Chapter V

IT WAS ON a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

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? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured; and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain: I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed: when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited; where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.

Oh! no mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.

I passed the night wretchedly. Sometimes my pulse beat so quickly and hardly that I felt the palpitation of every artery; at others, I nearly sank to the ground through languor and extreme weakness. Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!

Morning, dismal and wet, at length dawned, and discovered to my sleepless and aching eyes the church of Ingolstadt, its white steeple and clock, which indicated the sixth hour. The porter opened the gates of the court, which had that night been my asylum, and I issued into the streets, pacing them with quick steps, as if I sought to avoid the wretch whom I feared every turning of the street would present to my view. I did not dare return to the apartment which I inhabited, but felt impelled to hurry on, although drenched by the rain which poured from a black and comfortless sky.

I continued walking in this manner for some time, endeavouring by bodily exercise, to ease the load that weighed upon my mind. I traversed the streets, without any clear conception of where I was, or what I was doing. My heart palpitated in the sickness of fear; and I hurried on with irregular steps, not daring to look about me:—

Continuing thus, I came at length opposite to the inn at which the various diligences and carriages usually stopped. Here I paused, I knew not why; but I remained some minutes with my eyes fixed on a coach that was coming towards me from the other end of the street. As it drew nearer, I observed that it was the Swiss diligence: it stopped just where I was standing, and, on the door being opened, I perceived Henry Clerval, who, on seeing me, instantly sprung out. “My dear Frankenstein,” exclaimed he, “how glad I am to see you! how fortunate that you should be here at the very moment of my alighting!”

Nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval; his presence brought back to my thoughts my father, Elizabeth, and all those scenes of home so dear to my recollection. I grasped his hand, and in a moment forgot my horror and misfortune; I felt suddenly, and for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy. I welcomed my friend, therefore, in the most cordial manner, and we walked towards my college. Clerval continued talking for some time about our mutual friends, and his own good fortune in being permitted to come to Ingolstadt. “You may easily believe,” said he, “how great was the difficulty to persuade my father that all necessary knowledge was not comprised in the noble art of bookkeeping; and, indeed, I believe I left him incredulous to the last, for his constant answer to my unwearied entreaties was the same as that of the Dutch schoolmaster in the Vicar of Wakefield:—‘I have ten thousand florins a year without Greek, I eat heartily without Greek.’ But his affection for me at length overcame his dislike of learning, and he has permitted me to undertake a voyage of discovery to the land of knowledge.”

“It gives me the greatest delight to see you; but tell me how you left my father, brothers, and Elizabeth.”

“Very well, and very happy, only a little uneasy that they hear from you so seldom. By the by, I mean to lecture you a little upon their account myself.—But, my dear Frankenstein,” continued he, stopping short and gazing full in my face, “I did not before remark how very ill you appear; so thin and pale; you look as if you had been watching for several nights.”

“You have guessed right; I have lately been so deeply engaged in one occupation that I have not allowed myself sufficient rest, as you see: but I hope, I sincerely hope, that all these employments are now at an end, and that I am at length free.”

I trembled excessively; I could not endure to think of, and far less to allude to, the occurrences of the preceding night. I walked with a quick pace, and we soon arrived at my college. I then reflected, and the thought made me shiver, that the creature whom I had left in my apartment might still be there, alive, and walking about. I dreaded to behold this monster; but I feared still more that Henry should see him. Entreating him, therefore, to remain a few minutes at the bottom of the stairs, I darted up towards my own room. My hand was already on the lock of the door before I recollected myself. I then paused; and a cold shivering came over me. I threw the door forcibly open, as children are accustomed to do when they expect a spectre to stand in waiting for them on the other side; but nothing appeared. I stepped fearfully in: the apartment was empty; and my bedroom was also freed from its hideous guest. I could hardly believe that so great a good fortune could have befallen me; but when I became assured that my enemy had indeed fled, I clapped my hands for joy, and ran down to Clerval.

