Volume 3: Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1666

Several weeks pass, and Victor is still unable to gather the courage to begin work on the creature’s mate. He has heard of an English philosopher whose knowledge he believes would prove essential to his task, but he procrastinates on asking his father for permission to visit England. At the same time, Victor feels his health and mood improving, especially when he is able to temporarily forget about his promise to the creature. When his melancholy does return, he rows out alone on Lake Geneva and takes comfort in nature as he has so many times before. One day when he returns from the lake, his father approaches him and says he believes he has guessed the reason for Victor’s unhappiness. Reminding him that he and Caroline always hoped Victor and Elizabeth would marry, Alphonse asks Victor if his misery stems from feeling pressured to marry Elizabeth against his will. Victor assures his father that he loves Elizabeth and that all his future happiness depends on marrying her. Relieved, Alphonse asks if Victor would consider holding the wedding right away, as he believes the marriage would help to dispel the gloom that lies over the family. Victor, however, doesn’t want to marry Elizabeth before he has freed himself from his deal with the creature. In addition, he still needs to travel to England and is horrified by the idea of conducting his grotesque work on the creature’s mate in the family home. Victor tells his father he wants to visit England before he marries but conceals his true motives for the journey. Alphonse gladly agrees, hoping the holiday will cure Victor of the last of his melancholy. He and Elizabeth arrange for Clerval to meet Victor in Strasburgh so that he won’t be alone. Although this interferes with the solitude he craves, Victor is glad he will have Clerval to distract him from his depressing thoughts and to prevent the creature from approaching him. It is agreed that Victor and Elizabeth will marry immediately upon his return, and Victor looks forward to a peaceful future with Elizabeth as the reward he will claim for all his suffering. Although Victor is troubled by a fear that the creature might attack his family while he is away, his intuition tells him the creature will most likely follow him to England.

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At the end of August, Victor resignedly sets out for Strasburgh, where Clerval tries in vain to get him to share his delight in the beautiful scenery. As the two friends sail down the Rhine to Rotterdam, though, Victor begins to feel a sense of peace. To Walton, Victor praises Clerval’s devoted friendship, vivid imagination, and ardent love of nature. Although Clerval is dead by the time he tells Walton his story, Victor believes his friend’s spirit still visits and comforts him in his anguish. Returning to his tale, he then relates how he and Clerval continue down the Rhine to Rotterdam before sailing to England and up the River Thames.

In London, Victor reluctantly meets with natural philosophers whose discoveries are relevant to his work and gathers materials for his task. He finds this process tortuous and often seeks solitude even from Clerval, who is enthusiastically engaged in pursuing his plan to become involved in colonization and trade in India. After a few months, the friends receive a letter from a Scotsman who once visited them in Geneva and now invites them to his house in Perth. Victor decides that, once in Scotland, he will find a remote place where he can build the creature’s companion. He and Clerval leave London in March and spend the summer leisurely traveling north, spending time in Oxford, Cumberland and Westmorland, and Edinburgh. Despite the beauty and interest of his surroundings, Victor remains in almost constant misery. He still thinks the creature might attack his family in Switzerland and is haunted by a fear that the creature will murder Clerval out of anger that Victor has not yet begun his work. Though he considers himself essentially guiltless, Victor nevertheless feels as though he has committed a terrible crime. When they arrive in Perth, Victor tells Clerval he is going to tour Scotland by himself for a month or two. Clerval tries to dissuade him, but Victor is resolved to complete his work alone. He journeys to one of the remotest of the Orkney Islands, where he rents one of the island’s three dilapidated huts and is ignored by the five poverty-stricken locals. He spends his mornings working and his evenings walking on the desolate beach. The more he works, the more horrible his task seems to him, and he alternates between periods of frenzied labor and periods when he is unable to motivate himself to even enter his laboratory. Plagued by anxiety, Victor nevertheless makes progress on his task, the completion of which he looks forward to with a mixture of hope and dread.

