Volume 1: Chapters 3, 4, and 5 Summary and Analysis
When Victor is seventeen, his parents decide to send him to school at the University of Ingolstadt in Germany. His departure is delayed, however, when Elizabeth becomes gravely ill with scarlet fever. Victor’s mother is able to nurse Elizabeth back to health but contracts the illness herself in the process. On her deathbed, she tells Victor and Elizabeth that she has always hoped they would one day marry. After his mother’s death, Victor mourns with his family for several weeks. He spends the last evening before his departure with Clerval, who wanted to study at the university with Victor but was prevented from doing so by his merchant father. In the morning, Victor says a fond farewell to Clerval and his family and leaves for Ingolstadt in a melancholy mood, knowing he will miss them and not looking forward to being in the company of strangers. Eventually, though, he begins to feel excited about the knowledge he expects to acquire at the university.
His first morning in Ingolstadt, Victor goes to visit various professors. Driven, in his older self’s view, by the “Angel of Destruction,” he starts with a professor of natural philosophy called M. Krempe. The professor is horrified to learn that Victor’s previous study of science revolved around the medieval alchemists. He invites Victor to attend a series of lectures to be given by himself and, on alternating days, by a chemistry professor called M. Waldman. Victor is disinclined to go, as he finds M. Krempe conceited and unpleasant. Moreover, though Victor can no longer believe in the medieval theories that once fascinated him, he finds modern natural philosophy to be a disappointing, limited endeavor. The next week, however, he decides to sit in on a lecture by M. Waldman and finds his imagination ignited by the charismatic professor’s praise for the achievements of modern chemistry. Victor lies awake that night, resolved to return to his study of the sciences and to “unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.” The next day he visits M. Waldman at home. The professor receives him kindly and, on hearing of his study of the alchemists, praises them for having inspired much of modern science, even though their theories have been disproven. Careful to conceal just how enthusiastic he is, Victor tells the professor he has decided to study chemistry. M. Waldman advises Victor to study every branch of the sciences, shows him around his laboratory, and lends him books. Victor later regards this day as having decided his destiny.
For the next two years, Victor devotes himself entirely to the study of natural philosophy, particularly chemistry. He often works in his laboratory late into the night. M. Waldman becomes his mentor, and Victor is even able to find value in M. Krempe’s lectures despite the professor’s abrasiveness. He makes rapid progress in his studies and wins acclaim at the university for his accomplishments, and at the end of two years he has learned all he can from his professors. Just as he is considering returning home, however, Victor becomes completely consumed by a monumental new discovery. For some time now he has attempted with “almost supernatural enthusiasm” to discover the source of the life force by studying corpses, a pursuit that, while unpleasant, has left him largely unbothered due to the lack of superstition with which he was raised. Now, finally, he has succeeded not only in discovering the cause of life but the secret of giving life to “lifeless matter.” After spending some time contemplating his new power, Victor excitedly begins the task of creating a human being, who he decides will be a huge eight-foot-tall man. He imagines himself the creator of a new species who will owe him their happiness and gratitude, and hopes he might one day even succeed in bringing the dead back to life. Completely obsessed with his task, Victor works nonstop in his laboratory with body parts he collects from graves, charnel-houses,...
(The entire section is 2,221 words.)