We ascended into my room, and the servant presently brought breakfast; but I was unable to contain myself. It was not joy only that possessed me; I felt my flesh tingle with excess of sensitiveness, and my pulse beat rapidly. I was unable to remain for a single instant in the same place; I jumped over the chairs, clapped my hands, and laughed aloud. Clerval at first attributed my unusual spirits to joy on his arrival; but when he observed me more attentively he saw a wildness in my eyes for which he could not account; and my loud, unrestrained, heartless laughter, frightened and astonished him.

“My dear Victor,” cried he, “what, for God's sake, is the matter? Do not laugh in that manner. How ill you are! What is the cause of all this?”

“Do not ask me,” cried I, putting my hands before my eyes, for I thought I saw the dreaded spectre glide into the room; “he can tell.—Oh, save me! save me!” I imagined that the monster seized me; I struggled furiously, and fell down in a fit.

Poor Clerval! what must have been his feelings? A meeting, which he anticipated with such joy, so strangely turned to bitterness. But I was not the witness of his grief; for I was lifeless, and did not recover my senses for a long, long time.

This was the commencement of a nervous fever which confined me for several months. During all that time Henry was my only nurse. I afterwards learned that, knowing my father's advanced age, and unfitness for so long a journey, and how wretched my sickness would make Elizabeth, he spared them this grief by concealing the extent of my disorder. He knew that I could not have a more kind and attentive nurse than himself; and, firm in the hope he felt of my recovery, he did not doubt that, instead of doing harm, he performed the kindest action that he could towards them.

But I was in reality very ill; and surely nothing but the unbounded and unremitting attentions of my friend could have restored me to life. The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him. Doubtless my words surprised Henry: he at first believed them to be the wanderings of my disturbed imagination; but the pertinacity with which I continually recurred to the same subject, persuaded him that my disorder indeed owed its origin to some uncommon and terrible event.

By very slow degrees, and with frequent relapses that alarmed and grieved my friend, I recovered. I remember the first time I became capable of observing outward objects with any kind of pleasure, I perceived that the fallen leaves had disappeared, and that the young buds were shooting forth from the trees that shaded my window. It was a divine spring; and the season contributed greatly to my convalescence. I felt also sentiments of joy and affection revive in my bosom; my gloom disappeared, and in a short time I became as cheerful as before I was attacked by the fatal passion.

“Dearest Clerval,” exclaimed I, “how kind, how very good you are to me. This whole winter, instead of being spent in study, as you promised yourself, has been consumed in my sick room. How shall I ever repay you? I feel the greatest remorse for the disappointment of which I have been the occasion; but you will forgive me.”

“You will repay me entirely, if you do not discompose yourself, but get well as fast as you can; and since you appear in such good spirits, I may speak to you on one subject, may I not?”

I trembled. One subject! what could it be? Could he allude to an object on whom I dared not even think?

“Compose yourself,” said Clerval, who observed my change of colour, “I will not mention it, if it agitates you; but your father and cousin would be very happy if they received a letter from you in your own handwriting. They hardly know how ill you have been, and are uneasy at your long silence.”

“Is that all, my dear Henry? How could you suppose that my first thought would not fly towards those dear, dear friends whom I love, and who are so deserving of my love.”

“If this is your present temper, my friend, you will perhaps be glad to see a letter that has been lying here some days for you; it is from your cousin, I believe.”

“Like one who, on a lonely road,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And, having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”

Coleridge's Ancient Mariner.

