Chapter XX

I SAT ONE evening in my laboratory; the sun had set, and the moon was just rising from the sea; I had not sufficient light for my employment, and I remained idle, in a pause of consideration of whether I should leave my labour for the night, or hasten its conclusion by an unremitting attention to it. As I sat, a train of reflection occurred to me, which led me to consider the effects of what I was now doing. Three years before I was engaged in the same manner, and had created a fiend whose unparalleled barbarity had desolated my heart, and filled it for ever with the bitterest remorse. I was now about to form another being, of whose dispositions I was alike ignorant; she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate, and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness. He had sworn to quit the neighbourhood of man, and hide himself in deserts; but she had not; and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation. They might even hate each other; the creature who already lived loathed his own deformity, and might he not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in the female form? She also might turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him, and he be again alone, exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species.

Even if they were to leave Europe, and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first results of those sympathies for which the dæmon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror. Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had before been moved by the sophisms of the being I had created; I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats: but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race.

I trembled, and my heart failed within me; when, on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the dæmon at the casement. A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me, where I sat fulfilling the task which he had allotted to me. Yes, he had followed me in my travels; he had loitered in forests, hid himself in caves, or taken refuge in wide and desert heaths; and he now came to mark my progress, and claim the fulfillment of my promise.

As I looked on him, his countenance expressed the utmost extent of malice and treachery. I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise of creating another like to him, and trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and, with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew.

I left the room, and, locking the door, made a solemn vow in my own heart never to resume my labours; and then, with trembling steps, I sought my own apartment. I was alone; none were near me to dissipate the gloom, and relieve me from the sickening oppression of the most terrible reveries.

Several hours passed, and I remained near my window gazing on the sea; it was almost motionless, for the winds were hushed, and all nature reposed under the eye of the quiet moon. A few fishing vessels alone specked the water, and now and then the gentle breeze wafted the sound of voices, as the fishermen called to one another. I felt the silence, although I was hardly conscious of its extreme profundity, until my ear was suddenly arrested by the paddling of oars near the shore, and a person landed close to my house.

In a few minutes after, I heard the creaking of my door, as if some one endeavoured to open it softly. I trembled from head to foot; I felt a presentiment of who it was, and wished to rouse one of the peasants who dwelt in a cottage not far from mine; but I was overcome by the sensation of helplessness, so often felt in frightful dreams, when you in vain endeavour to fly from an impending danger, and was rooted to the spot.

Presently I heard the sound of footsteps along the passage; the door opened, and the wretch whom I dreaded appeared. Shutting the door, he approached me and said, in a smothered voice—

“You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery: I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands, and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England, and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?”

“Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness.”

“Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master;—obey!”

“The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness; but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a dæmon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage.”

The monster saw my determination in my face, and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. “Shall each man,” cried he, “find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! you may hate; but beware! your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions; but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die; but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.”

“Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable.”

“It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding-night.”

I started forward, and exclaimed, “Villain! before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe.”

I would have seized him; but he eluded me, and quitted the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness, and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent; but his words rung in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him, and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the main land. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—“I will be with you on your wedding-night.” That then was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die, and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth,—of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her,—tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

The night passed away, and the sun rose from the ocean; my feelings became calmer, if it may be called calmness, when the violence of rage sinks into the depths of despair. I left the house, the horrid scene of the last night's contention, and walked on the beach of the sea, which I almost regarded as an insuperable barrier between me and my fellow-creatures; nay, a wish that such should prove the fact stole across me. I desired that I might pass my life on that barren rock, wearily, it is true, but uninterrupted by any sudden shock of misery. If I returned, it was to be sacrificed, or to see those whom I most loved die under the grasp of a dæmon whom I had myself created.

I walked about the isle like a restless spectre, separated from all it loved, and miserable in the separation. When it became noon, and the sun rose higher, I lay down on the grass, and was overpowered by a deep sleep. I had been awake the whole of the preceding night, my nerves were agitated, and my eyes inflamed by watching and misery. The sleep into which I now sank refreshed me; and when I awoke, I again felt as if I belonged to a race of human beings like myself, and I began to reflect upon what had passed with greater composure; yet still the words of the fiend rung in my ears like a death-knell; they appeared like a dream, yet distinct and oppressive as a reality.

