Chapter XV

“SUCH WAS THE history of my beloved cottagers. It impressed me deeply. I learned, from the views of social life which it developed, to admire their virtues, and to deprecate the vices of mankind.

“As yet I looked upon crime as a distant evil; benevolence and generosity were ever present before me, inciting within me a desire to become an actor in the busy scene where so many admirable qualities were called forth and displayed. But, in giving an account of the progress of my intellect, I must not omit a circumstance which occurred in the beginning of the month of August of the same year.

“One night, during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood, where I collected my own food, and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau, containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize, and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories, whilst my friends were employed in their ordinary occupations.

“I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors, and with the wants which were for ever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sunk deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.

“As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathised with, and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none. ‘The path of my departure was free;’ and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

“The volume of Plutarch's Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter's imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns, and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature; but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations.

“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from, beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.

“Another circumstance strengthened and confirmed these feelings. Soon after my arrival in the hovel, I discovered some papers in the pocket of the dress which I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had neglected them; but now that I was able to decipher the characters in which they were written, I began to study them with diligence. It was your journal of the four months that preceded my creation. You minutely described in these papers every step you took in the progress of your work; this history was mingled with accounts of domestic occurrences. You, doubtless, recollect these papers. Here they are. Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible. I sickened as I read. ‘Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.’

“These were the reflections of my hours of despondency and solitude; but when I contemplated the virtues of the cottagers, their amiable and benevolent dispositions, I persuaded myself that when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues, they would compassionate me, and overlook my personal deformity. Could they turn from their door one, however monstrous, who solicited their compassion and friendship? I resolved, at least, not to despair, but in every way to fit myself for an interview with them which would decide my fate. I postponed this attempt for some months longer; for the importance attached to its success inspired me with a dread lest I should fail. Besides, I found that my understanding improved so much with every day's experience that I was unwilling to commence this undertaking until a few more months should have added to my sagacity.

“Several changes, in the meantime, took place in the cottage. The presence of Safie diffused happiness among its inhabitants; and I also found that a greater degree of plenty reigned there. Felix and Agatha spent more time in amusement and conversation, and were assisted in their labours by servants. They did not appear rich, but they were contented and happy; their feelings were serene and peaceful, while mine became every day more tumultuous. Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was. I cherished hope, it is true; but it vanished when I beheld my person reflected in water, or my shadow in the moonshine, even as that frail image and that inconstant shade.

“I endeavoured to crush these fears, and to fortify myself for the trial which in a few months I resolved to undergo; and sometimes I allowed my thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathising with my feelings, and cheering my gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation. But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows, nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me: and, in the bitterness of my heart, I cursed him.

“Autumn passed thus. I saw, with surprise and grief, the leaves decay and fall, and nature again assume the barren and bleak appearance it had worn when I first beheld the woods and the lovely moon. Yet I did not heed the bleakness of the weather; I was better fitted by my conformation for the endurance of cold than heat. But my chief delights were the sight of the flowers, the birds, and all the gay apparel of summer; when those deserted me, I turned with more attention towards the cottagers. Their happiness was not decreased by the absence of summer. They loved, and sympathised with one another; and their joys, depending on each other, were not interrupted by the casualties that took place around them. The more I saw of them, the greater became my desire to claim their protection and kindness; my heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures: to see their sweet looks directed towards me with affection was the utmost limit of my ambition. I dared not think that they would turn them from me with disdain and horror. The poor that stopped at their door were never driven away. I asked, it is true, for greater treasures than a little food or rest: I required kindness and sympathy; but I did not believe myself utterly unworthy of it.

“The winter advanced, and an entire revolution of the seasons had taken place since I awoke into life. My attention, at this time, was solely directed towards my plan of introducing myself into the cottage of my protectors. I revolved many projects; but that on which I finally fixed was, to enter the dwelling when the blind old man should be alone. I had sagacity enough to discover that the unnatural hideousness of my person was the chief object of horror with those who had formerly beheld me. My voice, although harsh, had nothing terrible in it; I thought, therefore, that if, in the absence of his children, I could gain the good-will and mediation of the old De Lacey, I might, by his means be tolerated by my younger protectors.

“One day, when the sun shone on the red leaves that strewed the ground, and diffused cheerfulness, although it denied warmth, Safie, Agatha, and Felix departed on a long country walk, and the old man, at his own desire, was left alone in the cottage. When his children had departed, he took up his guitar, and played several mournful but sweet airs, more sweet and mournful than I had ever heard him play before. At first his countenance was illuminated with pleasure, but as he continued, thoughtfulness and sadness succeeded; at length, laying aside the instrument, he sat absorbed in reflection.

