In Shelley's Frankenstein, what is Henry’s response to the scenery along the Rhine, and is this consistent with his character?Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
When he returns to Geneva, Victor is in a brown study as he wrestles with his agreement to make a female for the creature as well as his shame for the death of Justine and his dear brother William. Observant of his son's despression, Alphonse Frankenstein urges Victor to marry Elizabeth; however, Victor cannot in good conscience agree to do this in light of his awful agreement with his creature. When he understands that Victor will not marry, the father then suggests that he travel with Henry to England. Agreeing to do so, Victor embarks on his trip and meets Henry in Strasbourg where they board a ship for England.
It is a very picturesque scene that the two men witness as they pass Mayence where the river winds between hills of beautiful shapes. Ruined castles rest on the edges of precipices, surrounded by the black forest. In contrast to this sharp view, there are rich vineyards, with sloping banks and quaint towns. As the Romantic character, Henry Clerval becomes ecstatic when he views the beauty of the scenes:
He felt as if he had been transported to Fairyland, and enjoyed a happiness seldom tasted by man.
Henry tells Victor of the beauty of the lakes and mountains of Switzerland that are majestic and strange, but the countryside by the Rhine, he says, pleases him more than "all those wonders." Clerval finds this area charming. Henry remarks,
"Oh surely, the spirit that inhabits and guards this place has a soul more in harmony with man than those who pile the glacier, or retire to the inaccessible peaks of the mountains of our own country."
As Victor listens to his friend, he feels that Henry "was a being formed in the "very poetry of nature. His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart.....The scenery of external nature, which others regard only with admiration, he loved with ardour:--
In this passage of Frankenstein, Shelley recalls the locations that were favored by the Romantics, the Alps, the Rhine, and Scotland. She depicts Henry as an Emersonian hero, in touch with the beauty and delight of nature as well as in communion with others. In a later passage in this chapter, Shelley also clearly extols the beauty of friendship between man, a friendship greatly valued by the Romantics. For, Victor elegizes Henry, his foil, now lost to him:
Is this gentle and lovely being lost for ever?....Does it now only exist in my memory? No, it is not thus; your form so divinely wrought, and beaming with beauty, has decayed, but your spirit still visits and consoles your unhappy friend.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Clerval reacts to the Rhinelands the way he does to everything: with great enthusiasm...the way Victor once reacted to all of God's creation.
(You might recall that Shelley was writing at the height of the Romantic movement in England, and a respect and appreciation for nature were elements of the Romantic movement. However, she also imbued her novel with horror and chaos, the story taking place in foreign lands, with a "haunted" protagonist, also characteristics of the Gothic genre. She is, by some, considered to be the creator of the science fiction genre as well. This appreciation of nature is seen in Henry's reactions to the lands they visit.)
It is from Switzerland and the Rhine that Henry comes. And in his heart, this area has been always the most be beautiful to Henry. While visiting Cumberland and Westmorland, the scenery is much like that of Geneva, with small patches of snow that have not yet melted on the ground, along with mountains, lakes and "rocky streams."
'I could pass my life here,' said he to me; 'and among these mountains I should scarcely regret Switzerland and the Rhine.'
So although his heart is steeped deeply in the environs of his native country, this area is so closely like his home that he could live there and not feel himself in a foreign place.
This is consistent with the character of Clerval who sees beauty everywhere he goes and is enchanted by the new places they visit and the new things he learns. In this way, he is something of a foil to the Victor we meet at the beginning of the story. Perhaps, too, there is an object lesson, a moral, to this part of the story: that knowledge can uplift you, but that the wrong knowledge—pursuit of that which is not natural or flaunts itself in the face of God—can inflict permanent damage upon one's soul, as seems to be the case with Victor.