The sun had far descended, and I still sat on the shore, satisfying my appetite, which had become ravenous, with an oaten cake, when I saw a fishing-boat land close to me, and one of the men brought me a packet; it contained letters from Geneva, and one from Clerval, entreating me to join him. He said that he was wearing away his time fruitlessly where he was; that letters from the friends he had formed in London desired his return to complete the negotiation they had entered into for his Indian enterprise. He could not any longer delay his departure; but as his journey to London might be followed, even sooner than he now conjectured, by his longer voyage, he entreated me to bestow as much of my society on him as I could spare. He besought me, therefore, to leave my solitary isle, and to meet him at Perth, that we might proceed southwards together. This letter in a degree recalled me to life, and I determined to quit my island at the expiration of two days.

Yet, before I departed, there was a task to perform, on which I shuddered to reflect: I must pack up my chemical instruments; and for that purpose I must enter the room which had been the scene of my odious work, and I must handle those utensils, the sight of which was sickening to me. The next morning, at daybreak, I summoned sufficient courage, and unlocked the door of my laboratory. The remains of the half-finished creature, whom I had destroyed, lay scattered on the floor, and I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being. I paused to collect myself, and then entered the chamber. With trembling hand I conveyed the instruments out of the room; but I reflected that I ought not to leave the relics of my work to excite the horror and suspicion of the peasants; and I accordingly put them into a basket, with a great quantity of stones, and, laying them up, determined to throw them into the sea that very night; and in the meantime I sat upon the beach, employed in cleaning and arranging my chemical apparatus.

Nothing could be more complete than the alteration that had taken place in my feelings since the night of the appearance of the dæmon. I had before regarded my promise with a gloomy despair, as a thing that, with whatever consequences, must be fulfilled; but I now felt as if a film had been taken from before my eyes, and that I, for the first time, saw clearly. The idea of renewing my labours did not for one instant occur to me; the threat I had heard weighed on my thoughts, but I did not reflect that a voluntary act of mine could avert it. I had resolved in my own mind, that to create another like the fiend I had first made would be an act of the basest and most atrocious selfishness; and I banished from my mind every thought that could lead to a different conclusion.

Between two and three in the morning the moon rose; and I then, putting my basket aboard a little skiff, sailed out about four miles from the shore. The scene was perfectly solitary: a few boats were returning towards land, but I sailed away from them. I felt as if I was about the commission of a dreadful crime, and avoided with shuddering anxiety any encounter with my fellow-creatures. At one time the moon, which had before been clear, was suddenly overspread by a thick cloud, and I took advantage of the moment of darkness, and cast my basket into the sea: I listened to the gurgling sound as it sunk, and then sailed away from the spot. The sky became clouded; but the air was pure, although chilled by the north-east breeze that was then rising. But it refreshed me, and filled me with such agreeable sensations, that I resolved to prolong my stay on the water; and fixing the rudder in a direct position, stretched myself at the bottom of the boat. Clouds hid the moon, everything was obscure, and I heard only the sound of the boat, as its keel cut through the waves; the murmur lulled me, and in a short time I slept soundly.

I do not know how long I remained in this situation, but when I awoke I found that the sun had already mounted considerably. The wind was high, and the waves continually threatened the safety of my little skiff. I found that the wind was north-east, and must have driven me far from the coast from which I had embarked. I endeavoured to change my course, but quickly found that, if I again made the attempt, the boat would be instantly filled with water. Thus situated, my only resource was to drive before the wind. I confess that I felt a few sensations of terror. I had no compass with me, and was so slenderly acquainted with the geography of this part of the world, that the sun was of little benefit to me. I might be driven into the wide Atlantic, and feel all the tortures of starvation, or be swallowed up in the immeasurable waters that roared and buffeted around me. I had already been out many hours, and felt the torment of a burning thirst, a prelude to my other sufferings. I looked on the heavens, which were covered by clouds that flew before the wind, only to be replaced by others: I looked upon the sea, it was to be my grave. “Fiend,” I exclaimed, “your task is already fulfilled!” I thought of Elizabeth, of my father, and of Clerval; all left behind, on whom the monster might satisfy his sanguinary and merciless passions. This idea plunged me into a reverie, so despairing and frightful, that even now, when the scene is on the point of closing before me for ever, I shudder to reflect on it.

Some hours passed thus; but by degrees, as the sun declined towards the horizon, the wind died away into a gentle breeze, and the sea became free from breakers. But these gave place to a heavy swell: I felt sick, and hardly able to hold the rudder, when suddenly I saw a line of high land towards the south.

Almost spent, as I was, by fatigue, and the dreadful suspense I endured for several hours, this sudden certainty of life rushed like a flood of warm joy to my heart, and tears gushed from my eyes.

