Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in Frankenstein

Vocabulary Examples in Frankenstein:

Letter III

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"befallen..."   (Letter III)

In general, the verb “to befall” has negative connotations for events that will happen to someone or something. So, the word “befallen” here suggests that the upcoming events will most likely be unfortunate or bad.

"But success shall crown my endeavours...."   (Letter III)

The word choice “shall” reflects Walton’s strong intention and confidence in his expedition. The italicization emphasizes his determination. To Walton, his success will act as a “crown” that represents triumph, honor, and praise; Walton’s word choice “crown” reveals his pride.

"paroxysm..."   (Letter IV)

A “paroxysm” is an episode in which a disease becomes more acute in its symptoms.

"the dæmon, as he called him,..."   (Letter IV)

Frankenstein refers to the large figure previously seen sledding across the ice as “the dæmon.” A demon, or dæmon, is any supernatural entity with a malevolent character. The mention of such a demon prepares us for a supernatural layer in the story.

"draught..."   (Letter IV)

Draught, is the British spelling of draft, which can refer to a breeze, or a drink. Shelley uses it metaphorically here; Victor is essentially asking if Walton has also drunk from the fountain of knowledge. Victor’s calling the draught intoxicating reflects how thirsty for knowledge he truly is. Regardless, he goes on to warn Walton about the dangers of pursuing knowledge by sharing his own experience.

"we are unfashioned creatures, but half made up..."   (Letter IV)

This line refers to Victor’s philosophy towards life and reveals much about his pursuit to create his own form of life. Victor believes humans are unfashioned; that is, formless, without design. Additionally, his statement and his excessive desire for knowledge foreshadow the lengths he takes to actualize his philosophy and attempt to create life.

"the violence of his feelings, he appeared to despise himself for being the slave of passion; ..."   (Letter IV)

The violence of Victor’s feelings suggests that his emotions are intense and wild, making it difficult for him to contain them. “Slave of passion” implies that Victor is so obsessed with gaining knowledge that he is a slave to the process. These descriptions depict excessive emotion, an element in Romanticism. At the same time, they reveal the self-contradictory nature within Victor: he dislikes himself for being so passionate about knowledge.

"elemental foes of our race...."   (Letter IV)

This refers to the uncontrollable forces and obstacles of Nature. Calling such forces “foes” personifies Nature, as if it were an antagonist to those who encounter its forces. It also suggests that the human race is vulnerable to Nature’s oppositions and its overall power.

"SO STRANGE AN accident has happened to us..."   (Letter IV)

Walton’s encounter is so strange that he cannot wait to share its details with Margaret. This statement implies that Walton’s voyage is probably going to involve some supernatural elements. Moreover, describing the experience as a "strange" accident provokes a sense of urgency in readers.

"schiavi ognor frementi..."   (Chapter I)

In Italian this loosely translates into “slaves forever in a rage.”

"inmate..."   (Chapter I)

In this context, the noun “inmate” means one who dwells with others in a house, a lodger or resident. It did not have connotations of imprisonment or confinement until 1830.

"Under the guidance of my new preceptors, I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life; but the latter soon obtained my undivided attention. ..."   (Chapter II)

Preceptors means teachers or instructors, and in this case, it refers to the aforementioned philosophers whom Frankenstein read. The philosopher’s stone is a legendary substance that is said to turn any metal into gold or silver. It is also often called the elixir of life (although Shelley differentiates between them), which grants immortality to whoever possesses it. Frankenstein is fascinated by this second power; he claims to have no desire for wealth, but instead dreams of the glory he would obtain if he was to find a means for eternal life. Frankenstein’s fascination with this life-giving substance is the first major foreshadowing of his future creation.

"vehement..."   (Chapter II)

The adjective vehement is used to describe strong or intense feeling. By describing his passions as vehement, Frankenstein demonstrates that he was an intensely passionate child.

"filial..."   (Chapter II)

The adjective filial means ‘of a son or daughter.’ In this context, “filial love” refers to the love of a child for a parent.

