Victor Frankenstein and the Art of Subterfuge

There was a passage at the tail end of the third chapter of volume three that shed a particular light on the storytelling methods of Victor Frankenstein. On page 175, right after he’s destroyed the female half-creature, Victor gives his audience (Walton) an assessment of his situation: “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.” This statement serves to complicate interpretations of Frankenstein’s moral leanings throughout Shelley’s novel. Throughout the course of his wanderings, Victor has made it evident that his family is not necessarily a top priority. He abandons his house for years at a time, returning to Geneva in times of grief to indulge in his reclusiveness in the company of his family, then fleeing again. When he does exhibit concern for them, it is directly related to their proximity to creature-induced danger. Victor and his creature are at the epicenter of his focus; everything else falls away in importance by orders of magnitude. He emotes this very clearly and lengthily on page 90 of the novel.

The fact that the story is told by Frankenstein automatically puts the reader at a disadvantage in respect to authenticity. What this particular line does is demonstrate Victor’s attempts to undermine some of his accountability for the creation of the monster and cast himself in a more noble light. Returning to his selfishness outlined previously, the interpretation of egotism comes from the same chapter as the quotation. In the first two pages of chapter three, Frankenstein ruminates on all the possible ways that the two creations could/would wreak havoc on the world, and in doing so strips the monster(s) of all of their autonomy and places himself in knowing superiority over them. His ego feeds into his hatred and solidifies his abandonment of his task, and when he comes to rationalizing away his decision, he flips the logic of his dilemma in a way that seems reasonable at face value. Going back to the quote, we see that Victor treats the fulfillment of his promise to his creation as the ultimate selfishness; how can this be so, when we’ve seen so much of the pain of the creature and the danger he poses to Victor and his own family? It would make sense to the reader that creating two of these “monsters” in order to secure safety would be selfish, but Victor’s denial of his creation’s capacity for compassion/reason/civility as part of his justification for this idea continues to strengthen the guiding hand Victor has on the reader’s interpretation of his own virtuosity.

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