate my mind. Well, these are useless complaints; I shall certainly find no friend on the wide ocean, nor even here in Archangel, among merchants and seamen. Yet some feelings, unallied to the dross of human nature, beat even in these rugged bosoms. My lieutenant, for instance, is a man of wonderful courage and enterprise; he is madly desirous of glory, or rather, to word my phrase more characteristically, of advancement in his profession. He is an Englishman, and in the midst of national and professional prejudices, unsoftened by cultivation, retains some of the noblest endowments of humanity. I first became acquainted with him on board a whale vessel; finding that he was unemployed in this city, I easily engaged him to assist in my enterprise. The master is a person of an excellent disposition and is remarkable in the ship for his gentleness and the mildness of his discipline. This circumstance, added to his well-known integrity and dauntless courage, made me very desirous to engage him. A youth passed in solitude, my best years spent under your gentle and feminine fosterage, has so refined the groundwork of my character that I cannot overcome an intense distaste to the usual brutality exercised on board ship: (Letter 2.2)

    Walton’s desire for a friend establishes a major thematic meditation of the text: that being alone in the world creates the desire to have a circle of family and friends. This desire of Walton’s mirrors the later desire of the monster to have a companion.

    Chapter 2
    Victor Frankenstein

    I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections upon self. Besides, in drawing the picture of my early days, I also record those events which led, by insensible steps, to my after tale of misery, for when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion which afterwards ruled my destiny I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys. Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. When I was thirteen year of age we all went on a party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon; the inclemency of the weather obliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate and the wonderful facts which he relates soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind, and bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father. My father looked carelessly at the title page of my book and said, "Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash." (2.6)

    Victor learns that his interest in alchemy is useless and that such a field is outdated. Instead, science and natural philosophy are the accepted forms of thought.

    Chapter 3

    After having made a few preparatory experiments, he concluded with a panegyric upon modern chemistry, the terms of which I shall never forget: "The ancient teachers of this science," said he, "promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows. (3.14)

    This professor of Victor’s gives him a way to see scientific inquiry as stemming from older traditions. This respect for the old combined with an interest in the new is what allows Victor to go forward in his scientific explorations.

    Victor Frankenstein

    She died calmly, and her countenance expressed affection even in death. I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever--that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized. (3.2)

    Loss haunts Victor from a very early point in the book: his mother’s death is an "irreparable evil" from which all future evil and loneliness spring.

    Chapter 9
    Victor Frankenstein

    I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer. Elizabeth read my anguish in my countenance, and kindly taking my hand, said, "My dearest friend, you must calm yourself. These events have affected me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are. There is an expression of despair, and sometimes of revenge, in your countenance that makes me tremble. Dear Victor, banish these dark passions. Remember the friends around you, who centre all their hopes in you. Have we lost the power of rendering you happy? Ah! While we love, while we are true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty, your native country, we may reap every tranquil blessing--what can disturb our peace?" (9.8)

    Victor’s guilt due to the deaths of William and Justine causes him to seek revenge against the monster.

    Chapter 12
    The Monster

    My thoughts now became more active, and I longed to discover the motives and feelings of these lovely creatures; I was inquisitive to know why Felix appeared so miserable and Agatha so sad. I thought (foolish wretch!) that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people. When I slept or was absent, the forms of the venerable blind father, the gentle Agatha, and the excellent Felix flitted before me. I looked upon them as superior beings who would be the arbiters of my future destiny. I formed in my imagination a thousand pictures of presenting myself to them, and their reception of me. I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour and afterwards their love. (12.17)

    The monster’s desire for love and familial affection makes him a deeply human and sympathetic character. Yet it also drives him to commit his immoral acts.

    Chapter 15
    The Monster

    Another circumstance strengthened and confirmed these feelings. Soon after my arrival in the hovel I discovered some papers in the pocket of the dress which I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had neglected them, but now that I was able to decipher the characters in which they were written, I began to study them with diligence. It was your journal of the four months that preceded my creation. You minutely described in these papers every step you took in the progress of your work; this history was mingled with accounts of domestic occurrences. You doubtless recollect these papers. Here they are. Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible. I sickened as I read. `Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. `Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred. (15.8)

    The monster, on discovering that his own creator is horrified by his existence, increasingly despairs about his position in the world. He faces the tragedy of his existence – that he was made human on the inside, but without the capacity for fellowship with others

    Chapter 17
    The Monster

    "You are in the wrong," replied the fiend; "and instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my archenemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth." (17.5)

    The monster believes that a female companion is his only chance for happiness.

    Chapter 22

    Well, be it so; a deadly struggle would then assuredly take place, in which if he were victorious I should be at peace and his power over me be at an end. If he were vanquished, I should be a free man. Alas! What freedom? Such as the peasant enjoys when his family have been massacred before his eyes, his cottage burnt, his lands laid waste, and he is turned adrift, homeless, penniless, and alone, but free. Such would be my liberty except that in my Elizabeth I possessed a treasure, alas, balanced by those horrors of remorse and guilt which would pursue me until death. (22.14)

    Family massacred, lands burned, turned adrift… this sounds like the beginning of an Oscar-winning revenge drama, if you ask us.

