Chapter IX

NOTHING IS MORE painful to the human mind, than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows, and deprives the soul both of hope and fear. Justine died; she rested; and I was alive. The blood flowed freely in my veins, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart, which nothing could remove. 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. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness, and the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice, and make myself useful to my fellow-beings. Now all was blasted: instead of that serenity of conscience, which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe.

This state of mind preyed upon my health, which had perhaps never entirely recovered from the first shock it had sustained. I shunned the face of man; all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation—deep, dark, deathlike solitude.

My father observed with pain the alteration perceptible in my disposition and habits, and endeavoured by arguments deduced from the feelings of his serene conscience and guiltless life, to inspire me with fortitude, and awaken in me the courage to dispel the dark cloud which brooded over me. “Do you think, Victor,” said he, “that I do not suffer also? No one could love a child more than I loved your brother” (tears came into his eyes as he spoke) “but is it not a duty to the survivors, that we should refrain from augmenting their unhappiness by an appearance of immoderate grief? It is also a duty owed to yourself; for excessive sorrow prevents improvement or enjoyment, or even the discharge of daily usefulness, without which no man is fit for society.”

This advice, although good, was totally inapplicable to my case; I should have been the first to hide my grief, and console my friends, if remorse had not mingled its bitterness, and terror its alarm with my other sensations. Now I could only answer my father with a look of despair, and endeavour to hide myself from his view.

About this time we retired to our house at Belrive. This change was particularly agreeable to me. The shutting of the gates regularly at ten o’clock, and the impossibility of remaining on the lake after that hour, had rendered our residence within the walls of Geneva very irksome to me. I was now free. Often, after the rest of the family had retired for the night, I took the boat, and passed many hours upon the water. Sometimes, with my sails set, I was carried by the wind: and sometimes, after rowing into the middle of the lake, I left the boat to pursue its own course, and gave way to my own miserable reflections. I was often tempted, when all was at peace around me, and I the only unquiet thing that wandered restless in a scene so beautiful and heavenly—if I except some bat, or the frogs, whose harsh and interrupted croaking was heard only when I approached the shore—often, I say, I was tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters might close over me and my calamities for ever. But I was restrained, when I thought of the heroic and suffering Elizabeth, whom I tenderly loved, and whose existence was bound up in mine. I thought also of my father and surviving brother: should I by my base desertion leave them exposed and unprotected to the malice of the fiend whom I had let loose among them?

At these moments I wept bitterly, and wished that peace would revisit my mind only that I might afford them consolation and happiness. But that could not be. Remorse extinguished every hope. I had been the author of unalterable evils; and I lived in daily fear, lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness. I had an obscure feeling that all was not over, and that he would still commit some signal crime, which by its enormity should almost efface the recollection of the past. There was always scope for fear, so long as anything I loved remained behind. My abhorrence of this fiend cannot be conceived. When I thought of him, I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed. When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes, could I, when there, have precipitated him to their base. I wished to see him again, that I might wreak the utmost extent of abhorrence on his head, and avenge the deaths of William and Justine.

Our house was the house of mourning. My father's health was deeply shaken by the horror of the recent events. Elizabeth was sad and desponding; she no longer took delight in her ordinary occupations; all pleasure seemed to her sacrilege toward the dead; eternal woe and tears she then thought was the just tribute she should pay to innocence so blasted and destroyed. She was no longer that happy creature, who in earlier youth wandered with me on the banks of the lake, and talked with ecstasy of our future prospects. The first of those sorrows which are sent to wean us from the earth, had visited her, and its dimming influence quenched her dearest smiles.

“When I reflect, my dear cousin,” said she, “on the miserable death of Justine Moritz, I no longer see the world and its works as they before appeared to me. Before, I looked upon the accounts of vice and injustice, that I read in books or heard from others, as tales of ancient days, or imaginary evils; at least they were remote, and more familiar to reason than to the imagination; but now misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other's blood. Yet I am certainly unjust. Everybody believed that poor girl to be guilty; and if she could have committed the crime for which she suffered, assuredly she would have been the most depraved of human creatures. For the sake of a few jewels, to have murdered the son of her benefactor and friend, a child whom she had nursed from its birth, and appeared to love as if it had been her own! I could not consent to the death of any human being; but certainly I should have thought such a creature unfit to remain in the society of men. But she was innocent. I know, I feel she was innocent; you are of the same opinion, and that confirms me. Alas! Victor, when falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness? I feel as if I were walking on the edge of a precipice, towards which thousands are crowding, and endeavouring to plunge me into the abyss. William and Justine were assassinated, and the murderer escapes; he walks about the world free, and perhaps respected. But even if I were condemned to suffer on the scaffold for the same crimes, I would not change places with such a wretch.”