“My heart beat quick; this was the hour and moment of trial which would decide my hopes or realise my fears. The servants were gone to a neighbouring fair. All was silent in and around the cottage; it was an excellent opportunity; yet, when I proceeded to execute my plan, my limbs failed me, and I sank to the ground. Again I rose; and, exerting all the firmness of which I was master, removed the planks which I had placed before my hovel to conceal my retreat. The fresh air revived me, and, with renewed determination, I approached the door of their cottage.

“I knocked. ‘Who is there?’ said the old man—‘Come in.’

“I entered; ‘Pardon this intrusion,’ said I: ‘I am a traveller in want of a little rest; you would greatly oblige me if you would allow me to remain a few minutes before the fire.’

“ ‘Enter,’ said De Lacey; ‘and I will try in what manner I can to relieve your wants; but, unfortunately, my children are from home, and, as I am blind, I am afraid I shall find it difficult to procure food for you.’

“ ‘Do not trouble yourself, my kind host, I have food; it is warmth and rest only that I need.’

“I sat down, and a silence ensued. I knew that every minute was precious to me, yet I remained irresolute in what manner to commence the interview; when the old man addressed me—

“ ‘By your language, stranger, I suppose you are my countryman;—are you French?’

“ ‘No; but I was educated by a French family, and understand that language only. I am now going to claim the protection of some friends, whom I sincerely love, and of whose favour I have some hopes.’

“ ‘Are they Germans?’

“ ‘No, they are French. But let us change the subject. I am an unfortunate and deserted creature; I look around, and I have no relation or friend upon earth. These amiable people to whom I go have never seen me, and know little of me. I am full of fears; for if I fail there, I am an outcast in the world for ever.’

“ ‘Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate; but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes; and if these friends are good and amiable, do not despair.’

“ ‘They are kind—they are the most excellent creatures in the world; but, unfortunately, they are prejudiced against me. I have good dispositions; my life has been hitherto harmless, and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster.’

“ ‘That is indeed unfortunate; but if you are really blameless, cannot you undeceive them?’

“ ‘I am about to undertake that task; and it is on that account that I feel so many overwhelming terrors. I tenderly love these friends; I have, unknown to them, been for many months in the habits of daily kindness towards them; but they believe that I wish to injure them, and it is that prejudice which I wish to overcome.’

“ ‘Where do these friends reside?’

“ ‘Near this spot.’

“The old man paused, and then continued, ‘If you will unreservedly confide to me the particulars of your tale, I perhaps may be of use in undeceiving them. I am blind, and cannot judge of your countenance, but there is something in your words which persuades me that you are sincere. I am poor, and an exile; but it will afford me true pleasure to be in any way serviceable to a human creature.’

“ ‘Excellent man! I thank you, and accept your generous offer. You raise me from the dust by this kindness; and I trust that, by your aid, I shall not be driven from the society and sympathy of your fellow-creatures.’

“ ‘Heaven forbid! even if you were really criminal; for that can only drive you to desperation, and not instigate you to virtue. I also am unfortunate; I and my family have been condemned, although innocent: judge, therefore, if I do not feel for your misfortunes.’

“ ‘How can I thank you, my best and only benefactor? From your lips first have I heard the voice of kindness directed towards me; I shall be for ever grateful; and your present humanity assures me of success with those friends whom I am on the point of meeting.’

“ ‘May I know the names and residence of those friends?’

“I paused. This, I thought, was the moment of decision, which was to rob me of, or bestow happiness on me for ever. I struggled vainly for firmness sufficient to answer him, but the effort destroyed all my remaining strength; I sank on the chair, and sobbed aloud. At that moment I heard the steps of my younger protectors. I had not a moment to lose; but seizing the hand of the old man, I cried, ‘Now is the time!—save and protect me! You and your family are the friends whom I seek. Do not you desert me in the hour of trial!’

“ ‘Great God!’ exclaimed the old man, ‘who are you?’

“At that instant the cottage door was opened, and Felix, Safie, and Agatha entered. Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me? Agatha fainted; and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage. Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung: in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained. I saw him on the point of repeating his blow, when, overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage and in the general tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel.