  • Family

    Letter 2

    But it is a still greater evil to me that I am self-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common and read nothing but our Uncle Thomas' books of voyages… A youth passed in solitude, my best years spent under your gentle and feminine fosterage, has so refined the groundwork of my character that I cannot overcome an intense distaste to the usual brutality exercised on board ship: (Letter 2.2)

    Hm, it sounds like Walton is blaming his parents (or lack of parents), too: he ran wild with adventure stories, just like Victor ran wild reading alchemy. (Come on, we can think of worse ways to run wild.) The point is that neither man had parents to guide his reading—but they both did have "gentle and feminine fosterage," so that's something.

    Chapter 1

    When my father returned from Milan, he found playing with me in the hall of our villa a child fairer than pictured cherub—a creature who seemed to shed radiance from her looks and whose form and motions were lighter than the chamois of the hills […] the result was that Elizabeth Lavenza became the inmate of my parents' house—my more than sister—the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and my pleasures. (1.6)

    Okay, seriously: aside from the fact that it's totally creepy that Victor's parents essentially adopt a child for Victor to marry, what are the odds that you would even want to marry someone you'd grown up with? Like, grown up in the same house with? There's a reason (besides the obvious genetic ones) that we don't marry our siblings.

    Chapter 2
    Victor Frankenstein

    No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed. When I mingled with other families I distinctly discerned how peculiarly fortunate my lot was, and gratitude assisted the development of filial love. (2.3)

    Victor thinks he's fortunate, but we're not so sure. Check out the words he uses to describe his parents: "kindness," "indulgence," "creators of […] delights." That sounds like fun, but it doesn't exactly sound like the foundation of a good moral character. It seems like his parents might misunderstand their role: they're not supposed to be tyrants, but they should be providing at least a little upbringing.

    Chapter 3
    Victor Frankenstein

    My departure was therefore fixed at an early date, but before the day resolved upon could arrive, the first misfortune of my life occurred—an omen, as it were, of my future misery. Elizabeth had caught the scarlet fever; her illness was severe, and she was in the greatest danger. During her illness many arguments had been urged to persuade my mother to refrain from attending upon her. She had at first yielded to our entreaties, but when she heard that the life of her favourite was menaced, she could no longer control her anxiety. She attended her sickbed; her watchful attentions triumphed over the malignity of the distemper—Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver. (3.1)

    Caroline Frankenstein dies because she loves Elizabeth so much that she insists on taking care of her when she's sick with scarlet fever. So, her death really is an omen—it's a warning that family can be fatal. Think about that the next time your parents tell you to call more often.

    Chapter 12
    The Monster

    I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers—their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions; but how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity. (12.13)

    Aw. The monster is totally the unloved middle sibling. We feel you, monster.

    I lay on my straw, but I could not sleep. I thought of the occurrences of the day. What chiefly struck me was the gentle manners of these people, and I longed to join them, but dared not. I remembered too well the treatment I had suffered the night before from the barbarous villagers, and resolved, whatever course of conduct I might hereafter think it right to pursue, that for the present I would remain quietly in my hovel, watching and endeavouring to discover the motives which influenced their actions. (12.1)

    The "motive" behind the way the cottagers treat each other is—family. They're nice to each other because they're related. (Incidentally, "Because they're family" is also the excuse for a lot of not-so-nice behavior.)

    Chapter 13
    The Monster

    Other lessons were impressed upon me even more deeply. I heard of the difference of sexes, and the birth and growth of children, how the father doted on the smiles of the infant, and the lively sallies of the older child, how all the life and cares of the mother were wrapped up in the precious charge, how the mind of youth expanded and gained knowledge, of brother, sister, and all the various relationships which bind one human being to another in mutual bonds. (13.21)

    Um, is it just us, or does it sound like the monster is getting some pretty explicit sex education here?

    But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. From my earliest remembrance I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yet seen a being resembling me or who claimed any intercourse with me. (13.22)

    Basically, the monster is upset that no one has embarrassing naked baby pictures to show his prom date. If you ask us, he should count his blessings.

    Chapter 17
    The Monster

    "You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede." (17.2)

    "The interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being" is a roundabout way of saying, "I need someone to wish me good morning and yell at me for not taking out the trash." The monster wants someone to just be normal with.

    Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized. (3.2)

    Here, Victor is saying that at some point grief becomes "an indulgence." Apparently, devoting yourself to creating life because you're so torn up about your mom's death doesn't count as grief.

    When I slept or was absent, the forms of the venerable blind father, the gentle Agatha, and the excellent Felix flitted before me. I looked upon them as superior beings who would be the arbiters of my future destiny. I formed in my imagination a thousand pictures of presenting myself to them, and their reception of me. I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour and afterwards their love. (12.17)

    The monster doesn't have a family of his own (a family of birth), so he's trying to make one (a family of choice). The difference between a family of birth and a family of choice is a super important to writers in the nineteenth century—that's why there are so many orphans in nineteenth-century literature—but here, Mr. Monster doesn't get to have either.