I listened to this discourse with the extremest agony. I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer. Elizabeth read my anguish in my countenance, and kindly taking my hand, said, “My dearest friend, you must calm yourself. These events have affected me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are. There is an expression of despair, and sometimes of revenge, in your countenance, that makes me tremble. Dear Victor, banish these dark passions. Remember the friends around you, who centre all their hopes in you. Have we lost the power of rendering you happy? Ah! while we love—while we are true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty, your native country, we may reap every tranquil blessing—what can disturb our peace?”

And could not such words from her whom I fondly prized before every other gift of fortune, suffice to chase away the fiend that lurked in my heart? Even as she spoke I drew near to her, as if in terror; lest at that very moment the destroyer had been near to rob me of her.

Thus not the tenderness of friendship, nor the beauty of earth, nor of heaven, could redeem my soul from woe: the very accents of love were ineffectual. I was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate. The wounded deer dragging its fainting limbs to some untrodden brake, there to gaze upon the arrow which had pierced it, and to die—was but a type of me.

Sometimes I could cope with the sullen despair that overwhelmed me: but sometimes the whirlwind passions of my soul drove me to seek, by bodily exercise and by change of place, some relief from my intolerable sensations. It was during an access of this kind that I suddenly left my home, and bending my steps towards the near Alpine valleys, sought in the magnificence, the eternity of such scenes, to forget myself and my ephemeral, because human, sorrows. My wanderings were directed towards the valley of Chamounix. I had visited it frequently during my boyhood. Six years had passed since then: I was a wreck— but nought had changed in those savage and enduring scenes.

I performed the first part of my journey on horseback. I afterwards hired a mule, as the more sure-footed, and least liable to receive injury on these rugged roads. The weather was fine: it was about the middle of the month of August, nearly two months after the death of Justine; that miserable epoch from which I dated all my woe. The weight upon my spirit was sensibly lightened as I plunged yet deeper in the ravine of Arve. The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side—the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around, spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence—and I ceased to fear, or to bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements, here displayed in their most terrific guise. Still, as I ascended higher, the valley assumed a more magnificent and astonishing character. Ruined castles hanging on the precipices of piny mountains; the impetuous Arve, and cottages every here and there peeping forth from among the trees, formed a scene of singular beauty. But it was augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another earth, the habitations of another race of beings.

I passed the bridge of Pélissier, where the ravine, which the river forms, opened before me, and I began to ascend the mountain that overhangs it. Soon after I entered the valley of Chamounix. This valley is more wonderful and sublime, but not so beautiful and picturesque, as that of Servox, through which I had just passed. The high and snowy mountains were its immediate boundaries; but I saw no more ruined castles and fertile fields. Immense glaciers approached the road; I heard the rumbling thunder of the falling avalanche, and marked the smoke of its passage. Mont Blanc, the supreme and magnificent Mont Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and its tremendous dôme overlooked the valley.

A tingling long-lost sense of pleasure often came across me during this journey. Some turn in the road, some new object suddenly perceived and recognised, reminded me of days gone by, and were associated with the light-hearted gaiety of boyhood. The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal nature bade me weep no more. Then again the kindly influence ceased to act—I found myself fettered again to grief, and indulging in all the misery of reflection. Then I spurred on my animal, striving so to forget the world, my fears, and, more than all, myself—or, in a more desperate fashion, I alighted, and threw myself on the grass, weighed down by horror and despair.

At length I arrived at the village of Chamounix. Exhaustion succeeded to the extreme fatigue both of body and of mind which I had endured. For a short space of time I remained at the window, watching the pallid lightnings that played above Mont Blanc, and listening to the rushing of the Arve, which pursued its noisy way beneath. The same lulling sounds acted as a lullaby to my too keen sensations: when I placed my head upon my pillow, sleep crept over me; I felt it as it came, and blessed the giver of oblivion.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The Arve river flows through Geneva, Chamonix, and several other towns in eastern France and south-western Switzerland.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Frankenstein draws a comparison between himself and the natural world around him. While much has happened to change and cause him grief, the mountains, valleys, and the natural world remain unchanged from his childhood. On the one hand, Shelley uses this moment to demonstrate the lasting power and strength of the natural world, which makes human concerns insignificant in comparison. However, this line also reveals Frankenstein’s hubris: he has changed, he is a wreck, and so he is frustrated that the natural world has not changed as well.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Now spelled “Chamonix,” this valley and small commune in eastern France lies in the path of a north approach to Mont Blanc near the Swiss border.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Elizabeth considers herself responsible for William’s death, and she carries that guilt with her. That moment marked a loss of innocence for Elizabeth. Now that Justine has been executed, and that Elizabeth knows in her heart that Justine was not guilty, Elizabeth continues to be corrupted, no longer remaining the happy and innocent person she once was. This sentence marks this transition in her worldview.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Frankenstein’s desire for revenge manifests during his despair at the loss of William and Justine. His response to what he considers the creature’s betrayal of him mirrors the creature’s response to Frankenstein’s initial betrayal: both creator and creation seek to isolate themselves in order to carry out their revenge.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Frankenstein’s temptation to end his life stems from the guilt he feels for the loss of William and Justine. His feelings indicate that he sympathizes with the dead, even envying their rest, but the guilt is so strong that he cannot end his troubles by ending his life. These thoughts of suicide are most profound and repeated when Frankenstein removes himself from the society of others.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Frankenstein’s guilt has affected him so strongly that he tries isolating himself from others, seeking solace in solitude. Given the importance of light and lack of light in the novel, his isolation being described as “dark, deathlike” solitude is important. Frankenstein actively removed himself from society to deal with his guilt, but without his family or others, he struggles alone without any form of support, creating self-perpetuating cycles of guilt and grief.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. 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.”

