Frankenstein
Mary Shelley
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Chapter 18–20
Summary

Summary: Chapter 18

After meeting with the monster on the glacier, Victor puts the idea of creating a new, female creature on hold. He is skeptical about the wisdom of agreeing to the monster’s request. The thoughts of travelling to England to gather information for the proposed project also trouble him. Alphonse notices that Victor's spirits are troubled much of the time. Still consumed by guilt over the deaths of William and Justine, Victor is now horrified by the new task at hand. Alphonse seeks to know whether Victor's impending marriage to Elizabeth is the source of his melancholy. Victor assures him that the prospect of marriage to Elizabeth is the only happiness in his life. Alphonse suggests that they celebrate the marriage immediately but Victor refuses as he is unwilling to marry Elizabeth till he has honored his obligation to the monster. He asks Alphonse if he can first travel to England, to which Alphonse consents.

Victor and Alphonse arrange a two-year tour and it is decided that Henry Clerval will accompany Victor as he is tired of working for his father in Geneva. The duo reaches London after undertaking a journey for a few days.

Summary: Chapter 19

Henry and Victor travel through England and Scotland but Victor is eager to begin his work and free himself of his bond to the monster. He has an acquaintance in a Scottish town with whom he plans to put up Henry for a while as he ventures alone on a tour of Scotland. Though reluctant, Henry consents and Victor leaves for a remote, desolate island in the Orkneys to finish off his project. There, he sets up a laboratory quickly in a small shack and devotes countless hours on creating his new creature. Often, he has trouble working, knowing well how unsatisfying, even grotesque, the product of his labor is going to be.

Summary: Chapter 20

One night, Victor begins to think about what might happen after he creates another monster. He imagines that his new creature might not want to seclude herself, as the monster had promised. What if the two creatures have children, it will lead to “a race of devils on the earth". As Victor is mulling all these possible scenarios he looks up and is horrified to see the monster grinning at him through the window. Terrified by the monster’s evil designs and the possibility of a second creature like him, he destroys his work immediately. The monster is angry to see Victor break his promise and the prospect of his own continued solitude further enrages him. The demon curses Victor and vows revenge, leaving him with a warning that he will be with Victor on his wedding night. The next day, Victor receives a letter from Henry who is tired of his stay in Scotland and wishes to continue their travels further. Before he leaves his laboratory, Victor cleans and packs his instruments and also collects the remains of his second creature. Later in the evening, he takes a boat into the ocean and dumps the remains in water. Thereafter, he takes rest in the boat for a while and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he finds himself caught in the winds and is unable to return to shore. Fearing for his life, he contemplates the possibility of dying at sea as he has drifted far out in the Atlantic. Soon the winds change and he's swept ashore near a town. As he walks into the town, a group of people greet him rudely, telling him that he is suspected of killing a person last night.

Analysis

The contrast between the inwardly looking Victor and the outwardly focused Henry sharpens as the natural world produces differing effects in the two men. This brings into focus the sharp contrast first witnessed in Ingolstadt. Earlier, Henry’s interaction with the Frankenstein family and his social nature counters Victor’s secrecy and self-isolation. Similarly, his optimism and cheery disposition in sublime nature now counters Victor's anxiety in knowing that the monster pervades his natural surroundings. For Henry, nature is a source of infinite bliss, he feels “alive to every new scene; joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise”, while for Victor it is a reminder of his imprudent meddling and of his responsibility for the tragedies that have plagued him.

Besides imbibing Victor’s receptiveness to nature, Henry, off late, has been showing his enthusiasm towards natural philosophy and his eagerness to explore the world. Victor notes that “in Clerval I saw the image of my former self". Here, one can argue that Henry here represents the impending ruin of another young, brilliant man by science. One can also conclude that he represents the healthy, safe way to scientific knowledge which Victor failed to take. However, in either case, Victor’s emotional outbursts strongly foreshadow Henry’s death: “And where does he now exist?” he asks. “Is this gentle and lovely being lost forever?” The theme of passivity in woman, as is evident in the mother who sacrifices herself for her daughter, the fiancée who waits endlessly for her future husband, and the orphan girl who is rescued from poverty, culminates in this section with an aborted attempt to create a female creature.

The female monster is a powerful presence in the narrative, even though, she never existed. To Victor, she represents another crime against humanity and nature; to the monster, she represents a hope for a companion in life. Victor too recognises her near-humanity even as he tears his creation apart. He says, “I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being.” Victor’s decision to destroy the female creature can be seen as an explicitly anti-feminist action. He is scared of her ability to reproduce and thereby create a “race of devils”. He fears that as a woman she might refuse to satisfy the male monster for whom she has been created. His worst fear is that he will unleash another uncontrollable power into the world. Unlike the God of Genesis, who creates a woman to give Adam the company, Victor does not have ultimate power over his creations.  His fears lead him to project a stereotypically male activeness on to the female creature. Victor's decision to destroy her ensures her absolute passivity. Victor uses meta-narrative comments in the story that remind the reader of the relationship between the storyteller and the audience. They shape the upcoming narrative, and demonstrate the narrator’s deep emotional investment in his story. “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,” Victor says, illustrating that he is overwhelmed by emotion and offering a glimpse of the horrific story that he is about to tell. Victor’s use of apostrophes to address his absent friends also serves the same purpose. It heightens the emotional impact of his speech, stressing the poignancy of his nostalgic memories and highlighting the layered narrative.  When Victor cries out, “Clerval! Beloved Friend! Even now it delights me to record your words,” the reader feels the intensity of Victor’s emotion and its ultimate futility against the force of fate. Also, the mention of “recording” Henry’s words underlines the fact that it is only through Walton that the reader has access to the other characters and their narratives.

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