An English explorer, Robert Walton, is on an expedition to the North Pole. In letters to his sister Margaret Saville, he keeps his family informed of his situation and tells about the difficult conditions on the ship. One day when the ship is completely surrounded by ice, a man in bad condition is taken aboard: Victor Frankenstein. As soon as his health allows it, he tells Walton the story of his life.
He grew up in Geneva, Switzerland as the eldest son of a higher class family. He was brought up with an orphan, Elizabeth and also had two younger brothers. He did not have many friends, Henry Clerval being the only exception. At the age of nineteen, Frankenstein became interested in natural philosophy, electricity, chemistry and mathematics. After the death of his mother, who succumbed to scarlet fever, Frankenstein left for Ingolstadt, Germany, to attend university. There, his interest in natural philosophy quickly became an obsession. He was particularly fascinated with the human frame and the principle of life. After four years of fanatic studying, not keeping in contact with his family, he was able to “bestow animation upon lifeless matter” and created a monster of gigantic proportion from assembled body parts taken from graveyards, slaughterhouses and dissecting rooms. As soon as the creature opened his eyes, however, the beauty of Frankenstein’s dream vanished: it became a horrible creature. He realised he made a mistake in creating this monster and fled from his laboratory. On his return the next day, the monster had disappeared. Victor was consequently bedridden with a nervous fever for the next months, being nursed back to health by his friend Clerval. On the eve of the return to his parental home, he received a letter that his youngest brother had been found murdered. On his way home, Frankenstein saw the dÃ¦mon he has created and immediately realised that it is he who is responsible for his brothers death. Frankenstein decided not to tell his family about the dÃ¦mon because they would simply dismiss it as insane. As he arrived home, he was informed that the murderer of his brother had been found. The accused was Justine, a good friend of the family. When Justine has been found guilty and has been hanged, Frankenstein’s heart was tortured. He could not stay in the house and started wandering in the Alpine valleys. There, Frankenstein was confronted with his creation who tells him his life story.
After leaving Frankenstein’s laboratory, he went to the village where he was insulted and attacked by the frightened villagers. He eventually went to the country and found refuge in a hovel next to small house inhabited by a old, blind man and his two children. By observing the family and by reading their books, the monster learnt how to speak and read. He felt compassion for the family who have to struggle to get by, and anonymously did chores for them. Longing for some kindness and protection, he decided to meet his hosts. He got into a pleasant conversation with the blind man but his children return unexpectedly. Horrified by his appearance, they beat him and he fled the house. Completely disillusioned, the monster was filled with rage and decided to find his creator. By chance he met Frankenstein’s younger brother in the forest. As soon as he discovered that the boy “belongs to the enemy” he choked him. He also placed a portrait in the lap of a sleeping young girl, Justine, thereby incriminating her with his crime.
The dÃ¦mon’s only request from Frankenstein was that he should create another being: a female to accompany him. If Frankenstein complies, he and his bride will stay away from other people and keep to themselves in the wild. Frankenstein saw some justice in the monster’s arguments and also felt that he has a duty towards his fellow-man, so he agreed to the dÃ¦mon’s request. Victor left for England to finish his work accompanied by his friend Clerval, promising to marry Elizabeth on his return. When the work on his second creation was advanced, he started to question his promise. He was afraid that they might hate each other, or that they might produce a whole race of these creatures. When the monster visits to check on the progress, Frankenstein destroyed his work. The monster swore revenge and promised to be with him on his wedding night. The following day a body was found and Frankenstein was accused of murder. He was taken to the body which he identified as Henry Clerval. He was eventually cleared of all charges and returned to Geneva in a very bad condition. Frankenstein married Elizabeth after promising her to tell her his horrifying secret the following day. Remembering the monster’s threat, Frankenstein was convinced that he would be killed that night. The monster, however, kills Elizabeth instead. Frankenstein lost another family member as his father died after hearing the news about Elizabeth’s death. Frankenstein had now lost every sensation except for revenge. He followed the monster everywhere which eventually led him to the Arctic region, where he was taken aboard Walton’s ship.