  • Exploration

    Letter 3

    But success SHALL crown my endeavours. Wherefore not? Thus far I have gone, tracing a secure way over the pathless seas, the very stars themselves being witnesses and testimonies of my triumph. Why not still proceed over the untamed yet obedient element? What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man? (Letter 3.4)

    What can stop them? Well, the forces of nature, for one—like an impenetrable ice sheet. Also, giant reanimated corpses. Those can stop man, too.

    Chapter 2
    Victor Frankenstein

    My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world. (2.4)

    Somehow, we think Victor would have been better off memorizing train schedules or all the batting averages of the major league players. The "secrets of heaven and earth" are pretty heavy for a kid.

    Chapter 3
    Victor Frankenstein

    Such were the professor's words —rather let me say such the words of the fate —enounced to destroy me. As he went on I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being; chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation. (3.15)

    The obvious problem here is the "deepest mysteries of creation": Shelley seems pretty convinced that we should let them stay mysterious. The second problem is the "one thought, one conception, one purpose"—it sounds like Victor really needs a hobby other than digging up corpses.

    Chapter 24
    Robert Walton

    I mentioned in my last letter the fears I entertained of a mutiny. This morning, as I sat watching the wan countenance of my friend--his eyes half closed and his limbs hanging listlessly--I was roused by half a dozen of the sailors, who demanded admission into the cabin. They entered, and their leader addressed me. He told me that he and his companions had been chosen by the other sailors to come in deputation to me to make me a requisition which, in justice, I could not refuse. We were immured in ice and should probably never escape, but they feared that if, as was possible, the ice should dissipate and a free passage be opened, I should be rash enough to continue my voyage and lead them into fresh dangers, after they might happily have surmounted this. They insisted, therefore, that I should engage with a solemn promise that if the vessel should be freed I would instantly direct my course southwards. (24.33)

    Walton’s crew wants to turn back to England without discovering anything. Although Walton is disappointed by such a prospect, he also starts to view the exploratory mindset in a more negative way due to his interaction with Victor.

    The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience. (24.37)

    Walton realizes that he would rather have his life than new knowledge. He chooses safety over the dangers of exploration – unlike Victor.

    I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the idea of their effects. From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition. (24.25)

    You just know that Victor won first place at the state science fair. Ugh.

    Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has traveled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. (Letter 1.2)

    Well, no, Walton: Margaret doesn't understand. Frankenstein is pretty clear that scientific exploration is a dude thing. Women get their immortality through babies—which is one reason it's so messed up that Frankenstein tries to create life.

    I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow," but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the "Ancient Mariner." (Letter 2.4)

    Uh-oh: bad omen. Things did not turn out well for the Ancient Mariner. Want to know more about that? Check out our discussion in "Setting."

    Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. (2.7)

    Newton also said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, so… that's a difference. Victor spends most of his time talking about how awesome and smart he is, and not so much time thinking about science and discovery as a collaborative effort.

    The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. (4.5)

    Notice how "all the steps by which [Victor] had been progressively led" to his creation are "obliterated"? This is the scientific equivalent of driving your car to the top of a mountain and then patting yourself on the back for admiring the view: you haven't earned it. Okay, the consequences are pretty low for hiking. But for scientific progress? According to Shelley, you have to pay the price.

    We were immured in ice and should probably never escape, but they feared that if, as was possible, the ice should dissipate and a free passage be opened, I should be rash enough to continue my voyage and lead them into fresh dangers, after they might happily have surmounted this. They insisted, therefore, that I should engage with a solemn promise that if the vessel should be freed I would instantly direct my course southwards. (24.33)

    It looks like Walton's sailors aren't as obsessed with winning glory as he is—they're much more interested in, you know, staying alive and returning to their families. Weaklings.

    The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience. (24.37)

    Walton comes back "ignorant" and "disappointed," but he comes back alive. We're cool with that. Is Shelley? Can we get a sense of how to read this scene—are we supposed to be disappointed with Walton, or do we all just feel a little relieved?

  • Lies and Deceit

    Chapter 2
    Victor Frankenstein

    I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite of the intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I always came from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. (2.7)

    The secret nature of scientific knowledge prompts Victor’s obsessive desire to go deeper in his quest for the secret of life.

    The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember. (2.1)

    The laws of nature are described as a hidden secret.

    It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world. (2.4)

    Science is equated with secret knowledge.

    Chapter 3

    I turned my reluctant steps from my father's door--led me first to M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy. He was an uncouth man, but deeply imbued in the secrets of his science. (3.9)

    Science is again construed as a secretive art.

    Chapter 4
    Victor Frankenstein

    One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries. I revolved these circumstances in my mind and determined thenceforth to apply myself more particularly to those branches of natural philosophy which relate to physiology. Unless I had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application to this study would have been irksome and almost intolerable. To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy, but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body. In my education my father had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should be impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me--a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret. (4.3)

    Victor discovers the secret to life and feels astonished that he should be the one to figure it out.

    Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? (4.9)

    Victor’s obsessive drive to create life forces him into secret "horrors."

