Study Guide

Frankenstein Secrecy

By Mary Shelley


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?

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