Study Guide

Frankenstein Family

By Mary Shelley


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.

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