    Chapter 6
    Victor Frankenstein

    I saw plainly that he was surprised, but he never attempted to draw my secret from me; and although I loved him with a mixture of affection and reverence that knew no bounds, yet I could never persuade myself to confide in him that event which was so often present to my recollection, but which I feared the detail to another would only impress more deeply. (6.12)

    Victor feels disconnected from Henry because he is keeping his knowledge as well as his monster a secret.

    Chapter 22
    Victor Frankenstein

    I avoided explanation and maintained a continual silence concerning the wretch I had created. I had a persuasion that I should be supposed mad, and this in itself would forever have chained my tongue. But, besides, I could not bring myself to disclose a secret which would fill my hearer with consternation and make fear and unnatural horror the inmates of his breast. I checked, therefore, my impatient thirst for sympathy and was silent when I would have given the world to have confided the fatal secret. Yet, still, words like those I have recorded would burst uncontrollably from me. I could offer no explanation of them, but their truth in part relieved the burden of my mysterious woe. (22.4-5)

    Victor feels that his creation is a secret burden that cannot be relieved.

    Victor Frankenstein

    My father had often, during my imprisonment, heard me make the same assertion; when I thus accused myself, he sometimes seemed to desire an explanation, and at others he appeared to consider it as the offspring of delirium, and that, during my illness, some idea of this kind had presented itself to my imagination, the remembrance of which I preserved in my convalescence.

    The secrecy of Victor’s discovery makes him appear crazy to those around him.

  • Revenge

    Chapter 9
    Victor Frankenstein

    When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes, could I when there have precipitated him to their base. (9.6)

    Okay, but question: is there such a thing as "moderate" revenge? Is revenge an emotion that you can even feel moderately—like, wanting a little revenge?

    Elizabeth read my anguish in my countenance, and kindly taking my hand, said, "My dearest friend, you must calm yourself. These events have affected me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are. There is an expression of despair, and sometimes of revenge, in your countenance that makes me tremble. Dear Victor, banish these dark passions. Remember the friends around you, who centre all their hopes in you. Have we lost the power of rendering you happy? Ah! While we love, while we are true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty, your native country, we may reap every tranquil blessing—what can disturb our peace?" (9.8)

    For a novel about creating life, Frankenstein doesn't talk much about religion. Here, though, we get a glimpse of an alternative moral structure: Christianity, which is all about turning the other cheek and avoiding revenge. Would the novel have turned out differently if Victor had listened?

    Chapter 16

    When I thought of my friends, of the mild voice of De Lacey, the gentle eyes of Agatha, and the exquisite beauty of the Arabian, these thoughts vanished and a gush of tears somewhat soothed me. But again when I reflected that they had spurned and deserted me, anger returned, a rage of anger, and unable to injure anything human, I turned my fury towards inanimate objects. As night advanced I placed a variety of combustibles around the cottage, and after having destroyed every vestige of cultivation in the garden, I waited with forced impatience until the moon had sunk to commence my operations. (16.12)

    Well, burning your friends' cottage is definitely one way to take revenge. (Also, can we just point out that it is super racist that the monster keeps referring to everyone except Safie by name?)

    The Monster

    "I continued for the remainder of the day in my hovel in a state of utter and stupid despair. My protectors had departed and had broken the only link that held me to the world. For the first time the feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom, and I did not strive to control them, but allowing myself to be borne away by the stream, I bent my mind towards injury and death. (16.12)

    You know that feeling when you stop trying to be a good person and just let yourself think nasty thoughts about the celebrity on the cover of US Weekly? That's how the monster feels here: he's just had it trying to be the better person.

    The nearer I approached to your habitation, the more deeply did I feel the spirit of revenge enkindled in my heart. (16.17)

    When you think about it, it totally sounds like the monster has a crush on Frankenstein: he even gets nervous and fired up when he closes in on the love/hate of his life.

    "Frankenstein! you belong then to my enemy--to him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge; you shall be my first victim." (16.30)

    Notice that the monster thinks of William as "belonging" to Frankenstein. He doesn't seem to see much difference between killing William and burning down De Lacey's cottage—all's fair in revenge and war.

    "Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery. (16.1).

    Oops. It seems like the monster is getting mixed up: he starts out all mad at his creator, and he ends up by wanting to destroy the cottage and its inhabitants. (He manages to stick to burning down the cottage.) It looks like revenge can have collateral damage.

    Chapter 20
    Victor Frankenstein

    All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words -- "I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING-NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle. (20.16)

    Victor thinks that the monster's revenge is "insatiate"—that it'll never be satisfied. He's wrong. It will be satisfied, just as soon as he kills off everyone Victor has ever cared about.