After telling Walton his story, Victor asks him to kill the monster if he dies before he can do it himself. The ship has in the mean time been freed from the ice and pressured by his crew, Walton has decided to abandon his trip and return home. Victor’s health eventually deteriorates and he dies. Just after his death, Walton finds the monster hanging over Victor’s body. The dÃ¦mon speaks of his sufferings. Because of all the murders he has committed, he now hates himself. Since his creator is dead, he decides it is time that he too will rest in death. After stating that he will build a funeral pile for himself, he leaves the ship and disappears on his ice-raft in the darkness.
Victor is born in Geneva as the eldest son in a distinguished family. As described by himself in the novel, he has a very pleasant childhood mostly thanks to two kind and indulgent parents and Elizabeth. Even as a child he has a violent temper, vehement passions and a thirst for knowledge. His first interest is poetry but after some time his attention focuses on science. This interest quickly turns into an obsession: he is completely dedicated to learning “the secrets of heaven and earth”. His obsession is marked by radical changes in his character and health. He changes from a gentle, kind and healthy man to a selfish, sickly being who even loses contact with his beloved family for several years. Later, Victor says that he had been “misled by passion” and that he was under “the evil influence” of “the Angel of Destruction, which asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father’s door”.
It is only after the creation of the dÃ¦mon that Victor starts thinking about the consequences of his actions. The obsession had apparently blinded him from doing that before. He does not, however, take responsibility for what has happened. Actually, he seems quite eager to forget all about it, but of course the monster will not let him forget.
After the monster has told him his story, Victor does feel some compassion. He even feels responsible for his creation. However, the responsibility for his fellow human beings eventually takes over, as Victor decides not to comply with the monster’s request after all. This sense of compassion for the dÃ¦mon completely disappears when Elizabeth is killed. The only thing that Victor can feel after that point is hate. His sole purpose in life, which used to be creating life from lifeless matter, now becomes avenging his family and friends by killing that newly created life: the monster.
Towards the end of his life, some of that violent hatred has disappeared but he does remain as passionate as ever. This results in some conflicting actions and comments made by Victor. On the one hand, him telling the story of his life can be seen as a very positive deed. By doing this, he ensures that the story is passed on to and serves as a warning for future generations. From this it might be concluded that he knows now that what he has done is wrong and that he finally takes responsibility for his actions. But on the other hand there is the scene on the ship when Walton’s crew demands to return home. Victor responds to this by giving a very emotional and passionate speech. Among other things he accuses the men of cowardice and unmanly behaviour. If they were to abandon their expedition they would return home with a “stigma of disgrace”. Judging by this speech, Victor has not learnt much of his ordeal. He apparently still feels that people should put their own feelings and desires above everybody else’s. This is an interesting insight into Victor’s selfish nature.
Another example of his selfishness is apparent in the way he deals with the monster’s threats. It is obvious that the monster wants to hurt him. Victor believes therefore that it is only him that the monster wants to kill. It seems obvious, however, that the best way to hurt Victor is to hurt the people whom Victor loves. This is exactly what the monster does by killing Victor’s friends and family. Victor, on the other hand, does not seem to realise this. If he had realised, he would have been more protective about for example Elizabeth. Essentially, there are two ways for Victor to escape from the revenge of the monster. One way is to kill the monster. Victor has tried this but the monster escapes him. The other way is to sacrifice his life for the life of his friends and family, in other words: to kill himself. By doing that, Victor would have taken away the means of revenge of the monster. That this tactic would have worked is proven by the final pages of the book. This drastic way of making the monster stop killing actually never crosses Victor’s mind. He is not afraid to die however. When he is ill with fever, he even wishes he were dead: “Soon, oh, very soon, will death extinguish these throbbings and relieve me from the mighty weight of anguish that bears me to the dust; and, in executing the award of justice, I shall also sink to rest.”
Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein
Orphaned at a very young age, Elizabeth lives with a Milanese peasant family before being adopted by the Frankensteins. She is brought to Geneva where they raise her as if she were their own. From the moment she enters the house, Elizabeth was meant to become Victors wife. Victor has always thought of Elizabeth as his (“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.”), therefore their marriage is inevitable.
A clear description of Elizabeth’s appearance is given when her future adoptive parents first lay eyes on her: “this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction on her head. Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the moulding of her face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could behold her without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features.” Every word of this description can be seen as symbolic for the good, the angelic. As can be derived from other descriptions in the novel, Elizabeth embodies the perfect middle-class young woman. She is always calm and concentrated, she is unprejudiced, she loves poetry and the beauty of the countryside and she is forever loyal to her friends and family.
