Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2054
Victor reads a letter from Elizabeth in which she writes of how she has longed to hear from him and wished she could visit him during his illness. Apart from the family’s worries about Victor, life at home remains happy and peaceful. Alphonse is in good health, while Victor’s brother...
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Victor reads a letter from Elizabeth in which she writes of how she has longed to hear from him and wished she could visit him during his illness. Apart from the family’s worries about Victor, life at home remains happy and peaceful. Alphonse is in good health, while Victor’s brother Ernest is now sixteen and hopes to pursue a career in the military. Elizabeth also writes at length about the family’s servant, a girl named Justine Moritz. The Frankensteins hired Justine when she was twelve years old, after the death of her father left her at the mercy of a mother who inexplicably hated her. Elizabeth reminds Victor that Justine was always a favorite of his, as well as of his mother, who Justine adored and emulated. Justine was heartbroken after Caroline’s death, and in the ensuing months, all of the serving girl’s siblings died as well. Madame Moritz believed this to be a punishment from God for the way she had treated Justine, whom she now summoned home. Justine, who Elizabeth says became less vivacious after Caroline’s death, reluctantly went to stay at her mother’s house, where she found herself alternately apologized to and blamed for her siblings’ deaths. When Madame Moritz eventually died, Justine returned to the Frankenstein home. Elizabeth praises Justine, who she says reminds her of Caroline. She also writes very fondly of Victor’s youngest brother, William; thanks Clerval for caring for Victor; and asks Victor to write to the family soon. Victor writes back right away to assure them he is recovering.
Once he is well enough to leave his apartment, Victor takes Clerval around Ingolstadt to meet various professors. This proves difficult for Victor, as he began to hate natural philosophy the night he fled from the creature and now finds even the sight of scientific instruments upsetting. He listens in misery as M. Waldman and M. Krempe talk about science and tell Clerval what a wonderful student Victor is. Victor’s professors notice how unhappy he looks during these conversations but assume he is simply too modest to enjoy their praise. Though Clerval notices Victor’s discomfort, Victor cannot bring himself to tell his friend about the creature he brought to life. Instead he spends the summer joining Clerval in learning Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit, a course of study Clerval hopes will help him in his future career. Victor finds this project a soothing distraction. He plans to return to Geneva at the end of autumn, but bad weather forces him to delay his departure until spring. Victor and Clerval spend the month of May on a walking tour of the surrounding countryside, and Victor finds his spirits lifted by the beauty of the scenery and the company of his friend. By the time they return to town, he is the happiest he has been in years.
Victor’s newfound happiness is crushed when, on returning to his apartment, he reads a letter from his father informing him that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered. The week before, the family had gone for a walk in Plainpalais and lost William when he ran off to hide while playing with Ernest. After searching for William all night, Alphonse found him lying dead on the grass with marks on his neck suggesting he had been strangled. Elizabeth had let William wear a valuable necklace with a miniature of Caroline on it that evening, and this necklace is now gone. Since it seems the murderer killed William in order to steal the necklace, Elizabeth blames herself for William’s death. Alphonse asks Victor to come home and comfort the family—particularly Elizabeth— in their grief.
Victor leaves for Geneva immediately. At first he is impatient to see his family for the first time in six years, but soon he begins to feel a sense of dread. Though his well-being is somewhat restored by the beauty of the landscape, it suffers again when he draws near his destination and has a premonition that he is destined for misery. When he arrives in Geneva, the city’s gates have already been shut for the night, so Victor takes a boat across the lake and walks through Plainpalais, determined to visit the spot where William died. A violent thunderstorm begins, illuminating the surrounding mountains and lifting Victor’s spirits. Suddenly, Victor sees a dark shape among the trees, and when a flash of lightning illuminates the area, he sees that the shape is the creature. As soon as he realizes this, Victor is certain that the creature is William’s murderer. When another flash of lightning strikes, he sees the creature scale nearby Mount Saleve before disappearing into the darkness. It has been two years since Victor gave the creature life, and he is now overwhelmed with horror at what he has unleashed upon the world.
In the morning, Victor makes his way to his family’s house and resolves to tell them all he knows of the creature. After some reflection, though, he decides his story is too wild to be believed and that, even if people did believe him, it would be impossible to hunt the creature down. When he gets home he is greeted by his brother Ernest, who tells him that Justine Moritz has been accused of William’s murder. Victor is shocked to hear that anyone would believe Justine capable of such an act, but Ernest tells him a servant found the missing necklace in a pocket of the clothes Justine had been wearing the night of the murder. Certain the creature is really to blame, Victor remains unconvinced by this evidence and declares that he knows who the real murderer is. When Elizabeth and Alphonse join them, Elizabeth reveals that she too believes Justine to be innocent. Still resolved to keep his secret, Victor decides to remain silent and let Justine’s trial take its course, as he believes she will be acquitted.