Footnotes

  1. The creature expresses the idea that kindness and human empathy give rise to being. Without human connection, the creature struggles to establish a sense of self, and feels that he is on the level of dust. The fundamental need for connection is one of the novel’s central themes.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. It is precisely his infirmities that allow De Lacey to assist the creature. His blindness allows him to hear the creature’s story without judging his frightening appearance. His old age and exiled status give him a high degree of empathy for those who may be different.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. In this subtle passage, the creature comes to acknowledge another aspect of the fall from grace: the knowledge of mortality. Though he does not make his realization explicit, when the creature witnesses the decay of the leaves he comes to understand the inescapable passage of time and the necessity of death.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The creature imagines that his suffering and loneliness might be alleviated by a romantic partner. At the conclusion of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve cope with their fallen state through companionship. In his fallen state, the creature has no such companion.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The manner in which the creature’s education—his “increase of knowledge”—deepens his anxieties reflects the archetypal fall from grace. In the biblical story of Eden, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of knowledge, triggering their fall from grace and subsequent expulsion from the garden. Knowledge—of one’s nature and mortality, of one’s capacity for both good and evil—is the source of every fall.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. No matter which character the creature compares himself to, he identifies some way in which his own lot in life is inferior. Having likened himself to Satan, he claims that even Satan had “his companions, fellow-devils… but I am solitary.” Indeed, loneliness is one of the creature’s central complaints and sorrows.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. In his reading of Paradise Lost, the creature considers which fallen figure he most nearly resembles. He does not associate with Adam, for Adam was made beautiful and was given a home. The creature then feels a closer association to Lucifer, who is, like him, gripped by envy and bitterness. In many ways, however, Victor Frankenstein is more akin to Lucifer than his creature. While Frankenstein has committed the satanic sin of pride by imitating the divine act of creation, his creature has done no such act. While Victor and the creature would both consider themselves to be wholly different from each other, the question of how each resembles Lucifer provides one way for considering how they are also alike.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. For the creature, Plutarch’s introduction to classical thought serves as a moral and ethical foundation. Whereas as Goethe’s work elucidates the creature’s inner world, the lives of the Greeks and Romans illustrate how he ought to act in the outer world.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The creature is distinctly human in his capacity to question his own existence. The larger questions of meaning he poses are indelible riddles which underlie the human experience. According to many readings of the Book of Genesis, humanity’s self-consciousness—our tendency to ask broad questions of meaning—are a central feature of our fallen state.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The creature receives a different education from each of the three books he reads. Goethe’s novel offers him a sentimental education. The Sorrows of Young Werther was groundbreaking in its time for its use of free indirect discourse, a literary technique by which the narration enters the thoughts and feelings of the characters. This style of writing draws the reader into the subjective inner experience of the character, allowing for moments of powerful emotional recognition. The creature would have found much in common with the protagonist, Werther, who experiences endless loneliness and rejection.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The Sorrows of Werter, usually translated from the German as The Sorrows of Young Werther, is a 1774 novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The novel, which details the romantic yearnings of a young man, was a widely popular work in its time. The writers of the romantic era were particularly moved by the novel, whose influences can be seen in Frankenstein. Like Shelley’s novel, Werther employs an epistolary style and centers on an emotionally turbulent young man.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, often referred to as Plutarch’s Lives, is a non-fiction work written by the Roman historian Plutarch in the early 2nd century CE. The Lives is a series of biographies of important figures from the classical world, including Romulus, Caesar, and Alexander the Great. While Paradise Lost introduced the creature to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Plutarch’s Lives introduced him to the Greco-Roman tradition.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Paradise Lost is an epic poem written by the English poet John Milton in 1667. The central theme of Paradise Lost is the archetypal fall from grace, a mythic pattern which plays out in Frankenstein. In Paradise Lost, Lucifer experiences a fall when God casts him out of heaven for his pride. Lucifer then tempts Adam and Eve into a fall from grace when he appears in Eden. Nearly every important character in Frankenstein undergoes a unique fall.

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

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Interpretation: First let us discuss the fortuitous circumstance that the creature magically comes upon Victor’s suitcase/trunk in the woods while he is foraging for food. Could there be an idea more laden with Romantic elements? The unnatural creature, while foraging in the natural world, comes upon its treasures: the treasures of its creator. Further, the list of books found is quite important. Why? All three works are very important to the formulation of Romantic thought and, in fact, Romanticism as a whole. Let us look at each of the three works in turn and discuss (albeit briefly) how they are Romantic. First, Milton’s Paradise Lost has a long section about Adam’s interest in Even in the Garden of Eden. The creature is entranced, but wonders why he doesn’t have a helpmate like eve. Why is this according to Romanticism? Because Adam and Eve are natural creatures surrounded by the beauty of nature in God’s garden while Victor’s creature is completely unnatural in creation and in being and is surrounded only by his small hut, exiting only under cover of darkness. Second, Goethe’s work called The Sorrows of Werter (and especially in the suicide of the main character) focuses on human emotion. Emotion (sorrow) is even in its very title. The focus on emotion (and not just sorrow and love, mind you, but any emotion) is a large focus of Romantic thought. Thirdly, Plutarch’s work called The Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans does compare the Roman and the Greek, but focuses mainly on the victory of such natural creations of the human body. Both Greeks and Romans are able to move forward in history and make such advances because they took advantage of their own humanity, naturally formed. Finally, Victor’s own notebooks prove the very unnatural way the creature was created. This is the ultimate Romantic truth for the creature: he can never be like everyone else and will always be “alone.” And as is so often the case, the creature should have been careful what it wished for. As soon as the creature is able to find out exactly how it came into existence and something more about its creator, the creature is disgusted at the findings. Why? Because in the grand scheme of Romantic thought, the creature is not a “natural” being. There is also a grand use of dramatic irony when the creature finally approaches the blind De Lacey in the cottage. The creature speaks of his friends and how important they are to it. De Lacey, in his blindness and not seeing the creature, tells the creature to depend on those friends. The reader knows that the blind De Lacey speaks of his own family; however, De Lacey himself has no idea that he is doing so. Of course, the reaction of the De Lacey family members who can see how unnatural a being the creature is, proves to be a very Romantic reaction. Nature contains refreshment and beauty. Anything unnatural is to be avoided. For a further explanation and description of plot, please see my first note that begins with the words “Plot Summary.”