    Chapter 22
    Victor Frankenstein

    This letter revived in my memory what I had before forgotten, the threat of the fiend--"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING-NIGHT!" Such was my sentence, and on that night would the daemon employ every art to destroy me and tear me from the glimpse of happiness which promised partly to console my sufferings. On that night he had determined to consummate his crimes by my death. Well, be it so; a deadly struggle would then assuredly take place, in which if he were victorious I should be at peace and his power over me be at an end. If he were vanquished, I should be a free man. Alas! What freedom? Such as the peasant enjoys when his family have been massacred before his eyes, his cottage burnt, his lands laid waste, and he is turned adrift, homeless, penniless, and alone, but free. Such would be my liberty except that in my Elizabeth I possessed a treasure, alas, balanced by those horrors of remorse and guilt which would pursue me until death. (22.14)

    Victor is afraid of pulling Elizabeth into his destructive interactions with the monster, but his obsession will not give him peace.

    As time passed away I became more calm; misery had her dwelling in my heart, but I no longer talked in the same incoherent manner of my own crimes; sufficient for me was the consciousness of them. By the utmost self-violence I curbed the imperious voice of wretchedness, which sometimes desired to declare itself to the whole world, and my manners were calmer and more composed than they had ever been since my journey to the sea of ice. (22.8)

    Ooh, tricky. Frankenstein is using "self-violence" to keep himself under control, almost as if he's taking revenge on himself. Is that what this suicide mission is all about?

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Chapter 12
    The Monster

    These thoughts exhilarated me and led me 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. It was as the ass and the lap-dog; yet surely the gentle ass whose intentions were affectionate, although his manners were rude, deserved better treatment than blows and execration. (12.18)

    The monster reasons that his inner nature should be the basis for people’s judgment of him, rather than his coarse but harmless outer features. He relies on a compassion that is present only in himself. This faulty assumption sets him up for disappointment.

    Chapter 16
    The Monster

    At this time a slight sleep relieved me from the pain of reflection which was disturbed by the approach of a beautiful child, who came running into the recess I had chosen, with all the sportiveness of infancy. Suddenly, as I gazed on him, an idea seized me that this little creature was unprejudiced and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity. If, therefore, I could seize him and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth.

    Urged by this impulse, I seized on the boy as he passed and drew him towards me. As soon as he beheld my form, he placed his hands before his eyes and uttered a shrill scream; I drew his hand forcibly from his face and said, "Child, what is the meaning of this? I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me."

    He struggled violently. "Let me go," he cried; "monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go, or I will tell my papa." (16.25-27)

    The monster hopes that a young child will not yet have formed such biases against a being based on appearances. Again, his naive presumptions set him up for disappointment.

    This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind. (16.20)

    Although the monster is compassionate, he learns that others are not. The world is indifferent at best, and hateful and mistrusting at worst.

  • Language and Communication

    Chapter 13
    The Monster

    And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. (13.17)

    Without language, the monster has no way of knowing anything about the world except what he learns himself. Is he better discovering things for himself? Compare Victor, who gets seduced by all those crazy books he reads as a kid. It seems like Shelley may have some conflicted feelings about writing.

    My days were spent in close attention, that I might more speedily master the language; and I may boast that I improved more rapidly than the Arabian, who understood very little and conversed in broken accents, whilst I comprehended and could imitate almost every word that was spoken. (13.12)

    Okay, we can't exactly blame Mary Shelley for being just as racist as every other English person in the early nineteenth century, but we still can't help rolling our eyes a little: even a monster is better at speaking Western languages than an "Arabian."

    Chapter 15
    The Monster

    Another circumstance strengthened and confirmed these feelings. Soon after my arrival in the hovel I discovered some papers in the pocket of the dress which I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had neglected them, but now that I was able to decipher the characters in which they were written, I began to study them with diligence. It was your journal of the four months that preceded my creation. (15.8)

    This is a communication that both the monster and Victor probably wish they'd never read. Some things shouldn't be done—and some things shouldn't be written down. (Pro tip: never, ever, ever write down anything you don't want someone else to see. Especially if you're texting or emailing it.)

    By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. (12.9)

    We wonder if the monster would have called language a "godlike science" if the De Lacey family had been texting each other "Where R U" and "K TX."

    By great application, however, and after having remained during the space of several revolutions of the moon in my hovel, I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse; I learned and applied the words, 'fire,' 'milk,' 'bread,' and 'wood.' I learned also the names of the cottagers themselves. The youth and his companion had each of them several names, but the old man had only one, which was 'father.' The girl was called 'sister' or 'Agatha,' and the youth 'Felix,' 'brother,' or 'son.' I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words without being able as yet to understand or apply them, such as 'good,' 'dearest,' 'unhappy.' (12.9)

    There's a lot to say about this passage, but we're fixated on just one weird thing: De Lacey only has one name, "father." What that means, of course, is that while Felix and Agatha call each other Felix and Agatha or brother and sister, they never call their dad "De Lacey." Doesn't that make him nameless, in a way?

    I improved, however, sensibly in this science, but not sufficiently to follow up any kind of conversation, although I applied my whole mind to the endeavour, for I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language, which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure, for with this also the contrast perpetually presented to my eyes had made me acquainted. (12.12)

    The monster is right that being really good at, say, talking or writing or communicating in general can make up for a lot of physical imperfections. But it's not enough to make up for being created out of corpse parts.

