Chapter X

I SPENT THE following day roaming through the valley. I stood beside the sources of the Arveiron, which take their rise in a glacier, that with slow pace is advancing down from the summit of the hills, to barricade the valley. The abrupt sides of vast mountains were before me; the icy wall of the glacier overhung me; a few shattered pines were scattered around; and the solemn silence of this glorious presence-chamber of imperial Nature was broken only by the brawling waves, or the fall of some vast fragment, the thunder sound of the avalanche, or the cracking reverberated along the mountains of the accumulated ice, which, through the silent working of immutable laws, was ever and anon rent and torn, as if it had been but a plaything in their hands. These sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving. They elevated me from all littleness of feeling; and although they did not remove my grief, they subdued and tranquillised it. In some degree, also, they diverted my mind from the thoughts over which it had brooded for the last month. I retired to rest at night; my slumbers, as it were, waited on and ministered to by the assemblance of grand shapes which I had contemplated during the day. They congregated round me; the unstained snowy mountain-top, the glittering pinnacle, the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine; the eagle, soaring amidst the clouds—they all gathered round me and bade me be at peace.

Where had they fled when the next morning I awoke? All of soul-inspiriting fled with sleep, and dark melancholy clouded every thought. The rain was pouring in torrents, and thick mists hid the summits of the mountains, so that I even saw not the faces of those mighty friends. Still I would penetrate their misty veil, and seek them in their cloudy retreats. What were rain and storm to me? My mule was brought to the door, and I resolved to ascend to the summit of Montanvert. I remembered the effect that the view of the tremendous and ever-moving glacier had produced upon my mind when I first saw it. It had then filled me with a sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy. 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. I determined to go without a guide, for I was well acquainted with the path, and the presence of another would destroy the solitary grandeur of the scene.

The ascent is precipitous, but the path is cut into continual and short windings, which enable you to surmount the perpendicularity of the mountain. It is a scene terrifically desolate. In a thousand spots the traces of the winter avalanche may be perceived, where trees lie broken and strewed on the ground; some entirely destroyed, others bent, leaning upon the jutting rocks of the mountain, or transversely upon other trees. The path, as you ascend higher, is intersected by ravines of snow, down which stones continually roll from above; one of them is particularly dangerous, as the slightest sound, such as even speaking in a loud voice, produces a concussion of air sufficient to draw destruction upon the head of the speaker. The pines are not tall or luxuriant, but they are sombre, and add an air of severity to the scene. I looked on the valley beneath; vast mists were rising from the rivers which ran through it, and curling in thick wreaths around the opposite mountains, whose summits were hid in the uniform clouds, while rain poured from the dark sky, and added to the melancholy impression I received from the objects around me. Alas! why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings. If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst, and desire, we might be nearly free; but now we are moved by every wind that blows, and a chance word or scene that that word may convey to us.

It was nearly noon when I arrived at the top of the ascent. For some time I sat upon the rock that overlooks the sea of ice. A mist covered both that and the surrounding mountains. Presently a breeze dissipated the cloud, and I descended upon the glacier. The surface is very uneven, rising like the waves of a troubled sea, descending low, and interspersed by rifts that sink deep. The field of ice is almost a league in width, but I spent nearly two hours in crossing it. The opposite mountain is a bare perpendicular rock. From the side where I now stood Montanvert was exactly opposite, at the distance of a league; and above it rose Mont Blanc, in awful majesty. I remained in a recess of the rock, gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and glittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy; I exclaimed—“Wandering spirits, if indeed ye wander, and do not rest in your narrow beds, allow me this faint happiness, or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life.”

As I said this, I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution; his stature, also, as he approached, seemed to exceed that of man. I was troubled: a mist came over my eyes, and I felt a faintness seize me; but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of the mountains. I perceived, as the shape came nearer (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach, and then close with him in mortal combat. He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. But I scarcely observed this; rage and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt.