    — Jane, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Readers should note how, from a romantic point of view, just how very serious all of this is.  Specifically for a romantic, "the beauty of the earth" should be able to cure all evils.  However, Victor has created something so very unnatural, that even nature cannot heal him.  A further slap in the face is that "friendship" nor the "beauty of ... heaven" could console Victor either.  No one could ever be said to be in a more serious predicament.

    — Noelle Thompson
  11. Note how grief (albeit bereft of guilt such as Victor is experiencing) has changed Elizabeth.

    — Noelle Thompson
  12. In regards to the character of Elizabeth Frankenstein here, again we have a perfect example of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony, of course, is when a particular character isn't "in the know" about particular information that the reader knows.  In this case, Elizabeth has no idea that Victor has created a creature that carried out such horrible acts.

    — Noelle Thompson
  13. In regards to the character of Alphonse Frankenstein in this instance, this is a perfect example of dramatic irony (when a character is not privy to the same information to which the reader is privy).  Here Alphonse has no idea that Victor has created a creature that has (at least indirectly) disposed of little William and Justine. 

    — Noelle Thompson
  14. Obviously, readers should notice that there is no escape from serious guilt. This entire chapter is devoted to Victor’s guilt and, some say, entrance into mental illness as a result of the torture inflicted on Victor by that guilt. Add some depression to the mix and Victor attempts to “escape” both physically and emotionally. This doesn’t work, however. (It never works, mind you.) Victor remains as tortured as before. Even when one is indirectly the cause of a death (or two), one must face the consequences. Note how Alphonse, Victor’s own father, notices that there is something amiss in this severe depression. Why? This depression and further mental illness doesn’t come only from grief, it comes from implication of guilt. This, of course, is a wonderful example of dramatic irony (where a character doesn’t have as much information as the reader has). Alphonse Frankenstein has no idea (as we do) that Victor has created the monster that has murdered both his brother and condemned Elizabeth’s loyal servant. Dramatic irony could also be used to describe the situation with Elizabeth; however, instead it’s important for the reader to realize the somewhat subtle differences between Elizabeth’s demeanor (and the change in Elizabeth) and Victor’s demeanor (and the change is Victor). The former is the result of severe grief due to two people close to her. The latter is the result of guilt (mixed with grief as well). It is also important to recognize another significant characteristic of Romantic literature here in that Victor flies to nature in order to try to regain his sanity and his comfort. Nature, to the true romantic writer, is exactly the place to go in order to do that. Unfortunately, Victor’s “crimes” are a bit too hefty even for nature to cure. Why? Because Victor created something so very “unnatural” that even nature (further, even the sublime beauty of the incredible European Alps) can’t heal his mind.

    — Noelle Thompson
  15. Victor continues in torment after seeing Justine be convicted, condemned, and killed. Victor is no longer able to sleep due to the thoughts that are haunting him in regards to his part in these terrible deaths (namely, that he is the one that created the creature and brought it to life). Victor’s dad notices this and thinks that his son is taking this far too hard. Elizabeth feels the same way. (Neither Alphonse nor Elizabeth, however, know the truth about the creature, of course.) Elizabeth is upset as well, but the change in her is a result of both injustice and severe grief. Victor tries desperately to free himself of this torturous guilt. First, he tries boating on Lake Geneva. What was once a renewing and rejuvenating experience does nothing to stop Victor’s torture of the mind or his depression. Next, Victor tries a trip to the valley region (in Chamounix). Here, Victor hopes to get the rest and rejuvenation he needs. Still, we end the chapter with Victor collapsing under the weight of his guilt and crying, even after being under the care of mother nature. At least Victor is able to achieve a fretful sleep in the valley.

    — Noelle Thompson