Victor Frankenstein is the product of an enlightened but perhaps overly-insular family environment. His seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge is, of course, the precipitating theme that propels Mary Shelley’s narrative in her classic of Gothic literature, Frankenstein, but the academic environment in which Victor is immersed in limiting to someone of his unconventional intellectual pursuits. As he notes late in Chapter 2, Victor’s fascination with science—a field in which his father, Alphonse, is not well-versed and, consequently, of little value as far as instruction is concerned—is unrequited in Geneva, and Victor’s father is not unaware of the region’s limitations in this regard. It is for this reason that Alphonse and Victor’s mother decide that their son’s educational needs would be best met in Germany, more specifically, at the university in the town of Ingolstadt. It is at the beginning of chapter 3 that Shelley’s ultimately doomed narrator describes the reason for his departure for Ingolstadt:
“When I had attained the age of seventeen my parents resolved that I should become a student at the university of Ingolstadt. I had hitherto attended the schools of Geneva, but my father thought it necessary for the completion of my education that I should be made acquainted with other customs than those of my native country.”
As readers of Frankenstein soon discover, however, Elizabeth contracts scarlet fever and Victor’s beloved mother, determined to attend to the needs of this very special person in her family’s life, tends to the ill young woman. The mother’s constant proximity to the seriously ill Elizabeth results in the former’s contraction of this dreaded disease, and she, the mother, dies soon after. These tragic events cause Victor to delay his departure for Ingolstadt, but, after a “respite of some weeks,” he is on his way to pursue the education and experimentation that will destroy everything he holds dear.