“Devil,” I exclaimed, “do you dare approach me? and do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! or rather, stay, that I may trample you to dust! and, oh! that I could, with the extinction of your miserable existence, restore those victims whom you have so diabolically murdered!”

“I expected this reception,” said the dæmon. “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.”

“Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation; come on, then, that I may extinguish the spark which I so negligently bestowed.”

My rage was without bounds; I sprang on him, impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another.

He easily eluded me and said,

“Be calm! I entreat you to hear me, before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine; my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

“Begone! I will not hear you. There can be no community between you and me; we are enemies. Begone, or let us try our strength in a fight, in which one must fall.”

“How can I move thee? Will no entreaties cause thee to turn a favourable eye upon thy creature, who implores thy goodness and compassion? Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity: but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow-creatures, who owe me nothing? they spurn and hate me. The desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge. I have wandered here many days; the caves of ice, which I only do not fear, are a dwelling to me, and the only one which man does not grudge. These bleak skies I hail, for they are kinder to me than your fellow-beings. If the multitude of mankind knew of my existence, they would do as you do, and arm themselves for my destruction. Shall I not then hate them who abhor me? I will keep no terms with my enemies. I am miserable, and they shall share my wretchedness. Yet it is in your power to recompense me, and deliver them from an evil which it only remains for you to make so great that not only you and your family, but thousands of others, shall be swallowed up in the whirlwinds of its rage. Let your compassion be moved, and do not disdain me. Listen to my tale: when you have heard that, abandon or commiserate me, as you shall judge that I deserve. But hear me. The guilty are allowed, by human laws, bloody as they are, to speak in their own defence before they are condemned. Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man! Yet I ask you not to spare me: listen to me; and then, if you can, and if you will, destroy the work of your hands.”

“Why do you call to my remembrance,” I rejoined, “circumstances, of which I shudder to reflect, that I have been the miserable origin and author? Cursed be the day, abhorred devil, in which you first saw light! Cursed (although I curse myself) be the hands that formed you! You have made me wretched beyond expression. You have left me no power to consider whether I am just to you or not. Begone! relieve me from the sight of your detested form.”

“Thus I relieve thee, my creator,” he said, and placed his hated hands before my eyes, which I flung from me with violence; “thus I take from thee a sight which you abhor. Still thou canst listen to me, and grant me thy compassion. By the virtues that I once possessed, I demand this from you. Hear my tale; it is long and strange, and the temperature of this place is not fitting to your fine sensations; come to the hut upon the mountain. The sun is yet high in the heavens; before it descends to hide itself behind your snowy precipices and illuminate another world, you will have heard my story, and can decide. On you it rests whether I quit forever the neighbourhood of man, and lead a harmless life, or become the scourge of your fellow-creatures, and the author of your own speedy ruin.”

As he said this, he led the way across the ice: I followed. My heart was full, and I did not answer him; but as I proceeded, I weighed the various arguments that he had used, and determined at least to listen to his tale. I was partly urged by curiosity, and compassion confirmed my resolution. I had hitherto supposed him to be the murderer of my brother, and I eagerly sought a confirmation or denial of this opinion. For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness. These motives urged me to comply with his demand. We crossed the ice, therefore, and ascended the opposite rock. The air was cold, and the rain again began to descend: we entered the hut, the fiend with an air of exultation, I with a heavy heart and depressed spirits. But I consented to listen; and, seating myself by the fire which my odious companion had lighted, he thus began his tale.

“We rest; a dream has power to poison sleep.

We rise; one wandering thought pollutes the day.

We feel, conceive, or reason; laugh or weep,

Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away;

It is the same: for, be it joy or sorrow,

The path of its departure still is free.

Man's yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;

Nought may endure but mutability!”