How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery! I constructed another sail with a part of my dress, and eagerly steered my course towards the land. It had a wild and rocky appearance: but as I approached nearer, I easily perceived the traces of cultivation. I saw vessels near the shore, and found myself suddenly transported back to the neighbourhood of civilised man. I carefully traced the windings of the land, and hailed a steeple which I at length saw issuing from behind a small promontory. As I was in a state of extreme debility, I resolved to sail directly towards the town, as a place where I could most easily procure nourishment. Fortunately I had money with me. As I turned the promontory, I perceived a small neat town and a good harbour, which I entered, my heart bounding with joy at my unexpected escape.

As I was occupied in fixing the boat and arranging the sails, several people crowded towards the spot. They seemed much surprised at my appearance; but instead of offering me any assistance, whispered together with gestures that at any other time might have produced in me a slight sensation of alarm. As it was, I merely remarked that they spoke English; and I therefore addressed them in that language: “My good friends,” said I, “will you be so kind as to tell me the name of this town, and inform me where I am?”

“You will know that soon enough,” replied a man with a hoarse voice. “May be you are come to a place that will not prove much to your taste; but you will not be consulted as to your quarters, I promise you.”

I was exceedingly surprised on receiving so rude an answer from a stranger; and I was also disconcerted on perceiving the frowning and angry countenances of his companions. “Why do you answer me so roughly?” I replied; “surely it is not the custom of Englishmen to receive strangers so inhospitably.”

“I do not know,” said the man, “what the custom of the English may be; but it is the custom of the Irish to hate villains.”

While this strange dialogue continued, I perceived the crowd rapidly increase. Their faces expressed a mixture of curiosity and anger, which annoyed, and in some degree alarmed me. I inquired the way to the inn; but no one replied. I then moved forward, and a murmuring sound arose from the crowd as they followed and surrounded me; when an ill-looking man approaching, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Come, sir, you must follow me to Mr. Kirwin's, to give an account of yourself.”

“Who is Mr. Kirwin? Why am I to give an account of myself? Is not this a free country?”

“Ay, sir, free enough for honest folks. Mr. Kirwin is a magistrate; and you are to give an account of the death of a gentleman who was found murdered here last night.”

This answer startled me; but I presently recovered myself. I was innocent; that could easily be proved: accordingly I followed my conductor in silence, and was led to one of the best houses in the town. I was ready to sink from fatigue and hunger; but, being surrounded by a crowd, I thought it politic to rouse all my strength, that no physical debility might be construed into apprehension or conscious guilt. Little did I then expect the calamity that was in a few moments to overwhelm me, and extinguish in horror and despair all fear of ignominy or death.

I must pause here; for it requires all my fortitude to recall the memory of the frightful events which I am about to relate, in proper detail, to my recollection.

Footnotes

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

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Though Frankenstein had expected to find refuge from the forces of nature in civilization, he discovers that the people awaiting him on shore are far from hospitable. One might say that, because of his crimes, Frankenstein has been cast out of the worlds of both nature and culture.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The theme of mutability, notably introduced in Chapter X, recurs in this reflection by Frankenstein. Throughout the novel, Frankenstein is gripped by “mutable… feelings”: heights of intellectual fervor, explosions of rage, sleepless guilt-ridden nights. In some ways, emotional mutability is a cornerstone of the romantic movement, whose artists and writers sought truth in interior moods and reflections, rather than in rational calculation.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Ultimately, Frankenstein’s actions in this scene are driven not so much by his desire for self-preservation or the preservation of humanity as a desire to protect his remaining loved ones. For a character so often guided by his isolated intellectual curiosity, this moment is remarkably heartfelt.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The symbolism of the moon as a mark of the feminine recurs in this moment. Just as the moon becomes occluded by clouds, Frankenstein sinks the basket containing the parts of the female creature down into the depths of the sea.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Shelley cleverly describes the dawn in deadly language: “the night passed away.” This mordant metaphor is fitting, considering that Frankenstein went to sleep fretting over the possibility that his creature might do harm to his beloved Elizabeth. In another instance of the pathetic fallacy, Frankenstein’s psychological state determines the description of the outer world.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The creature’s identification with Satan becomes more concrete when he likens himself to a “snake, that I may sting with its venom.” The snake, form Satan takes as tempter in the Garden of Eden, is the symbolic of humanity’s fall. The creature hopes to take vengeance on humanity in a similar manner.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Despite the creature’s self-identification with Satan in Chapter XV, it is only here that he truly resembles Satan. In works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Goethe’s Faust, Satan is depicted as having such a bitter and envious attitude that he takes a vengeful stance towards being itself. When the creature declares his desire for revenge, driven by a similar bitterness, he beings to more authentically embody Satan’s philosophy.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The word “presentiment” refers to an intuitive expectation of the future; a hunch.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. As Frankenstein surveys the possible consequences of building a second monster, the scale of his predicament ascends to new heights. The threat, as he sees it, is existential: to create a female monster would allow for a “race of devils” to replace humanity.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. In this scene, Frankenstein takes a more ethically conscientious approach to the creation of new life than he did during the making of his first creature. Here, he takes into account how unpredictable his first creature has turned out, and then imagines the even more disastrous possible outcomes of making a new creature. Once again, Frankenstein is toying with fate and chance.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. In many mythological traditions, the duality of the sun and moon symbolizes the duality between the male and female sides of humanity. It is thus fitting that the moon is rising as Frankenstein sets to work on Frankenstein’s female companion.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Now the reader sees that Victor is asked to give a testimony about the man who was murdered.  We must assume that the creature had committed this murder.  But who is the man?  We will soon find out.

