What are some initial impressions of Victor Frankenstein and his family in the first 2 chapters of the book Frankenstein. Describe his key interests. How are Victor and Elizabeth similar? How are they different? Include quotes.
We can see Victor’s desire to make something of himself, and his need to possess Elizabeth.
Victor begins by telling us that his family is very important. His ancestors have been in Geneva for a long time, and therefore his family is “one of the distinguished of that republic” (Ch. 1). By beginning this way, Victor establishes his father’s “honor and reputation” and explains, in a way, why he would set out to make a name for himself. The reader might understand why a young man of extraordinary ability would be stifled by so much public respectability.
Victor also points out that his father married a penniless woman, the daughter of a dear friend who had fallen into disgrace but paid his debts. The story is one of honor, and demonstrates Victor’s father’s character. He has a lot to live up to.
The story of how Elizabeth came to be in Victor’s house is almost like a fairy tale, and she is described almost as a possession in half-joking terms by everyone. Victor’s mother calls her a “present,” but Victor seems to feel very strongly on the matter, definitely seeing her as more than a cousin from a young age.
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. (Ch. 1)
That Victor wants to possess Elizabeth is clear. He does not see her as a sister or a cousin. As young as he is, he is already infatuated with her, and his self-centered nature is clear. He wants her for his own.
Victor describes himself as having a sometimes violent temper, and Elizabeth as calm and gentle. Passionate, he devoted himself to learning, possibly to put his temper and passions to good use. Victor describes his education as varied and complex. He read fantasy and mysticism as well as science. He read anything that he thought would make him understand the world better, and was only happy when he was studying.
Her victory was announced by an unusual tranquillity and gladness of soul, which followed the relinquishing of my ancient and latterly tormenting studies. (Ch. 2)
Looking back, Victor realizes that this was his doom. He should have lived his life, and not pursued his studies so much. If he had, he might not have done what he did, and caused himself and others so much pain. Of course, Victor is also egotistical enough to chalk it all up to destiny, which he says “decreed my utter and terrible destruction” (Ch 2). Ultimately, Victor does not take full responsibility because he can’t.
What is revealed about Frankenstein's family in the first two chapters?
Frankenstein's family are presented as loving, doting parents. They share the Shelleys' passion for travelling, therefore are arguably modelled on Mary Shelley's own person. They are well off, living in Geneva and have done so for a long time. Their family is respected, which is ironic as the Creature will attempt to destroy the lives of those close to Frankenstein as he seeks retribution.
Victor's family are financially able to adopt Elizabeth and go on to have further children of their own. They are notably loving parents, evidenced by Victor's first memory.
My mother's tender caresses and my father's smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections. - Victor Frankenstein (Chapter One)
How are Victor and Elizabeth similar?
Elizabeth and Victor grow up as best friends. Both children are the recipients of a happy childhood.
No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. - Victor Frankenstein (Chapter One)
This sentiment is important as it is juxtaposed with the Creature's upbringing, which is isolated and miserable.
How are Victor and Elizabeth different?
She presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift... my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only. - Victor Frankenstein (Chapter One)
Elizabeth comes into the family and is presented to Frankenstein almost as a 'gift' which suggests his parents spoil and indulge him with presents in light of their travels. She is not their biological child, whereas Victor is. The possessive 'mine' implies that Elizabeth is merely a possession, something to be collected rather than loved. Frankenstein's lack of regard for Elizabeth will become important later in the text and has given risen to critical debate with regard to Victor's sexuality.
Both children are intelligent but Elizabeth favours the arts and nature, and in doing so can be argued to fulfil the character of the Romantic wanderer. In contrast, Victor favours scientific practice.
While my companion contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent appearances of things, I delighted in investigating their causes. Victor Frankenstein (Chapter Two)
Frankenstein shows a clear desire to transgress informational boundaries, much like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. He also forms a close personal relationship with Henry Clerval, who is a literary double of Captain Walton:
A boy of singular talent and fancy... he loved enterprise, hardship, and even danger for its own sake. - Victor Frankenstein (Chapter Two)
Although Elizabeth is beautiful, it seems Frankenstein's highly intellectual mind does not view her as complex enough to entice him.
The subsequent chapters will see unrequited love, tenderness and affection from Elizabeth directed towards Frankenstein. Although Victor's mother will procure their marriage on her deathbed, it is clear that Frankenstein's view of Elizabeth is platonic rather than romantic. He respects her but he does not love her.