    These thoughts exhilarated me and led me 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. (12.18)

    In other words, the poor monster doesn't even sound like everyone else. He has a face for radio, but apparently not the voice for it. (We can't help thinking that he must sound a little like Andre the Giant.)

    This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind. (16.20)

    Actions speak louder than words, right? Nope. At least, not when you're a freaky looking monster.

    I seized on the boy as he passed and drew him towards me. As soon as he beheld my form, he placed his hands before his eyes and uttered a shrill scream; I drew his hand forcibly from his face and said, "Child, what is the meaning of this? I do not intend to hurt you; listen to me."

    He struggled violently. "Let me go," he cried; "monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre. Let me go, or I will tell my papa." (16.25-27)

    Um, we hate to give advice without being asked, but the monster might have had better luck if he'd started out with something other than "seizing" and "forcibly" handling the boy. Just a thought.

    Sometimes, indeed, he left marks in writing on the barks of the trees or cut in stone that guided me and instigated my fury. "My reign is not yet over"—these words were legible in one of these inscriptions—"you live, and my power is complete. (24.10)

    It looks like the monster has finally found a way to communicate: by actually inscribing his words on the natural world. Shmoop loves a good allusion, and we can't help thinking of Shakespeare's As You Like It, when an exiled duke thinks that nature is soooo much better than fake court life, and they'll find "Tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." What would Shelley say to that?

  • Sacrifice

    Chapter 20
    Victor Frankenstein

    Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had before been moved by the sophisms of the being I had created; I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats; but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race. (20.1)

    We're not Frankenstein's biggest fans, but we have to admit that, from his perspective, this is a major sacrifice. Too bad we're not sure if it was (1) necessary, or (2) worth it.

    The Monster

    "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains -- revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict." (20.11)

    The monster expresses to Victor that he could lose everything if he goes against the monster’s wishes. But Victor remains steadfastly self-sacrificing, realizing that the danger to the world is larger than the danger to himself. He is forced to self-sacrifice to account for his hasty rush into scientific inquiry.

    I was easily led by the sympathy which he evinced to use the language of my heart, to give utterance to the burning ardour of my soul and to say, with all the fervour that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. (Letter 4.21)

    Here's our first clue that "sacrifice" might not be all its cracked up to be: when you think about someone giving up everything to get to the North Pole, it sounds a lot more like insanity than a noble pursuit.

    The republican institutions of our country have produced simpler and happier manners than those which prevail in the great monarchies that surround it. Hence there is less distinction between the several classes of its inhabitants; and the lower orders, being neither so poor nor so despised, their manners are more refined and moral. A servant in Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France and England. Justine, thus received in our family, learned the duties of a servant, a condition which, in our fortunate country, does not include the idea of ignorance and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being. (6.5)

    This is a weird little PSA to drop in the middle of a novel about the dangers of scientific absorption—especially considering that Shelley was an English writer. What does "dignity" mean in this context? And doesn't Justine just end up sacrificed anyway?

    We passed a considerable period at Oxford, rambling among its environs and endeavouring to identify every spot which might relate to the most animating epoch of English history. Our little voyages of discovery were often prolonged by the successive objects that presented themselves. We visited the tomb of the illustrious Hampden and the field on which that patriot fell. For a moment my soul was elevated from its debasing and miserable fears to contemplate the divine ideas of liberty and self sacrifice of which these sights were the monuments and the remembrancers. For an instant I dared to shake off my chains and look around me with a free and lofty spirit, but the iron had eaten into my flesh, and I sank again, trembling and hopeless, into my miserable self. (19.8)

    Frankenstein and Clerval get all fired up about the "self sacrifice" of English heroes—but it's too late for Frankenstein, who's so bummed out about the monster that he doesn't even feel "free." This gives us some context for his alleged self sacrifice later, but we're not sure that it counts if you create the problem in the first place, right? Are they really going to put up a tombstone that says, "Here lies Frankenstein. He unleashed a horrible monster, let it kill all his friends, and then died"? Yeah. It's not very inspiring.

    "Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains — revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict." (20.11)

    Huh. If you look at it a certain way, the monster is actually making a sacrifice here: he's giving up his life to pursue Victor. (Not that he had much to give up.)

    All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. (20.16)

    Too bad Victor isn't the next sacrifice—but then, the book would be even shorter than it already is. We're still not getting the feeling that Victor understands what's going on, since the word "sacrifice" seems to absolve him of any responsibility.

    I desired that I might pass my life on that barren rock, wearily, it is true, but uninterrupted by any sudden shock of misery. If I returned, it was to be sacrificed or to see those whom I most loved die under the grasp of a daemon whom I had myself created. (20.18)

    Wouldn't living alone on a barren rock be a kind of sacrifice, too? (And maybe worse than being killed by the monster?) Victor really is in a tricky position, here.

    "I am not mad," I cried energetically; "the sun and the heavens, who have viewed my operations, can bear witness of my truth. I am the assassin of those most innocent victims; they died by my machinations. A thousand times would I have shed my own blood, drop by drop, to have saved their lives; but I could not, my father, indeed I could not sacrifice the whole human race." (22.6)

    Let's work through this logic: Victor is sacrificing his family by refusing to make Mrs. Monster, because he can't bear to sacrifice the whole human race by not making her. Of course, he could just try being a dad to his creation—but apparently that's out of the question.

