Who is Cornelius Agrippa and how does Victor find out about him in Frankenstein?
Mary Shelly’s gothic novel Frankenstein recounts the life of eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein through a series of flashbacks that explain his presence through his past. One of these flashbacks reverts to his childhood, when at the age of thirteen he first encounters the works of Cornelius Agrippa, a sixteenth-century German alchemist. While on a holiday vacation with his family, Victor finds the old book tucked away in a bookshelf of the inn where his family is staying and becomes immediately enthralled with Agrippa’s writing. Victor states, “In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate and the wonderful facts which he relates soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind, and bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father” (Shelly 31).
Although Agrippa’s work was outdated, as explained by Victor’s father, who claims Agrippa’s principles “had been entirely exploded and that a modern system of science had been introduced,” the works of the ancient alchemist nonetheless ignited Victor’s imagination (Shelly 31). He set about reading the whole works of Agrippa in an effort to “penetrate the secrets of nature” (Shelly 32). Cornelius Agrippa was extremely influential in sparking Victor’s interest in going beyond the limits of the physical world to uncover the electrical elixir of life that gave life to his created monster. In response to a society heavily focused on modern science, Victor’s infatuation with Agrippa introduces an element of occult philosophy. However, in the end, Victor’s discovery of electricity and his father’s disapproval lead Victor to pursue more practical matters.