Footnotes

  1. In an intriguing thematic reversal, Frankenstein is rendered “lifeless” as a result of having given life to his creature. After the creature is animated, Frankenstein experiences a loss, a fall from wholeness and a resulting need for redemption. This fall resembles the Edenic fall from grace depicted in the Book of Genesis. In his studies and efforts to construct the creature, Frankenstein was driven by an idealized vision. The reality of his efforts proves to be far darker and more complex than he had imagined. This arc from purity into complication, from idealism into reality, from light into darkness, is the archetype of the fall.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Clerval’s father’s stance toward life is antithetical to that Frankenstein’s. While Frankenstein possesses an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Clerval’s father is pragmatic in his outlook, figuring that knowledge is only useful in its capacity to put food on the table. Henry Clerval himself is somewhere between the two: he is scholarly enough to be interested in university study, but is not nearly as intellectually obsessed as Frankenstein.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Frankenstein alludes to the Italian Renaissance-era poet Dante Alighieri. In his three-book epic, the Divine Comedy, Dante writes of a journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven. Frankenstein is specifically alluding to Inferno, the first book of the epic, in which Dante describes the cast of demonic figures populating hell — including all manner of monster, beast and devil.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. In his disturbed sleep, Frankenstein has a deeply troubling and perplexing dream. Elizabeth, his beloved cousin, transforms into the image of his own mother who, in turn, proves to be dead in his arms. One apparent thematic connection between the dream and the recent developments in the story can be found in the loss of innocence. Just as Frankenstein’s illusions regarding his powers of creation are shattered, his dream offers a similarly illusion-shattering series of images. Casting a psychoanalytic gaze on the dream, Victor’s love for Elizabeth appears to be intertwined with his love for his own mother. There is a similarly devastating realization of inevitable death.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Frankenstein mistakenly believes that he can escape the horror of his creation through sleep. For Frankenstein, going to bed is akin to going into denial. This reaction is similar to an episode in Dostoyevsky’s 1866 novel Crime and Punishment. After committing a murder he had justified to himself, Raskolnikov, the novel’s protagonist, attempts to escape his feelings of guilt through sleep. For both Raskolnikov and Frankenstein, sleep offers no solace. Guilt proves to be a recurrent theme throughout the rest of Frankenstein.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Shelley is referring to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s [“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”] (https://www.owleyes.org/text/rime-ancient-mariner) to depict Victor’s situation and feelings. Figuratively, Victor walks on a “lonely road” in the story, since he is the only one who knows about his own wrongful act; he is alone in fearing and dreading the consequences of his actions. At the same time, it is too late for Victor to turn back or to fix the messy situation because his creation, “a frightful fiend” is hunting him down.

    — Jane, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Upon seeing Victor, the creature attempts to communicate verbally and physically. It is important to note that he is described very much like a human baby that wants his or her parent, producing inarticulate sounds and smiling, which is universal human baby behavior.

    — Jane, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Now for Some Words of Interpretation. The Romantic ideas that “unnatural” things are never good continue in this chapter. We can see those more gothic elements in the creature’s grotesque features, the mood inside Victor’s lab, and even Victor’s eerie feelings of being followed by the creature. It is very important to notice the contrast between the beautiful and the grotesque here, even within the creature’s features themselves. For example, even though the creature has all parts of the body perfectly proportioned, black lustrous hair and white gleaming teeth (a few things that might be seen as gorgeous on a living human), they are immediately juxtaposed by his disgusting features of yellow skin and sallow eyes and shriveled face and giant stature, etc (a few things, of course, that would be regarded as completely disgusting on a living human). Another important thing to note about this chapter is how the appearance of Clerval, an old friend, is very important to Victor’s journey back to reality and out of the severely obsessed state. It is also really interesting to see the correlation between Coleridge’s poem and Shelley’s novel exquisitely provided in the direct reference at the end of this chapter. Not only is this quotation a “shout out” to Coleridge (on of Shelley’s dad’s good friends), but it is also a perfect component of Romanticism. The idea of something unnatural following behind someone, so much so that the person does not want to look back, fits perfectly into Victor’s situation. For a further explanation and description of plot, please see my first note that begins with the following phrase: “First, let us expound upon the plot of this particular chapter.”