Victor’s father Alphonse is a noble man and well-respected in the community. He is very protective and loyal towards his family and friends. For example, he always stood by his son when he was accused of murder, never questioning his innocence. He worships his wife Caroline as if to compensate for the sorrow she had to endure as a child.
Alphonse is patient, extremely benevolent and has great self-control. He can be regarded as a level-headed person as Victor states that his father “had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should he 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.”
Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein
Being a caring person, Caroline as a young girl attends her sick father for several months. The circumstances are difficult for her but her courage pulls her through. She works hard and has numerous jobs that pay very little money.
After she marries Alphonse Frankenstein and finances are no longer a concern, she becomes a guardian angel to the ones less fortunate than her. She is tender, kind and indulgent towards her children. She is, in short, the perfect mother. The description of Caroline can be compared to Elizabeth’s; both seem to be the definite image of femininity in eighteenth century middle to upper class ideology.
Henry is Victor’s only friend. It is difficult to determine exactly why they are such good friends as the relationship seems somewhat one-sided. Throughout the book Henry stands by his friend: nursing him back to health and accompanying him on his travels.
Henry and Victor are opposites in many ways. It is clear that Victor admires Henry’s sensibility, enthusiastic imagination and gentility. As opposed to Victor, Henry does not have an interest in science at all. He is more interested in literature (“heroic songs”, “books of chivalry and romance”), language and nature. Although Henry too has an inquisitive mind and is anxious to gain experience and instruction, he never lets it interfere with his personal relations.
In the novel it is stated that Henry has a “clear insight into others”. Because of this and also because of Victor’s continuous bad health, Henry must have known that there was something terribly wrong with Victor. But Henry, being a loyal friend, never asks Victor about it. It is probably clear to him that Victor does not want to talk about it. Although one has to wonder what would have happened if Victor had confided in his friend. Maybe then Henry would not have had to pay the highest price for their friendship.
The outward appearance of the monster, who remains nameless, is described by his creator: he is created from various different body parts, he has yellow skin which “scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath”, he has lustrous, flowing black hair and white teeth, he has a “shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.” Combine these features with the fact that he is also very tall and the image of a monster is complete.
His appearance turns out to be the cause of all his problems. People are frightened when they see him, which keeps the monster from making contact with them. This inability of personal contact and the resulting isolation is what indirectly drives the monster to his crimes.
He has tried to communicate with people on several occasions but he keeps on being rejected. He has somewhat lost hope as he takes refuge in the hovel near the De Lacey’s home. He observes them for months, learning their language and their habits. Through reading novels like Milton’s Paradise Lost he starts wondering about himself and his isolation because of his apparent uniqueness: “I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence”. It is obvious that he longs for some kindness, protection and company. These desires become even more evident when he reads the diary that Victor kept during his creation. From these papers, the monster learns that Victor was not at all happy with his creation. This makes him feel even more lonely and abhorred.
It is only when he is convinced of the De Lacey’s goodness that he decides to try to make contact one more time. His initial talk with the old De Lacey is very positive. This is mainly because De Lacey is blind and therefore the monster’s appearance cannot lead to any prejudiced ideas. The other family members return unexpectedly, however, and the monster is beaten out of the house. He still refuses to think evil of them and blames himself for being discovered. It is only when he finds out that the family out of fear has permanently left the cottage that the monster starts feeling negative emotions like hatred and revenge. These feelings are not directed towards the De Lacey family however, but towards his creator.
He later states that all the killings did not make him feel better. He says that he was “the slave, not the master, of an impulse which I detested, yet could not disobey”, a state somewhat similar to the Victor’s obsession with science. The monster, just as Victor, reaches a point where he has no feelings left except for hatred. When he sees that his final victim namely Victor Frankenstein, is already dead, he shows remorse. He has now accepted that there will never be any being who “pardoning my [the monster’s] outward form, would love me for excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.” With an immense self-hatred, he promises Walton that he will “consume to ashes this miserable frame” so that future curious generations would not create “such another as I have been.”