    — Noelle Thompson
  14. Obviously in Ireland and obviously accused of something dreadful, the crowd meets the shipwrecked Victor.

    — Noelle Thompson
  15. Here is what happens when something so unnatural as "instruments" of decay are thrown into a natural body of water:  a tumultuous storm.

    — Noelle Thompson
  16. Here we see the truth of what is in the basket:  "the instruments" with which Victor was doing his work.  One also wonders if some of the blood and body parts were contained as well.

    — Noelle Thompson
  17. And here we find the unnatural creature actually "doing" something unnatural:  predicting the future and knowing things he should not know.  Not only does he predict that Victor will be married, but that he will meet the creature again on that very night.  A perfect example of Romanticism:  only a creature as unnatural as this could do such an unnatural thing as participate in fortune telling and sorcery.

    — Noelle Thompson
  18. When the creature quietly returns and asks the purpose of the destruction, Victor confirms that the promise is broken and he will NOT create a mate.

    — Noelle Thompson
  19. And here we see an important turning point of the story.  (And if a first-time reader isn't paying close enough attention, he/she could miss it.)  Here Victor gives in to his doubt and destroys his new creation.  The creature watches the destruction and, in his despair, leaves.

    — Noelle Thompson
  20. It is at this point of doubting the entire affair that the creature appears.

    — Noelle Thompson
  21. Finally, Victor approaches the realm of thought and, as such, crosses bridges that he doesn't need.  Victor guesses at how both the creature and the mate will react and, due to the fact they are both so unnatural, assumes they cannot have a good end.

    — Noelle Thompson
  22. Interpretation:  Although this chapter is mostly about furthering the plot of the novel (with Victor beginning to complete the creature's mate, encountering the creature, destroying the mate, and disposing of the remaining parts), what is interesting is to associate the happenings with the characteristics of Romanticism.  Look at what happens to the natural body of water when "the basket" (which generally can be assumed to contain the rest of the decaying body parts of the female) is deposited in the water, nature immediately is fouled and a storm rises up, blowing Victor away from refuge.  Of course, it also blows him where he can most easily see the next murder of the creature.  But, again, look at how even nature becomes foul when something so unnatural spoils something natural.  A further note should be that the end of this chapter should create great suspense in the reader.  One wonders what "man" has been murdered.  Victor's father?  Clerval?  Time will tell.

    — Noelle Thompson
  23. Victor finally thinks about the possibility of the creature's mate not having the same "plans" as both Victor and the creature. Every thought of Victor's leads to an even more horrible one.  In fact, Victor ends up wondering if the whole human race is at stake because of what he is doing:  making a mate for the creature.  Suddenly, the creature makes his appearance and it is revealed that the creature HAS followed Victor everywhere.  In a fit of "madness," Victor tears apart the creature's mate in front of the creature's very eyes.  The creature runs in despair.  Eventually, the creature quietly returns and asks Victor's purpose. Victor promises to complete the creature's mate, but the creature leaves only after saying that he "will be with you on your wedding night."  Upon thinking further, Victor decides not to keep his promise.  Victor takes a small boat to sea as he disposes of a "basket" there, ... and is almost lost, but finally returns to Ireland where he meets a crowd and Mr. Kirwin, "a magistrate."  Victor learns that a man was murdered last night, and that the news of it would cause him horror, but the specifics are left to further chapters.

    — Noelle Thompson