    — Noelle Thompson
  16. Plot Summary: After expressing that the creature has learned much about virtue from learning the history of the De Lacey family, the creature then makes a startling discovery: Victor’s “portmanteau” (which is basically a piece of luggage that has two equal compartments) that has a few books and clothes and notes within it. The creature wastes no time in exploring the books. The books within Victor’s coat are as follows: Paradise Lost (by John Milton), The Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans (by Plutarch), The Sorrows of Werter (by Goethe), and the notes of Victor himself (specifically notes on the creation of the creature). Shelley then describes them each in turn and in the words of the creature. Of course, Goethe’s work (The Sorrows of Werter) contains letters about a very compassionate and tenacious young man who ends up taking his own life due to his continual focus on emotion. Plutarch’s work (The Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans) is a work of comparison and contrast between the virtues of Greek and Roman heroes. John Milton’s work (Paradise Lost) is, of course, an expansion of the book of Genesis where man is created and falls from grace. The main character of Milton’s work being Satan himself. Of course, it is Victor’s own notebooks that fascinate the creature the most. Here the creature learns of his own creation and how very unnatural his creation was. The creature is interested and yet revolted and terrified in learning these things about himself, but glad he has at least learned how he came to be. Meanwhile, the creature notices that the De Lacey family is happier and more content now that Safie has arrived and is settled. Continuing to long for love and affection from the De Lacey family, the creature decides to introduce himself to the blind father when the rest of the family is away. The creature finally reveals to the blind man that the De Lacey family is considered his friends, and the family returns at that moment. When beholding the unnatural being before them, the girls either faint or flee while Felix tries to fight the creature. Even though the creature admits that he could have killed them, the creature decides to simply run sadly from the cottage. For further explanation, please see my note at the end of this book beginning with the word “Interpretation.”

    — Noelle Thompson
  17. Felix, always the hero, was trying to protect the family from an unnatural being such as this.  The creature retreats in sadness, before which he admits that he could have killed them all.

    — Noelle Thompson
  18. Such an interesting turning point of the chapter.  The creature takes a chance and reveals itself to the old man.  Or, at least, reveals that the "friends" the creature speaks of are the De Lacey family.

    — Noelle Thompson
  19. Note the use of dramatic irony  here.  As readers, we know that it is the De Lacey family who the creature speaks about and who the father speaks about here.  The father, however, has no idea he is speaking of his own family.

    — Noelle Thompson
  20. Note that because of the hideous and unnatural looks of the creature's body, he resolves to present himself only to the old man who is blind.

    — Noelle Thompson
  21. Again, the creature's main desire is to be known and loved by the De Lacey family.  Only now, at the end of this paragraph, does the creature admit that "I did not believe myself utterly unworthy of it."  Perhaps it is time that the creature try something else?  That is  precisely what happens.

    — Noelle Thompson
  22. Here the use of the words "you" and "your" are significant.  The reader must remember that the creature is speaking to Victor at a future time.  If the reader hadn't suspected by this point, he or she should now know that it is Victor's suitcase that was found.  It was Victor's coat.  It is Victor's papers containing the creation of the creature.

    — Noelle Thompson
  23. Further, and although the creature doesn't seem to realize it here, Adam was natural and in a state of perfected nature (the Garden of Eden).  The creature (as unnatural as it is) cannot compare.

    — Noelle Thompson
  24. What an interesting Romantic notion that the creature learns to "admire peaceable lawgivers" through Plutarch's book.  Considering the concentration on justice (or shall we say injustice) the creature is relieved to learn that justice does exist in some societies.  Further, the creature learns the feelings and actions of heroes and desires to be one itself.

    — Noelle Thompson
  25. Again, the element of Romantic literature focusing on deep emotional responses.

    — Noelle Thompson
  26. This eNotes educator finds it interesting that the creature finds Victor's very precious treasures in the midst of nature, quite a Romantic concept indeed.

    — Noelle Thompson