"caprice..."   (Chapter II)

The noun caprice means a sudden change of mood or behavior. Frankenstein uses the word to reject the idea of his parents as ‘tyrants,’ ruling their children according to a sudden whim or changing mood.

"penetrate the secrets of nature..."   (Chapter II)

One of the definitions of “penetrate” is to see or show the way through something. It also implies a sense of violation or offense because “secrets” suggests that Nature does not condone Victor’s pursuit of understanding its elements and power. This choice of words foreshadow the consequences Victor will face for invading Nature’s “privacy.”

"I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind..."   (Chapter II)

This is one of the rare moments in which we witness Victor perceive knowledge as “misfortune” or a negative element in his life. He enjoys reflecting on his childhood because he longs for the innocence he once had. “Tainted” suggests that gaining knowledge pollutes one’s mind, further emphasizing how obtaining knowledge can be bad and how one cannot unlearn what they’ve learned. This raises the question of whether knowledge acquisition is good or bad in the context of the Enlightenment.

"secrets of heaven..."   (Chapter II)

Victor’s thirst for knowledge is not limited to the hows and whys of Nature on Earth. He has a strong desire to go beyond earthly knowledge and to comprehend the “secrets of heaven.” This choice of words suggests that Victor is pursuing what is beyond human knowledge and intelligibility. In addition, this implies that his pursuit is offensive and will continue to offend Nature as the story progresses.

"It was a strong effort of the spirit of good; but it was ineffectual. Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction...."   (Chapter II)

The “strong effort of the spirit of good” represents Nature’s final attempt to turn Victor away from the path of self-destruction. However, Victor’s stubborn and prideful character causes him to ignore Nature’s efforts, making them “ineffectual.” After creating the monster, Victor realizes that Destiny, with laws “immutable,” or never-changing, has “decreed” his “terrible destruction” for his crime of creation. Shelley personifies Destiny, giving it agency and authority, emphasizes its power.

"chimeras..."   (Chapter III)

“Chimera” has a variety of meanings. First, it can refer to a creature made up of various body parts from different sources, which is relevant to his creature’s origin. In this passage it refers to an ambitious dream or lofty goal—something boldly ambitious and unrealizable that Frankenstein wishes to pursue, though he is held back from “boundless grandeur” by “realities of little worth.” Frankenstein’s ambitious dream is itself a chimera.

"Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?..."   (Chapter IV)

By “principle,” Frankenstein means the source from which something originates—that is, an origin, a root, a source, etc. Having made such strides in his studies, Frankenstein reveals to Walton how he now began to actively pursue his interest in and experimentation with the creation of life.

"No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. ..."   (Chapter IV)

This simile, which compares Victor’s emotions with a hurricane, depicts the sentimental sublime, an overwhelming and often inexplicable amount or level of emotion and a major element in romanticism.

"during which I paid no visit to Geneva, but was engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries,..."   (Chapter IV)

While “engaged” implies that Victor is occupied with his scientific pursuits, it can also symbolize how his heart and soul are “married” to his pursuit of knowledge. He is so committed to it that he neglects his home, Geneva, along with his family.

"How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?..."   (Chapter V)

The word “catastrophe” accurately characterizes Frankenstein’s reaction to the creature’s coming to life. “Catastrophe” is a term with origins in ancient Greek theater, and refers to the final turn or event in a tragedy. The word gives Frankenstein’s scientific pursuit a dramatic shape, and implicitly suggests that his research is a tragic arc whose result is a disaster.

"cabriolet..."   (Chapter VII)

A cabriolet is a carriage drawn by a horse. This type of carriage was usually light, with two wheels and a foldable roof.

"although our exertions to discover him are unremitted..."   (Chapter VII)

Exertions here means efforts. To remit means to cancel or suspend; as such unremitted means unbroken or maintained. In this line, Frankenstein’s father despairs that while they continue their efforts to discover William’s killer, they have been unsuccessful.

" a very valuable miniature that she possessed of your mother. ..."   (Chapter VII)

This miniature refers to a locket which held a picture of Frankenstein’s mother inside. Elizabeth had given this locket to William. When Elizabeth examines William’s body she notices his neck is bare, and thus assumes William’s murderer was a thief who stole the locket. This thinking causes Elizabeth great distress, as she feels guilty for giving William the locket that supposedly led to his death.