    "Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man's death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. (24.67)

    Call us crazy, but this sounds a lot more like self-sacrifice than Victor's half-cocked delusions of grandeur. The monster is even building himself a funeral pyre—just like the Indian custom of sati in which a wife burned herself after her husband's death. Does that sound crazy? We're not the only ones to think it (source).

  • Science

    Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. (2.6)

    In this context, natural philosophy is something like physics. But what if Victor had decided he liked, say, botany? Or chemistry? Is there any kind of science that would have been safe for him to pursue?

    If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded and that a modern system of science had been introduced which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical, under such circumstances I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside and have contented my imagination, warmed as it was, by returning with greater ardour to my former studies. (2.7)


    So, science is anything "real" and "practical." In modern terms, we'd call this the scientific method: science is any knowledge that can be acquired through empiricism.

    My father was not scientific, and I was left to struggle with a child's blindness, added to a student's thirst for knowledge. (2.9)

    Seriously? Frankenstein is trying to make us believe that if his dad has just been smarter, none of this would have happened. (Actually, Frankenstein should probably be glad his dad wasn't a scientist, because then he'd get answers like this.)

    By one of those caprices of the mind which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics and the branches of study appertaining to that science as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration. (2.10)

    Something about the way Frankenstein describes this makes it sound like he's a player jumping around from woman to woman looking for one who's "real." (Judging by the way he wants to "penetrate" the secrets of nature, this might actually be a workable analogy.)

    Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth. (3.12)

    Frankenstein doesn't want to sort fruit flies; he wants to find the secret to immortality. (He should have stuck to fruit flies.)

    "The ancient teachers of this science," said he, "promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows. (3.14)

    M. Waldman introduces Frankenstein to modern science: we may not be able to turn metals into gold, but we do know how circulation works.

    None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder. (4.2)

    Gee, way to crush the spirits of the humanities majors, Frankenstein. We kind of think that if you decide there's nothing more to know, you're doing it wrong—whether "it" is science or underwater basket weaving.

    I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be imperfect, yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. (4.7)

    Frankenstein actually gives us a nice little description here of the scientific method. Sure, your experiment might not work—but then at least you have more information than you did! (Just don't use that as an excuse for a bad grade on a bio test.)

    By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment. I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it. (12.9)

    Okay, neat little passage here. (1) Using words like "discovery," "found," and "perceived" puts the monster in the role of a scientist here, trying to understand the world through trial and error. (2) He thinks of language itself as a science—which, when you think about it, kind of fits: it's a way of understanding and learning more about the world.

    "I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge." (13.8)

    "Sorry, mom, I can't go to school anymore. Learning stuff just makes me depressed."

    No? Yeah, it's not much of an excuse. At the same time, haven't we all felt this way at some point? Just reading the newspaper makes us depressed for a week.

  • Secrecy

    The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember. (2.1)

    If only Victor had had Google and Wikipedia, maybe he wouldn't have been so obsessed with discovering the secrets of nature.

    It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world. (2.4)

    No biggie, Victor just wants to know the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (Hint: it's 42.)

    I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite of the intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I always came from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. (2.7)

    Check out the way that Victor wants to "penetrate the secrets of nature." We can't help thinking that there's something disturbingly sexual in the way Victor talks about nature—like he wants to get it naked.

    I turned my reluctant steps from my father's door—led me first to M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy. He was an uncouth man, but deeply imbued in the secrets of his science. (3.9)

    Hm. Maybe this is our modern prejudice, but part of the point of science it that it's not supposed to be secret. You're supposed to share your ideas so people can (1) test and confirm them, and (2) build on them.

    One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries. (4.3)

    We wonder what Victor would have said to putting men on the moon or trying to find the God particle? Mysteries of one generation become the common sense of the next—as long as they're not kept secret, that is.

    Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? (4.9)

    Well, we're starting to, thanks to Victor's alarming descriptions of "unhallowed damps" and "tortur[ing] the living animal." Just a thought: if you're ashamed to let anyone know what you're doing, you're probably doing it wrong.

    I saw plainly that he was surprised, but he never attempted to draw my secret from me; and although I loved him with a mixture of affection and reverence that knew no bounds, yet I could never persuade myself to confide in him that event which was so often present to my recollection, but which I feared the detail to another would only impress more deeply. (6.12)

    Victor's torn between wanting to confess everything to Clerval and worrying that telling him about it will just make it more real—as though keeping it secret will mean that it didn't happen. (Um, we can attest from personal experience that this does not work.)

    This was strange and unexpected intelligence; what could it mean? Had my eyes deceived me? And was I really as mad as the whole world would believe me to be if I disclosed the object of my suspicions? I hastened to return home, and Elizabeth eagerly demanded the result (8.14)

    Victor knows that Justine isn't really guilty—he thinks. Either way, it's just one more reason to keep the monster's existence to himself… which means one more reason to drag out the whole tragedy.

