Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2054
One evening as he sits in his laboratory, Victor begins to reflect on the possible consequences of creating a companion for the creature. He realizes that his second creation might turn out to be just as or even more malicious than his first. She might refuse to accompany the creature to South America, or the two creatures might hate each other. If they do go to the wilderness together, the creatures could have children and thereby begin a new race of beings who would terrorize humankind. Victor is horrified by the idea that future generations might hate him for jeopardizing the survival of the entire human race just to secure safety for himself and his family. At that moment he sees the creature grinning malevolently at him through the window of his hut, and he tears the unfinished female creature apart. The creature howls with despair before vanishing into the night. Vowing never to resume his work, Victor leaves the laboratory. Several hours later the creature returns to confront him for breaking his promise. Victor tells him he has resolved never to create another being like the creature, no matter the consequences. The creature swears revenge and ominously tells Victor to remember that he will be with him on his wedding night. After hearing the creature row away in a boat, Victor paces around his room in torment, wishing he hadn’t allowed him to escape. Believing the creature intends to murder him on his wedding night, he weeps for the pain his death will cause Elizabeth and vows not to die without putting up a “bitter struggle.”
Victor spends the morning wandering aimlessly around the island in despair, eventually falling asleep on the ground. When he wakes up in the evening he feels somewhat calmer. A fisherman delivers a letter from Clerval, who asks Victor to meet him at Perth and travel with him back to London, where he plans to prepare to sail for India. Victor decides to leave for Perth in two days. Late the next night he rows out to sea in a small skiff and throws the remnants of the female creature’s body overboard in a basket weighted with stones. Relaxed by the breeze and the sound of the waves, he stretches out in the bottom of the boat and falls asleep. When he wakes up, the sun is up, and a strong wind has pushed him far out to sea, leaving him totally lost. After several hours of drifting on the waves, convinced he will die and terrified of what the creature will do to his family and friends, Victor is overjoyed to sight land. He steers into the harbor of the first town he sees. While tying up his boat, he is surprised to be greeted with hostility by an angry-looking crowd. He learns that he has arrived in Ireland and must report to the local magistrate, Mr. Kirwin, on suspicion of murder. Though startled and fatigued, Victor complies, sure that he will easily prove his innocence.
Mr. Kirwin brings forth several witnesses, the first of whom explains that he and his son and brother-in-law returned from fishing late last night and discovered the still-warm body of a young man on the beach. The man appeared to have been strangled, a detail which causes Victor to grow weak with fear. The first witness’s brother-in-law then swears that, just after the discovery of the body, he saw a man in the same boat in which Victor arrived. A woman who lives near the beach further attests that she saw a man sail from the area where the body was discovered about an hour before the fishermen returned. Another woman describes how the men brought the strangled young man to her house, where they tried to revive him without success. Several other witnesses reason that Victor, unaware there was a town nearby, probably brought the body from someplace else and left it on the beach before being forced by the wind to sail back to nearly the same spot. Although he is surprised by this series of coincidences, Victor remains calm until he is taken to see the corpse, which he is horrified to find is that of Clerval. Victor flings himself on Clerval’s body and cries out that he has murdered not only his best friend but two other victims besides. Overwhelmed, he begins to convulse and is carried away.
Victor is then thrown in prison, where he lies delirious with fever. During this time he raves about his murder of Clerval, William, and Justine; begs the prison attendants to help him kill the creature; and screams in terror as he hallucinates that the creature is about to strangle him. After two months he emerges from his delirium and slowly begins to recover. Mr. Kirwin has arranged for Victor have the best cell in the prison and to be treated by a nurse and a physician. Just as Victor is considering pleading guilty to the murder, Mr. Kirwin visits and tells Victor he believes he is innocent. The magistrate further reveals that he wrote to Geneva after finding a letter from Alphonse among Victor’s things. To Victor’s surprise, Alphonse is then brought into the cell. Seeing his father gives Victor the strength to regain some of his physical health, although he is still steeped in anguish over Clerval’s murder, and he often wishes for death. After three months in prison he is given a private trial and proven innocent by evidence that he was on the Orkneys at the time of the murder. Alphonse is overjoyed at his son’s release, but Victor, too depressed to imagine ever being happy again, reacts with indifference to his freedom. He continues to suffer from fever and to contemplate suicide. Only his desire to protect his family and to destroy the creature motivates him to continue living, and in spite of his ill health he urges his father to book them immediate passage to Geneva. The first night of the voyage, Victor goes up on deck by himself. As he gazes at the stars, he thinks back on his life so far and weeps before swallowing double his normal dose of laudanum, which he has been taking every night since he first awoke from his delirium. The next morning he awakens from a nightmare about the creature but, reassured by being at sea with his father, allows himself to take comfort in a feeling of security.
