In lecture yesterday we discussed the theme of the supernatural in Frankenstein, particularly through the lens of Sir Walter Scott’s review of the text and his emphasis on probability. Upon initially reading Scott’s review, I found myself hesitant to accept the claim that Frankenstein is a “probable” novel, mostly because of the relative improbability of the monster himself (i.e.: Victor inexplicably creates him from an ambiguous collection of stray organs; the monster’s intelligence is so advanced that he is able to pinpoint Victor’s precise location (multiple times) and somehow navigate his way across national borders, remaining unseen.)
But the probability Scott refers to, as we discussed, is not in fact the probability of the supernatural in the text, but rather how the human characters “conduct themselves in the extraordinary circumstances in which they are placed, according to the rules of probability, and the nature of the human heart.”
For the most part, the probability of the novel according to Scott’s definition is upheld by most of the characters in the novel. For example, when the monster reveals himself to his cottage family, Agatha faints, Safie runs away, and Felix throws him to the ground and beats him “in a transport of fury”– all ostensibly reasonable reactions.
But Victor is the only person in the novel who does not behave precisely according to Scott’s definition of probability. His relentlessly self-interested attitude prevents him from considering others before himself.
Even when he ruminates on the potential destruction his monster and a female counterpart could inflict upon the world, he asks, “Had I a right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations?” No disrespect to Victor, but should his right to create life matter at this point, when the potential safety of humankind is at stake? Victor clearly finds his own internal struggle to cope with the implications of his actions more significant than the actual implications themselves.
Victor even exhibits some self-interested behavior in his relationship with Elizabeth. When his father proposes that Victor consider marrying Elizabeth soon, Victor reacts with, “I must perform my engagement, and let the monster depart with his mate, before I allowed myself to enjoy the delight of an union from which I expected peace.” But what about Elizabeth? For someone with whom he has shared a lifelong intimacy, Victor shows little concern for her thoughts about the wedding, and fails to even consider cares to consulting her before deciding to travel abroad for an extended period of time.
And the most glaring example of Victor’s blinding self-interest, I believe, is his inability to comprehend that the monster’s warning, “I shall be with you on your wedding night”, in fact was a threat to Elizabeth’s life, not his own. This came up in lecture, and I think most of us agreed that this was a particularly bothersome aspect of the text. The true meaning of his warning is pretty transparent: since Victor has failed to create his female mate, he plans to rob him of his own. But of course, Victor fails to even once consider whether anyone else could be potentially affected by the monster’s promise to arrive on his wedding night (not even his wife?), and we know that this lapse in judgement ultimately leads to Elizabeth’s demise.
So I think that Victor’s character is perhaps the only foil to an otherwise successfully “probable” novel by Scott’s standards.