Unfortunately, the trial does not unfold as Victor hopes. Justine tells the court that she was visiting her aunt in a nearby village on the night of the murder. While walking home, she encountered a man who told her that William was missing. Justine looked for William for several hours, then kept watch for him in the barn of a family she knew before briefly falling asleep. She was awakened by the sound of footsteps and spent the morning continuing to look for William. When questioned after her exhausting night by a woman near the spot where William had died, Justine’s answer was confused, a fact that is used as evidence against her. Justine is unable to explain how the necklace ended up in her pocket but humbly maintains her innocence. Not even Elizabeth’s passionate defense of Justine’s good character, however, can convince the court to ignore the evidence against her. Victor runs from the courtroom in an agony of remorse. He returns in the morning to discover that, to his horror, Justine has been found guilty. He is then shocked to learn that she confessed to the crime herself. Later that day, Justine asks to see Elizabeth, and Victor accompanies her to the prison. Elizabeth is extremely upset by the news of Justine’s confession, but Justine explains that she only confessed in order to obtain absolution from the priest, who threatened her with eternal damnation until she gave in. Justine now regrets the lie. Elizabeth is relieved and wants to save Justine, but Justine has already accepted her fate, placing her faith in God and heaven. She thanks Victor for visiting her and believing in her innocence. Meanwhile, Victor is overwhelmed by guilt and believes he is suffering a much greater agony and despair than either of the women. He and Elizabeth both appeal to the judges on Justine’s behalf, but Victor continues to believe his story would be dismissed as madness if he were to tell it, and Justine is hanged. Victor is tormented by the knowledge that he has not only has he caused the deaths of two innocent people but also caused his remaining family members deep grief. Unfortunately, he tells Walton, William and Justine would not be the last victims of his “unhallowed arts.”
Elizabeth’s description of Justine’s hardships and praise of her virtues establishes Justine as a sympathetic character beloved by the whole family, while her description of William emphasizes his innocence and sweetness. In these ways Elizabeth’s letter foreshadows the importance of the roles Justine and William will come to play in the plot. It also emphasizes the goodness and innocence of Victor’s whole family, who have no idea what he has been up to and whom he neglected while immersed in his experiment. The harmonious familial relationships and tranquility they enjoy in Geneva—and which Victor enjoyed before leaving for Ingolstadt—contrast sharply with the obsessive, gruesome, solitary work in which Victor was engaged for two years while building the creature.
Although Victor has regained his physical health, it is clear from his reaction to his professors’ praise that he has not fully recovered from the horror of having brought a “monster” to life. Natural philosophy, once Victor’s greatest passion, is a subject that now causes him nothing but anguish. Rather than sharing his secret, Victor seeks relief in the pleasant distraction of studying foreign languages with Clerval. Even more uplifting is the walking tour the friends take together, by the end of which Victor has been restored to his old self, or so he believes. During their trip, Clerval helps Victor to once again feel “ecstasy” at the “divine” beauty of nature—an ability highly prized by the Romantics—and entertains him by reciting poetry and making up fantastic stories as he did during their childhood. He is exactly the kind of friend Walton longs for: one to provide him with much-needed balance and support, sympathize with his Romantic nature, draw him out of his isolated and obsessive pursuits, and help him become the best version of himself. On the other hand, Clerval’s caring and accepting behavior toward Victor is entirely unlike Victor’s irresponsible behavior toward his creation.
Distracting himself, attempting to forget about the creature, and allowing himself to believe that things will be fine is behavior Victor will repeat several times throughout the novel. Unfortunately, his happiness is swiftly destroyed each time he regains some measure of optimism, just as it is when he receives news that William, the very embodiment of innocence, has been murdered. The Romantic motif of finding solace in nature recurs during Victor’s journey to Geneva, when he delights in the sight of the mountains and lake even in the midst of his melancholy. When night falls, however, the natural world takes on an ominous aspect, and Victor has a premonition that he is “destined to become the most wretched of human beings.” These premonitions of future tragedy—which perhaps stem from suppressed pangs of guilt for past mistakes—will continue to haunt Victor.
The lightning motif and pathetic fallacy recur when Victor, exulting in the storm, sees the creature on Plainpalais during a flash of lightning. The creature, like nature itself, is portrayed as powerful, dangerous, and beyond controlling as he swiftly scales the vertical side of Mont Saleve, a feat beyond human strength and agility. Victor is immediately convinced that the creature is William’s murderer and is forced to remember how he formed such a “filthy daemon” and turned him loose on the world. Even when he learns Justine has been accused of the murder, however, Victor refuses to divulge his secret for fear of being thought insane. Instead he chooses to remain passive, telling himself that Justine will be acquitted. In this way he continues to avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of abandoning his creation.
Victor’s narration foreshadows further tragedy when he describes William and Justine as “the first hapless victims to my unhallowed [unholy] arts.” Addressing his friends and family as they were at the time of William and Justine’s deaths, he says, “Ye weep, unhappy ones; but these are not your last tears!” and laments the fact that their “sad torments” will not be over until their deaths.