Footnotes

  1. These lines represent the second half of Percy Shelley’s poem “Mutability,” which was first published in 1816, the year Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. The content of the poem does not appear to have a direct correlation with the developments of the story at this point. That being said, it is moving to hear the creature deliver a beautifully constructed and wise reflection on the nature of human existence. The central idea of the poem is that the only constant in life is inconstancy. This idea that the temperament of the soul is always changing and fleeting is pertinent to Frankenstein, whose restless reflections have carried him through extreme emotional highs and lows.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. In a sudden moment of self-awareness, Frankenstein is forced to acknowledge that in some sense the curses he casts at the monster are curses against himself. The hatred Frankenstein feels for the creature can be seen as a projection of his deep guilt for having created it. Frankenstein remains unable to take full responsibility for his creation.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The creature’s request is perhaps surprising. He is, as he admits, lonely and miserable, subject to the hatred of humanity, including his creator. What the creature asks of Frankenstein is primarily understanding. He wants his story to be heard before he is destroyed. This desire for understanding is deeply human, rendering the creature even more pitiable.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The creature reaches for biblical references to understand his relationship to Frankenstein as well as his place in the world. He recognizes that he is not related to Frankenstein in the way that Adam was related to the Christian God. Whereas Adam had to sin in order to be driven into suffering, the creature was cast into suffering from the moment of his introduction to the world. The creature equates such a fate to that of “the fallen angel,” Lucifer, whom he believes was cast out of grace “for no misdeed.” While the creature is mistaken in that, by most accounts, fallen angels were seen as guilty of pride, he is right to question why he was cast out of grace so quickly. The fall from grace is an archetypal pattern that occurs for most of the characters in the novel.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Despite the creature’s misery and the painful state of his being, he nonetheless feels an inherent sense of indebtedness towards Frankenstein. The creature’s sense that Frankenstein is his “natural lord and king” is a reflection of the English conception of divine-right monarchy. Whatever the creature’s disappointment or anger may be, he intuitively senses an unshakable allegiance to Frankenstein.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Shelley’s description of the landscape of the Swiss Alps is geographically and geologically accurate. Considering that Shelley was in Switzerland at the time she wrote Frankenstein and even traversed some of the slopes around Mont Blanc, her descriptions of the setting are based on first-hand research. Montanvert, the mountain on which the action of Chapter X is set, is today known as Mer de Glace, or “sea of ice”—the exact words Shelley uses to describe its terrain.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Frankenstein laments the mixed blessing of human consciousness. Our superior sensibilities, as Frankenstein puts it, offer us a richer and more complex experience of the world. There are, of course, problems our consciousness presents—the knowledge of death, the capacity for guilt, and the search for meaning—which cause us to suffer and which make humans less “necessary beings” than animals. The burden of this spark of consciousness becomes an important theme as the novel progresses.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This sentence is an excellent example of the pathetic fallacy. Throughout Chapter X, Frankenstein’s inner state blends with and appears to influence his natural surroundings. When he awakens in a depression, it is expressed through meteorological metaphor: “dark melancholy clouded every thought.” It is no wonder that the weather proves to be as stormy outside his soul as it is inside.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Frankenstein’s encounter with the dramatic Swiss landscape is psychological: what he sees is dependent on his mood. When he experiences torment, the landscape appears troubled. In this passage, however, the figures of the landscape—the mountain-top and the eagle—take on a pure, idealized form as beacons of consolation during his peaceful sleep.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Frankenstein’s encounter with the natural world is defined by two competing thought processes. On one hand, Frankenstein is guided by his logical, scientifically trained mind in search of “immutable laws.” In his survey of the natural world, he wants to understand the abstract principles by which it functions. On the other hand, Frankenstein wants to experience the sublime, to be “elevated,” and to feel his grief “subdued and tranquillised.” He is torn, as his impulses are both rational and romantic.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The creature’s string of questions reflect his desperation for Frankenstein’s empathy and acceptance; the creature implores, or begs, for Frankenstein’s compassion. Moreover, the creature emphasizes how it was humanity’s cruel mistreatment that has caused his soul to no longer “[glow] with love,” and instead, to cause him to feel “miserably alone.” Not only has the creature physically secluded himself from humanity, referring to the “desert mountains and dreary glaciers” as his “refuge,” but he has also mentally secluded himself from humanity, calling humans “Frankenstein’s fellow creatures.”

