[Before proceeding, it is necessary to point out discrepancies between editions of Frankenstein. Chapter headings differ between the paperback version of the novel this educator consulted and the online version used in preparing the essay below. Consequently, discussions specifying chapter numbers need to account for potential differences and focus solely on text.]
Mary Shelley used weather to emphasize the atmosphere in which the action was occurring in her gothic novel Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Invariably, action involving the approach of the creature that Victor Frankenstein created, the wretch, or the self-pity in which Victor languishes throughout much of the story as he ruminates over the evil he has brought into the world, is presaged by transformations in the weather. This is most clearly apparent in Volume I, Chapter V, in which Victor finally succeeds in rejuvenating previously dead human tissue and brings his creation to life. As Shelley describes the scene:
“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open . . .”
Victor pursued his experiment into the reanimation of dead tissue with a determination that crossed the psychological line into obsession, and he has succeeded at last, to his enormous regret. As he mourns the life he has brought into existence, his mood remains melancholy. Shelley, again, uses the weather to portray the grimness of Victor’s mental state:
“Morning, dismal and wet, at length dawned and discovered to my sleepless and aching eyes the church of Ingolstadt, its white steeple and clock, which indicated the sixth hour. The porter opened the gates of the court, which had that night been my asylum, and I issued into the streets, pacing them with quick steps, as if I sought to avoid the wretch whom I feared every turning of the street would present to my view. I did not dare return to the apartment which I inhabited, but felt impelled to hurry on, although drenched by the rain which poured from a black and comfortless sky.”
Viewers of horror films dating to their inception, including the early adaptations of Shelley’s novel, are conditioned to expect grey, stormy weather during the more tense or gripping scenes, especially, in the case of Frankenstein, during the scenes when the creature is brought to life; after all, lightening was required to generate the electricity necessary to jolt the creature’s neurological system into a functional state. Stormy weather, though, is integral to the establishment of mood, including in novels, and Shelley employs it as a literary device liberally. In Chapter VII, Victor learns that his much loved younger brother, William, has been murdered. He begins the long journey home. As he heads to Geneva, he makes it to Mont Blanc, a scenic mountainous region that he associates with home, family, and better times. Arriving on Mont Blanc, Victor greets this region with a rare dose of optimism – optimism tainted by the foreboding he knows lies ahead:
“The road ran by the side of the lake, which became narrower as I approached my native town. I discovered more distinctly the black sides of Jura, and the bright summit of Mont Blanc. 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?’”
The glorious view of Mont Blanc will soon give way to gloomier visions as Victor approaches the area where his brother was murdered. The weather turns seriously bad, however, as Shelley reintroduces the creatures into the story, whose presence had previously only been felt:
“The sky was serene; and, as I was unable to rest, I resolved to visit the spot where my poor William had been murdered. As I could not pass through the town, I was obliged to cross the lake in a boat to arrive at Plainpalais. 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.
“The most violent storm hung exactly north of the town, over the part of the lake which lies between the promontory of Belrive and the village of Copet. Another storm enlightened Jura with faint flashes; and another darkened and sometimes disclosed the Mole, a peaked mountain to the east of the lake.
“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.”
Volume II, Chapter II (or, Chapter 10 in some versions) provides one of the book’s seminal scenes, in which Victor, hiking alone in the mountains, once again encounters his creation. The “sublime and magnificent scenes” to which he is exposed while climbing the peaks of this region so near to his and his family’s hearts soon gives way to a return of grey clouds and rain: “The following morning, the rain poured down in torrents and thick mists hid the summits of the mountains.” These rains presage the appearance of the creature and the beginning of its discourse regarding the nature of man and the reasons for its foul demeanor.
In the story’s climactic scene, Volume III, Chapter VI (or, Chapter 23) Victor and his bride and cousin Elizabeth are betrothed. Traveling to Evian for a brief honeymoon, the sunny, breezy air inevitably gives way to yet another violent storm, again presaging the appearance of the creature: “Suddenly a heavy storm of rain descended.” Elizabeth’s murder at the hands of Victor’s creation represents the latter’s final denouement. Shelley’s story does not have a happy ending. Victor dies; the creature lives. And the weather near the North Pole is brutally cold.