Victor begins to seriously consider the possible consequences of fulfilling his promise to the creature for the first time in Volume Three, Chapter Three. While he once looked forward to receiving the world’s gratitude and admiration for his scientific discoveries, he now fears that “future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race.” That his actions might be selfish is an idea that has not registered with Victor until now. While he ruminates, the creature appears in the moonlight at the window, confirming Victor’s fears of being approached by his creation as well as continuing the moonlight motif associated with the creature. Victor makes up his mind to destroy his unfinished work upon seeing the creature’s “ghastly grin.” It seems that, ultimately, Victor cannot look at the creature’s deformed face—which he himself created—without becoming convinced of the creature’s malevolence.
Although it follows a period of serious contemplation, the suddenness and violence of Victor’s destruction of the female creature continues his pattern of acting impulsively on his emotions: “I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise of creating another like to him, and trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged.” In so doing, he destroys the creature’s last hope of ever finding contentment. The creature reminds Victor of the suffering and loneliness he has been made to endure, but Victor reacts without sympathy, addressing his creation as “Devil” and “Villain.” The creature calls Victor “Slave” and asserts that although Victor is his creator, he is Victor’s master and has the power to make him suffer. It is clear from the creature’s promises of revenge that, by betraying the creature and denying his one request, Victor has ensured his own ruin. Given the creature’s bitterness at being a denied a mate, however—and that his strategy so far has been to take vengeance on Victor by killing his loved ones—the reader might question Victor’s interpretation of the creature’s statement “I shall be with you on your wedding-night.” As he wanders the dismal island the next day, the painful sense of isolation Victor feels is not unlike the creature’s own. When Victor says he must pause and collect himself before relating the “frightful events” following his arrival at Mr. Kirwin’s house, Mary Shelley not only creates a deep sense of foreboding but draws attention to the fact that Victor’s story, told aloud to and recorded by Walton, is being transmitted to the reader as a narrative within a narrative.
By the end of Chapter Four, Victor’s relationship to humanity has come to parallel the creature’s: he views other people as beings of a higher order and no longer feels worthy of interacting with them, believing he would be hated if the truth about his part in the creature’s crimes were to come to light. In causing the deaths of William, Justine, and now Clerval, the creature has successfully begun to inflict on Victor the same terrible sense of alienation he himself has been forced to endure. Clerval was, in many ways, Victor’s better half—kind and caring, full of enthusiasm and optimism—and now that he is dead, Victor is left alone with the faults he told Walton only a true friend could correct. It is also worth noting that, while Justine was executed for William’s murder although entirely innocent, Victor is allowed to go free after being accused of Clerval’s murder, for which he can be seen as bearing at least some responsibility.
Although he eventually recovers from the delirium into which he sinks after Clerval’s death, Victor’s mental health continues to suffer, as indicated by his apathy toward his release from prison, his suicidal urges, his continual fever, and his dependence on laudanum (a tincture of opium that, though highly addictive, was widely used for medicinal purposes during the nineteenth century); he calls himself a “shattered wreck.” The illness Victor suffers in jail echoes the one he endured in Ingolstadt after abandoning the creature, which strongly suggests that Victor’s bouts of illness are psychosomatic, or caused by overwhelming psychological anguish. Only the “one duty” Victor still believes he has—to protect his family from the creature—motivates him to continue living, much as it did after the deaths of William and Justine. His description of the creature as the “monstrous Image which I had endued with the mockery of a soul still more monstrous” indicates that, even after listening to the creature’s story and breaking the promise he made to him, Victor believes his creation to be wholly evil. His use of the word “Image” also echoes the idea from the Book of Genesis that “God created man in His own image,” continuing the comparison of Victor to God and the creature to both Adam and Satan. Victor does take some responsibility for his actions when he laments that Clerval “had fallen a victim to me and the monster of my creation,” but he is too overwhelmed by emotion to think about the night he abandoned the creature, which may indicate that, on some level, Victor realizes it was this irresponsible rejection of his creation that led him to his current state. Nevertheless, he chooses to distract himself from reality again with the sense of security and “calm forgetfulness” he experiences after awakening from a nightmare about the creature. Victor’s nightmare is far from over, however, as he indicates to Walton and the reader by commenting that he felt “a truce was established between the present hour and the irresistible, disastrous future.”
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