    — Jane, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. In continuation of the creature's command of the language of English is the way he begins his own tale of woe:  with a superb specimen of poetry.  Note that the poetry the creature creates has both rhythm and meter, not a haphazard creation.  Again, the creature's intellect cannot be underestimated at this point in the novel.

    — Noelle Thompson
  14. The reader should note that Victor finally considers it his "duty" to listen to the creature's tale. 

    — Noelle Thompson
  15. Immediately, the reader should notice the creature's command of the English language (not at all expected from a creature created in such a grotesque manner).  Thus begins Shelley's Romantic attempt to make the creature to be a sympathetic character instead of an evil one.

    — Noelle Thompson
  16. Here, Victor beholds the creature.  This sentence should create quite a bit of suspense in the reader as a result.  (Again, Shelley proves herself to be a literary master yet again, this time in regards to the element of suspense.)

    — Noelle Thompson
  17. Very significant here (as in many other parts of this novel) that it is a storm that proclaims the coming of the creature.  Again, Shelley proves herself to be a master of the art of foreshadowing.

    — Noelle Thompson
  18. It is important for the reader to note here that these scenes, both beautiful and natural, are meant to heal (as they always are in the midst of Romantic literature).  Note, however, that they "afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving." The stress is on the last part of the statement:  "that I was capable of receiving."  Why?  Because Victor has created a thing so unnatural, so preternatural, so supernatural, that even nature cannot heal the character of Victor. 

    — Noelle Thompson
  19. Now for Some Words of Interpretation. Again we see the prominence of Romanticism here in that Victor goes into nature (and this time to a glacier) in order to refresh and to renew himself. Of course, after creating something so unnatural as the creature, Victor cannot be refreshed even by the balms of mother nature. If the reader didn’t notice this already, then Shelley helps us yet again by writing about a thunderstorm at the beginning of the glacier trip. Again, electricity (especially in regards to a thunderstorm) forecasts the creature. At first glance, Victor spies the creature far off in the distance and such anger rages within him that he feels he can “close with him in mortal combat.” When the two actually meet, Victor (interestingly enough) bids the creature to either “begone” or to stay so that Victor can “trample [him] to death.” This eNotes educator finds it interesting that Victor does choose ask the creature to simply depart, which, if it actually happened, would find Victor in the same state of guilt as a few moments ago. Victor’s second choice is to end the life of the creature. It should also astonish the reader that Victor’s creature has such a good command of the English language. Note the following statement: “I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.” Note also the accusation that it is Victor who “drivest” the creature “from joy.” Hidden within the creature’s statement is also an allusion to the bible as well as an allusion to Milton. The story of Adam and his fall from grace in the bible’s first book of Genesis should be quite familiar with readers of today as well as readers during the Romantic time period. In regards to the term “fallen angel,” this is an indirect reference to Milton’s character of Satan in his Paradise Lost. 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
  20. First, let us expound upon the plot of this particular chapter. Continuing his adventures in nature in order to try and refresh his soul and to escape from his horrible guilt, Victor next takes a tour of the Mount Montanvert glacier which begins, of course, with a big storm (another foreshadowing of what is to come). It is here that Victor finally meets the creature. At this point, Victor wants nothing more than to murder the creature as the creature murdered (at least indirectly) two people closest to Victor. Luckily for the creature, he is good at convincing Victor to stay and listen to the events that led the creature to this point. The creature then takes Victor to his place of residence (which is a ragged hut on a mountain). At the end of the chapter, the creature prepares to tell his story to Victor. In fact, the creature’s story begins with a worthy poem. 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