Analysis

Just as he did after recovering from the illness that followed his creation of the creature, Victor is able to find temporary relief from his misery as long as he distracts himself from the reality of his situation: that he must now build the creature a companion or face dire consequences. “My spirits,” he says, “when unchecked by the memory of my unhappy promise, rose proportionably.” His attempts to forget his promise to the creature, while in some ways understandable, can also be seen as dangerously irresponsible. The extreme reluctance Victor feels toward his task continues to affect him when he begins to assemble the female creature in the Orkneys and can no longer hide from the reality of his situation.

Clerval serves as a foil for Victor in these chapters; the rapture Clerval expresses at the beauty of the scenery contrasts with Victor’s despondency and gloom. While Victor, too, once found a Romantic solace and joy in nature, he now barely registers his surroundings. He calls himself a “miserable wretch”—the same words the creature used to describe himself. In London, he sees in Clerval “the image of my former self; he was inquisitive, and anxious to gain experience and instruction,” much as Victor was when he first began his studies at Ingolstadt. Clerval’s extroverted, cheerful, outwardly-focused activities in London contrast with Victor’s solitary, tortuous pursuit of the materials and information necessary to his task. Several times he directly addresses Walton, telling the captain he would no doubt find Clerval’s journal much more amusing than his story and asking him to pardon his “gush of sorrow” when he laments Clerval’s death. These comments remind the reader that we are hearing Victor’s tale as recorded by Walton. Victor’s narrative also includes apostrophes to the dead Clerval, which indicate that Victor still has further disasters to describe and show how emotionally affected he is by remembering his friend: “Clerval! Beloved friend! Even now it delights me to record your words, and to dwell on the praise of which you are so eminently deserving,” he says, and “Your form so divinely wrought, and beaming with beauty, has decayed, but your spirit still visits and consoles your unhappy friend.” Victor’s glowing description of Clerval coincides with Romantic ideals: Clerval “was a being formed in the ‘very poetry of nature,’ ” imaginative, overflowing with affection, physically beautiful, and passionate about the natural world. Victor even quotes “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by Romantic poet William Wordsworth to illustrate Clerval’s love of nature. His description of Clerval as the ideal friend reminds the reader that it is exactly this kind of friendship that Walton longs for and believes he could have had with Victor.

When Walton unsuccessfully tries to convince Victor to start his life over, Victor says, “I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul.” His words recall the image of the oak tree struck by lightning that appeared in Chapter Two. Just as the oak was completely destroyed by an uncontrollable force of nature, Victor’s life has been completely destroyed by his attempt to control the natural forces of life and death. The image of the “blasted tree” is also significant because of its association with galvanism; the Frankenstein family’s house guest gave Victor a lecture on “electricity and galvanism” after witnessing the destruction of the oak tree, and it was this lecture that inspired Victor to temporarily abandon natural philosophy. Ironically, galvanism likely later played a part in Victor’s bringing to life of the creature, whose appearance is often accompanied or foreshadowed by lightning.

Victor’s anxiety grows as he and Clerval approach Scotland. Although he acknowledges that he has been putting his loved ones in danger by neglecting his promise to the creature, Victor still considers himself blameless: “I felt as if I had committed some great crime, the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed drawn down a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime.” His fear that the creature might murder Clerval is a significant one, and though he sometimes refuses to leave Clerval’s side due to this fear, Victor leaves his friend behind in Perth when he travels alone to the Orkneys. The “desolate and appalling landscape” of the island where Victor rents his hut reflects his bleak state of mind and contrasts with the idyllic scenery of Switzerland, which Victor associates with innocence and happiness. Deprived of any distractions, as well as of the enthusiasm that motivated him during his creation of the first creature, Victor becomes anxious and fearful. He looks forward to the completion of the female creature with “a tremulous and eager hope, which I dared not trust myself to question, but which was intermixed with obscure forebodings of evil, that made my heart sicken in my bosom”—foreshadowing to Walton and the reader that this will not be the end of Victor’s troubles.

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