    My father had often, during my imprisonment, heard me make the same assertion; when I thus accused myself, he sometimes seemed to desire an explanation, and at others he appeared to consider it as the offspring of delirium, and that, during my illness, some idea of this kind had presented itself to my imagination, the remembrance of which I preserved in my convalescence. (22.4)

    Well, here's one problem we haven't considered: even if Victor does tell his secret, no one's going to believe him. In fact, his father just thinks it's "delirium"—crazy talk.

    I avoided explanation and maintained a continual silence concerning the wretch I had created. I had a persuasion that I should be supposed mad, and this in itself would forever have chained my tongue. But, besides, I could not bring myself to disclose a secret which would fill my hearer with consternation and make fear and unnatural horror the inmates of his breast. I checked, therefore, my impatient thirst for sympathy and was silent when I would have given the world to have confided the fatal secret. Yet, still, words like those I have recorded would burst uncontrollably from me. I could offer no explanation of them, but their truth in part relieved the burden of my mysterious woe. (22.4-5)

    Literary Allusion Snack: in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, the book of poetry that basically inaugurated English literary Romanticism, William Wordsworth calls poetry the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." How might that relate to Victor's secret "burst[ing] uncontrollably" out?

  • Fate and Free Will

    Yet do not suppose, because I complain a little or because I can conceive a consolation for my toils which I may never know, that I am wavering in my resolutions. Those are as fixed as fate, and my voyage is only now delayed until the weather shall permit my embarkation. (Letter 2.3)

    Walton says that his resolutions (to reach the North Pole) are "as fixed as fate," but he stops short of saying that they are fated. Subtle but important: remember, he's the one who survives the end of the novel.

    "I thank you," he replied, "for your sympathy, but it is useless; my fate is nearly fulfilled. I wait but for one event, and then I shall repose in peace. (Letter 4.29)

    Oh, come on, Victor isn't even trying. He's evidently decided it's easier to blame fate than take responsibility for his actions—unless, that is, he really, genuinely believes that he was destined to create the monster.

    Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. When I was thirteen years of age we all went on a party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon; the inclemency of the weather obliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate and the wonderful facts which he relates soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. (2.6)

    Ooh, check it out: Victor opens the book because the weather is bad. Guess who else creates a monster because the weather is bad? Mary Shelley. (Check out our "Nutshell" to learn how bad weather led to her "hideous progeny.") Fate? Accident? Volcanoes?

    Such were the professor's words—rather let me say such the words of the fate—enounced to destroy me. (3.15)

    Victor starts out by saying "the professor's words" but then he changes his mind and calls it fate. What's the difference? Is he suggesting that the professor was guided by fate, too?

    Justine shook her head mournfully. "I do not fear to die," she said; "that pang is past. God raises my weakness and gives me courage to endure the worst. I leave a sad and bitter world; and if you remember me and think of me as of one unjustly condemned, I am resigned to the fate awaiting me. Learn from me, dear lady, to submit in patience to the will of heaven!" (8.24)

    Justine think that her death is the "will of heaven," but… we're not so sure. It seems a lot more like an accident stemming from Frankenstein's meddling with the laws of nature.

    Frankenstein, your son, your kinsman, your early, much-loved friend; he who would spend each vital drop of blood for your sakes, who has no thought nor sense of joy except as it is mirrored also in your dear countenances, who would fill the air with blessings and spend his life in serving you—he bids you weep, to shed countless tears; happy beyond his hopes, if thus inexorable fate be satisfied, and if the destruction pause before the peace of the grave have succeeded to your sad torments! (8.31)

    Frankenstein has just told us that Justine was executed, and, well, he seems to be going a little crazy. He tells himself (and us) that the whole thing was to "satisfy" "inexorable fate"—but to us, it sounds more like he's just coming up with excuse after excuse.

    "I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph; clapping my hands, I exclaimed, 'I too can create desolation; my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.' (16.32)

    Whatever Frankenstein thinks about fate, it seems like the monster has different ideas: he sees himself as a master of fate, not a victim. Instead of being destroyed by destiny, he "creates" desolation.

    Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth." (17.5)

    Notice how the monster rejects "abject slavery"? It sounds like going on a murderous rampage is his way of controlling destiny—of being a master rather than a slave.

    For myself, there was one reward I promised myself from my detested toils—one consolation for my unparalleled sufferings; it was the prospect of that day when, enfranchised from my miserable slavery, I might claim Elizabeth and forget the past in my union with her. (18.11)

    Frankenstein sees himself as a slave who's forced to create a female monster, but isn't that a very convenient excuse? "Oh, I couldn't help it, he made me do it." Not super convincing.

    He had sworn to quit the neighbourhood of man and hide himself in deserts, but she had not; and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation. They might even hate each other; the creature who already lived loathed his own deformity, and might he not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in the female form? She also might turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him, and he be again alone, exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species. (20.1)

    Oops. Frankenstein almost made a fatal error: forgetting that Mrs. Monster might have some ideas of her own. Maybe she doesn't want to move to South America. Maybe she'd prefer to stay right there in Scotland, or get a flat in London. Who knows?