"vampire..."   (Chapter VII)

Victor calling the creature a vampire suggests that he does not consider the creature a human being, or even a living thing. Moreover, vampires are acknowledged as abominations of nature; this reinforces the idea that Victor’s creature is not natural, in other words, not favored by Nature.

"ignominy..."   (Chapter VIII)

Ignominy means “public shame or disgrace.” Justine faces not only the judgment of God, but also the condemnation of society as a whole. Frankenstein, too, is wary of telling the public how William really died, due to his fear of being labeled “mad.”

"timorous..."   (Chapter VIII)

The adjective “timorous,” from the same root as the word “timid,” means “lacking in confidence due to fear.” Because of the gravity of Justine’s supposed crime, friends who have known her for years are unwilling to testify on her behalf—one of the many factors that leads to her demise.

"spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence..."   (Chapter IX)

The noun “omnipotence” means an all-powerfulness, or almightiness. With a capital letter, it refers to God. Frankenstein expresses a sentiment here which equates the power and sounds of nature with an almighty god.

"Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more (I persuaded myself), was yet behind...."   (Chapter IX)

Shelley’s description of Victor’s miserable state after he realizes that his creature is a danger to humankind accurately reflects the anatomy of guilt. Victor’s crime is so horrendous that even sleep “[flees]” from him; Nature is punishing him for playing God. The lack of rest and guilt causes him to “[wander] like an evil spirit.” Such a description strengthens the parallel between Victor and the monster, who wanders in the story as humanity’s misfit. Victor’s “benevolent intentions” and “[thirst] for the moment” to apply them show how he desperately wants to right his wrong. Regardless, he is seized by guilt and thrown into a “hell of intense tortures.”

"The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnising my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life...."   (Chapter X)

Frankenstein’s experience in the Swiss mountains is sublimely overwhelming. The experience offers him relief by placing the concerns and “cares” of his life into perspective. The language Frankenstein uses reflects this experience. The word “awful” means “awe-inspiring” rather than “terrible.” The word “solemnising” describes the way the landscape puts Frankenstein’s mind into a spiritually ceremonial state. It literally renders his mind “solemn” and imbues it with religious character.

"opaque..."   (Chapter XI)

The adjective “opaque” means unable to have light pass through; not clear, dense.

"crept from my kennel..."   (Chapter XI)

A kennel is a shelter or house for a dog. Notice that the language the creature uses to describe himself likens him to an animal, in this case a dog.

"wallet..."   (Chapter XI)

In this context, the noun “wallet” indicates a bag for holding provisions, clothing, or books for a journey either on foot or on horseback.

"Mahometan..."   (Chapter XIV)

This is an alternative and more archaic spelling for Mohammadan, which means a follower of the prophet Mohammad, also spelled Mahomet, the founder of the Islamic faith. Today, a synonym for a Mohammadan is a Muslim.

"leathern portmanteau..."   (Chapter XV)

“Leathern” is an aged adjectival version of “leather.” A “portmanteau” is a travelling case, and in french literally means carries coats.

"Little did I then expect the calamity that was in a few moments to overwhelm me, and extinguish in horror and despair all fear of ignominy or death...."   (Chapter XX)

In this moment of suspenseful foreshadowing, Frankenstein reflects on how the next turn of events will shift his attention away from himself and his fears. The word “ignominy” means “dishonor,” suggesting that Frankenstein had been occupied by his near-death and his precarious social standing.

"presentiment..."   (Chapter XX)

The word “presentiment” refers to an intuitive expectation of the future; a hunch.

"maladie du pays..."   (Chapter XXI)

The phrase “maladie du pays” comes from the French word for homesickness.

"drew an unfavourable augury from my manner..."   (Chapter XXI)

The noun “augury” means an omen determined through prophetic skill, a foreboding sign. The magistrate sees Frankenstein’s reaction to the tale of the dead body and sees it as a sign that he is the killer.

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