    — Noelle Thompson
  10. First, let us expound upon the plot of this particular chapter. It is November when Victor finally succeeds in making his disgusting creation come to life. Victor recounts a vivid description of the creature showing the contrast of some “beautiful” features (such as black hair and white teeth) with some gruesome ones (such as yellowed skin, shriveled face, etc). The creature is larger than a normal human, standing eight feet tall. In short, Victor is excited and shocked and scared, so much so that he runs away and “escapes” first to the downstairs for the night and then out into the streets the next day. The more he dreams and thinks about his creation, the more fearful Victor is upon meeting him again. While he wanders the roads of Germany, he comes upon Clerval, his friend from home. Clerval immediately removes Victor from his state of shock and obsession and brings thoughts of home and family and joy. Of course, Clerval wants to see where Victor has been spending all of his time at university, and Victor becomes afraid that Clerval might come upon the horrible creature. Victor tries hard to discount his recent “success” and tries to pretend it hasn’t happened; however, it isn’t long before it comes out in the form of uncontrollable laughter and then a fit of exhaustion. Clerval is so concerned for Victor that Clerval nurses Victor back to health.For further explanation, please see my note at the end of this book beginning with the following phrase: "Now for some words of interpretation." 

    — Noelle Thompson
  11. Here, instead of an allusion, we see a direct reference to Shelley's contemporary, and her dad's friend:  Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner (by Coleridge) and Frankenstein (by Shelley) are both Romantic pieces that delve into the grotesque.  How appropriate it is to include this quote.  Just as the character in Coleridge's Ryme simply looks straight ahead in order to not see the supernatural behind him, so does the character in Shelley's Frankenstein try to look straight ahead in order not to see "the creature" behind him.

    — Noelle Thompson
  12. So, with Clerval's help (note the importance of the reintroduction of a natural friendship), Victor is nursed back to health and, eventually, must deal with the unnatural being he has formerly created.

    — Noelle Thompson
  13. Unable to accept the consequences of his own grotesque creation and success of study, Victor is simply happy that the creature is no longer in his room so he does not have to share his disgusting success with Clerval.  How quickly denial sets in with something so horrible.  Unfortunately, denial leads to unrestrained and unnatural laughter and even hallucination, and Clerval begins to truly worry about his friend. 

    — Noelle Thompson
  14. The meeting of Victor with Clerval jars Victor out of his obsessive daze.  He is now able to remember home and family and joy.  He almost forgets the horror he has created.  We learn here that Clerval finally decides to join Victor at university.  Unfortunately, there is something quite unnatural that needs to be resolved before the two friends can truly enjoy each other.

    — Noelle Thompson
  15. In the morning, Victor takes his "escape" further and begins wandering the streets, still exhausted by months and months of obsessive study and creation.

    — Noelle Thompson
  16. Victor cannot accept the grotesque reality of his creation and leaves the creature alone.  Note his use of the word "escape" here.  At this point, he cannot conceive of what the creature will do, but Victor assumes that the creature will seek him out:  an interesting, and ironically selfish assumption.

    — Noelle Thompson
  17. As death here comes to life, Victor is disgusted by his own creation.  Further, the first time he beholds his "living" creation, he has just awoken from one of his haunted dreams.  There is no doubt how Victor will next react.  Please see my next note.

    — Noelle Thompson
  18. Due to Victor's extreme obsession and declining health due to his pursuits, he has allowed himself to enter a state of exhaustion.  Even his dreams are haunted, as the reader can see here.

    — Noelle Thompson
  19. The beauty of this description revolves around Shelley's ability to contrast "beautiful" features with "ghastly" features.  Even though the form is perfectly proportioned, the form has black flowing hair, the form  has white teeth, ... those things simply contrast with the skin being "shrivelled" and teh skin being "yellow" and the sockets of his eyes being "dun."  The creature is disgusting.  It is life made of death.

    — Noelle Thompson