Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch on stage

At the start of the novel, Victor Frankenstein is a generally sympathetic character with an enquiring mind and an interest in scientific development. However, his ambition leads him to become arrogant and extremely single-minded. He neglects his family, abandons his creation and fails to take responsibility for his actions which leads to the deaths of many of those who should be near and dear to him.

Gradually he comes to realise the full extent of what he has done and sets out to destroy the Monster even at the cost of his own life. Despite hunting the Monster across the length and breadth of Europe, Victor fails in this mission and dies in the Arctic wastes aboard Walton's ship.

Even as he is dying, he will not admit fully to his mistakes and the reader is left wondering whether it is Victor who is the true monster.

How is Victor like this?EvidenceAnalysis
ScientificNone of Victor's family are particularly scientific in their outlook but Victor has an enquiring mind. When he is only 13, Victor begins to read scientific books and study the works of famous scientists. He also closely observes nature acting around him. When he goes to university, Victor is encouraged by the professors who teach there. Unfortunately, Victor misuses his scientific knowledge and ability in a bid for personal glory.By one of those caprices of the mind which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics and the branches of study appertaining to that science as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration.As he searches for knowledge, Victor studies several scientific disciplines. However, he quickly rejects all but those which he considers to be pure - among these are mathematics and natural philosophy (what we today would call science). He gives up studying natural history 'as a deformed and abortive creation' which, considering the Monster he will go on to create, is rather ironic.
AmbitiousVictor's ambition knows no bounds as he sets out to create life at any expense. He makes himself ill in the pursuit of his goals and puts achieving this ambition before the health and happiness of both himself and his family.It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn.As Victor dies, he realises that ambition and obsession has been his downfall. He warns Walton, who is also risking everything for scientific discovery, that he may be pursuing a foolish and misguided course of action.
ArrogantVictor is so caught up in the pursuit of knowledge and the creation of life that he feels invincible. He feels he should not have to justify his actions to anyone and that he alone has supreme power.Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should claim theirs.Victor thinks of himself as godlike, bringing light where there is only darkness and creating life where it did not exist before. He thinks he can even cheat death. Like a God he expects that his creations will show him gratitude and worship him without reservation.
IrresponsibleVictor does not think about the consequences of creating new life for either the individual concerned (the Monster) or society in general. Victor is responsible for creating the Monster and he is also responsible for abandoning it and setting in motion the train of events that result in the deaths of many of his family and friends. However, he rarely accepts that he is at fault and instead blames the Monster for its own actions.When I thought of him I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so thoughtlessly bestowed. When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes, could I when there have precipitated him to their base.Victor's guilt over his actions transforms into a desire for revenge. He thinks that if he can eliminate the Monster this will, somehow, excuse what he has done. As with everything else in his life Victor's emotions are extreme - 'I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became inflamed'. As his mind thinks about what has happened, physical changes come over him and he claims he is prepared to travel to remote areas of the earth to achieve his aim - eventually, this is exactly what he does when he follows the Monster to the Arctic.

Analysing the evidence

quote
My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realise. One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal, to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic, impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. Victor Frankenstein
Question

What is revealed here about Victor's state of mind?

How to analyse the quote:

'My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realise. One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal, to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic, impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit.'

  • 'My cheek had grown pale’ / 'my person had become emaciated' / 'My limbs now tremble' / 'my eyes swim' - The mental strain on Victor leads to observable physical effects both at the time and as he looks back on his work
  • 'clung' / 'pursued' / 'urged' - these strong, forceful verbs demonstrate the intensity of Victor’s feelings
  • 'hope' - the repetition of this key word highlights Victor’s uncertainty about what he is doing and his chances of success

How to use this in an essay:

Victor's ambition and his desire to create a living being have driven him to exceptional lengths and to a point where his mind is starting to fail him. He is now carrying out his work more in 'hope' than in any expectation he will actually succeed. The intensity of his feelings about what he is doing is shown in the use of strong, forceful verbs such as 'clung','pursued' and 'urged'. He seems compelled by an outside force to carry out his terrible scheme even though it is also having physical effects as he neglects to look after himself - 'My cheek had grown pale' / 'my person had become emaciated'. Even just remembering what had happened, as he tells Walton his story, causes his limbs to shake and brings tears to his eyes.