Last Updated on April 25, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1369
After reaching the coast of France, Victor and his father head to Paris, where they stop so that Victor can rest. Alphonse urges his son to mingle with society, but Victor, wracked with guilt over his creation’s crimes, no longer feels worthy of interacting with other human beings. Though he continues to accuse himself of the murders of William, Justine, and Clerval, he refuses to explain these self-recriminations to his father. When Alphonse eventually begs him never to say such things again, Victor passionately replies that he is not mad, that he truly is responsible for the deaths of his loved ones, and that although he would have sacrificed his life to save them, he could not sacrifice the lives of all of humankind. This outburst convinces Alphonse that Victor is indeed suffering from some form of madness. After a while, however, Victor regains his outward calm and forces himself to stop talking about his crimes.
A few days before he and Alphonse leave Paris, Victor receives a letter from Elizabeth, who asks him if his misery stems from feeling honor-bound to marry her while being in love with someone else. Elizabeth acknowledges that, though Alphonse and Caroline always hoped Victor and Elizabeth would marry, Victor might think of her as a sister rather than a romantic partner. She begs him to be honest with her if this is the case, as above all she wants him to be happy. The letter reminds Victor that he expects to be murdered by the creature on his wedding night. As he believes he can find freedom from his guilt only in death, this idea doesn’t particularly upset him, except when he reflects that he will never be able to enjoy a future with Elizabeth. Wanting to make his father and Elizabeth even temporarily happy, and fearful that the creature might commit further murders should he attempt to postpone his marriage, Victor resolves to fulfill his promise to marry Elizabeth immediately upon his return to Switzerland. He writes a letter assuring Elizabeth that he loves her and promising to tell her his terrible secret the day after their wedding.
Victor and Alphonse arrive in Geneva a week later. When Elizabeth greets them she is upset by Victor’s emaciated, feverish appearance, and Victor notices that Elizabeth herself has grown thin and lost her former liveliness. Victor continues to be tormented by his memories, and his moods alternate between rage and a depression so deep he is unable to move or speak. Only Elizabeth can draw him out of these states, after which she urges him to resign himself to reality and make the best of things. Unfortunately, Victor’s secret guilt prevents him from following her advice. A date is fixed for the wedding, and Victor attempts to conceal his growing anxiety beneath a cheerful facade that fools his father but not his fianceé, who looks forward to their marriage with some trepidation of her own. Alphonse arranges for Elizabeth to have part of her inheritance restored in the form of a cottage on Lake Como, where she and Victor will honeymoon after spending a night at an inn in Evian. Meanwhile, Victor remains armed at all times and keeps a constant lookout for the creature, but as the marriage draws nearer, the happiness he hopes to find with Elizabeth beings to overshadow the creature’s threat. On their wedding day, however, Elizabeth seems melancholy. As they sail across the lake to Evian after the wedding, Victor asks his wife to be happy, at least for this one day. Elizabeth promises to try to ignore her sense of foreboding. She turns her and Victor’s attention to the beautiful scenery, but Victor notices that she still seems distracted.
Victor and Elizabeth spend that evening walking along the lakeshore, then enjoying the view from the inn. As soon as night falls and a storm breaks out, Victor feels his fears revive. Elizabeth notices his agitation. Hoping to spare her the sight of the combat he expects to engage in with the creature, Victor asks her to wait for him in a separate room while he keeps watch. Just as he is beginning to think the creature won’t appear after all, he hears Elizabeth scream. Victor bursts into the room to find his wife lying dead on the bed. He faints, and when he regains consciousness he finds himself surrounded by the terrified guests and staff of the inn. He immediately rushes over to Elizabeth’s body, where he finds the telltale marks of strangulation on her neck. As he embraces his wife’s corpse in despair, he is horrified to see the creature standing at the window in the moonlight, grinning and pointing at Elizabeth’s body. Victor fires his pistol but misses, and the creature runs into the lake. He and the other guests and staff of the inn spend several hours unsuccessfully attempting to track down the creature by boat. When Victor tries to help a search party scour the countryside on foot, he collapses from exhaustion and is carried to bed. After a while he returns to the room where Elizabeth’s body has been laid out, where he realizes he needs to return to Geneva to protect his remaining family members.
Victor finds his father and brother safe at home, but the news of Elizabeth’s death proves too much for Alphonse, who dies a few days later. Victor suffers a breakdown and spends the next several months in a solitary cell in an asylum, where he gradually recovers and resolves to seek revenge on his creation. A month after his release he tells his story to a local magistrate and demands that the creature be made to answer for his crimes. The magistrate does not appear to believe the story but, intimidated by Victor’s rage and apparent madness, promises to try to bring the creature to justice. He warns Victor, however, that this will probably prove impossible given the creature’s superhuman powers and unknown whereabouts. Sensing that the magistrate is not taking him seriously, Victor flies into a rage and vows to destroy the creature himself before storming out of the house.
Elizabeth’s murder forms the climax of the novel and deals Victor the fatal blow that destroys any chance he had at finding happiness. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth has been portrayed as “saintly,” pure, infinitely kind, caring, compassionate, and good—an embodiment of all the feminine ideals of the era and of the archetype of the passive, virtuous woman. She has shown Victor nothing but love and acceptance—something Victor never showed to his creation—and a peaceful future with her has constituted the sum of Victor’s hopes. Now, through the creature, Victor finds himself responsible for the death of the woman he loved, idolized, and once thought of his own “cherished possession.” In murdering Elizabeth, the creature has achieved revenge for the destruction of his own intended companion as well as destroyed the living embodiment of the feminine affection and kindness he has longed to receive, thereby symbolically destroying all that remained of his desire for love and admiration of goodness. Just as the creature became entirely focused on hatred and revenge after Victor destroyed his unfinished mate, revenging himself on his hated creation becomes the sole purpose of Victor’s life when he recovers from the breakdown he suffers after the deaths of Elizabeth and Alphonse. (Incidentally, Shelley never reveals what becomes of Victor’s only surviving family member, Ernest Frankenstein.) Now almost as isolated from society as the creature, Victor seeks help by bringing his story to a local magistrate. His decision to finally share his secret, however, is rendered futile by the fact that the creature has already completely destroyed his life—and by the fact that, just as he feared after William’s murder, his incredible story is viewed as madness. Everyone who might have believed Victor’s tale is dead, at least in part because he kept his secret to himself and chose to remain passive. It appears to be too late for either Victor or the creature to find peace or redemption now.
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