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| Home | Reading Room Frankenstein


or, the Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley

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Chapter 22

The voyage came to an end. We landed, and proceeded to Paris.

I soon found that I had overtaxed my strength and that I must repose

before I could continue my journey. My father's care and attentions

were indefatigable, but he did not know the origin of my sufferings

and sought erroneous methods to remedy the incurable ill.

He wished me to seek amusement in society. I abhorred the face of man.

Oh, not abhorred! They were my brethren, my fellow beings,

and I felt attracted even to the most repulsive among them,

as to creatures of an angelic nature and celestial mechanism.

But I felt that I had no right to share their intercourse.

I had unchained an enemy among them whose joy it was to shed their blood

and to revel in their groans. How they would, each and all,

abhor me and hunt me from the world did they know my unhallowed acts

and the crimes which had their source in me!

My father yielded at length to my desire to avoid society

and strove by various arguments to banish my despair. Sometimes he thought

that I felt deeply the degradation of being obliged to answer

a charge of murder, and he endeavoured to prove to me the futility of pride.

"Alas! My father," said I, "how little do you know me. Human beings,

their feelings and passions, would indeed be degraded if such a wretch

as I felt pride. Justine, poor unhappy Justine, was as innocent as I,

and she suffered the same charge; she died for it; and I am the cause

of this--I murdered her. William, Justine, and Henry--they all died

by my hands."

My father had often, during my imprisonment, heard me make

the same assertion; when I thus accused myself, he sometimes seemed

to desire an explanation, and at others he appeared to consider it

as the offspring of delirium, and that, during my illness,

some idea of this kind had presented itself to my imagination,

the remembrance of which I preserved in my convalescence.

I avoided explanation and maintained a continual silence

concerning the wretch I had created. I had a persuasion

that I should be supposed mad, and this in itself would forever

have chained my tongue. But, besides, I could not bring myself

to disclose a secret which would fill my hearer with consternation

and make fear and unnatural horror the inmates of his breast.

I checked, therefore, my impatient thirst for sympathy and was silent

when I would have given the world to have confided the fatal secret.

Yet, still, words like those I have recorded would burst

uncontrollably from me. I could offer no explanation of them,

but their truth in part relieved the burden of my mysterious woe.

Upon this occasion my father said, with an expression of unbounded wonder,

"My dearest Victor, what infatuation is this? My dear son,

I entreat you never to make such an assertion again."

"I am not mad," I cried energetically; "the sun and the heavens,

who have viewed my operations, can bear witness of my truth.

I am the assassin of those most innocent victims; they died

by my machinations. A thousand times would I have shed my own blood,

drop by drop, to have saved their lives; but I could not,

my father, indeed I could not sacrifice the whole human race."

The conclusion of this speech convinced my father that my ideas

were deranged, and he instantly changed the subject of our conversation

and endeavoured to alter the course of my thoughts. He wished

as much as possible to obliterate the memory of the scenes

that had taken place in Ireland and never alluded to them

or suffered me to speak of my misfortunes.

As time passed away I became more calm; misery had her dwelling

in my heart, but I no longer talked in the same incoherent manner

of my own crimes; sufficient for me was the consciousness of them.

By the utmost self-violence I curbed the imperious voice of wretchedness,

which sometimes desired to declare itself to the whole world,

and my manners were calmer and more composed than they had ever been

since my journey to the sea of ice.

A few days before we left Paris on our way to Switzerland

I received the following letter from Elizabeth:

My dear Friend,

It gave me the greatest pleasure to receive a letter

from my uncle dated at Paris; you are no longer

at a formidable distance, and I may hope to see you

in less than a fortnight. My poor cousin, how much

you must have suffered! I expect to see you looking even more ill

than when you quitted Geneva. This winter has been passed

most miserably, tortured as I have been by anxious suspense;

yet I hope to see peace in your countenance and to find

that your heart is not totally void of comfort and tranquillity.

Yet I fear that the same feelings now exist that made you

so miserable a year ago, even perhaps augmented by time.

I would not disturb you at this period, when so many misfortunes

weigh upon you, but a conversation that I had with my uncle

previous to his departure renders some explanation necessary

before we meet.

Explanation! You may possibly say, What can Elizabeth

have to explain? If you really say this, my questions are answered

and all my doubts satisfied. But you are distant from me,

and it is possible that you may dread and yet be pleased

with this explanation; and in a probability of this being the case,

I dare not any longer postpone writing what, during your absence,

I have often wished to express to you but have never had the courage

to begin.

You well know, Victor, that our union had been the favourite plan

of your parents ever since our infancy. We were told this when young,

and taught to look forward to it as an event that would certainly

take place. We were affectionate playfellows during childhood,

and, I believe, dear and valued friends to one another as we grew older.

But as brother and sister often entertain a lively affection

towards each other without desiring a more intimate union,

may not such also be our case? Tell me, dearest Victor. Answer me,

I conjure you by our mutual happiness, with simple truth--

Do you not love another?

You have travelled; you have spent several years of your life

at Ingolstadt; and I confess to you, my friend, that

when I saw you last autumn so unhappy, flying to solitude

from the society of every creature, I could not help supposing

that you might regret our connection and believe yourself

bound in honour to fulfil the wishes of your parents,

although they opposed themselves to your inclinations.

But this is false reasoning. I confess to you, my friend,

that I love you and that in my airy dreams of futurity

you have been my constant friend and companion.

But it is your happiness I desire as well as my own

when I declare to you that our marriage would render me

eternally miserable unless it were the dictate

of your own free choice. Even now I weep to think that,

borne down as you are by the cruellest misfortunes,

you may stifle, by the word "honour," all hope of that love

and happiness which would alone restore you to yourself.

I, who have so disinterested an affection for you,

may increase your miseries tenfold by being an obstacle

to your wishes. Ah! Victor, be assured that your cousin

and playmate has too sincere a love for you not to be made miserable

by this supposition. Be happy, my friend; and if you obey me

in this one request, remain satisfied that nothing on earth

will have the power to interrupt my tranquillity.

Do not let this letter disturb you; do not answer tomorrow,

or the next day, or even until you come, if it will give you pain.

My uncle will send me news of your health, and if I see but one smile

on your lips when we meet, occasioned by this or any other exertion

of mine, I shall need no other happiness.

Elizabeth Lavenza

Geneva, May 18th, 17--

This letter revived in my memory what I had before forgotten,

the threat of the fiend--"*I will be with you on your

wedding-night!*" Such was my sentence, and on that night

would the daemon employ every art to destroy me and tear me

from the glimpse of happiness which promised partly to console

my sufferings. On that night he had determined to consummate

his crimes by my death. Well, be it so; a deadly struggle

would then assuredly take place, in which if he were victorious

I should be at peace and his power over me be at an end.

If he were vanquished, I should be a free man. Alas! What freedom?

Such as the peasant enjoys when his family have been massacred

before his eyes, his cottage burnt, his lands laid waste,

and he is turned adrift, homeless, penniless, and alone, but free.

Such would be my liberty except that in my Elizabeth I possessed

a treasure, alas, balanced by those horrors of remorse and guilt

which would pursue me until death.

Sweet and beloved Elizabeth! I read and reread her letter,

and some softened feelings stole into my heart and dared to whisper

paradisiacal dreams of love and joy; but the apple was already eaten,

and the angel's arm bared to drive me from all hope. Yet I would die

to make her happy. If the monster executed his threat,

death was inevitable; yet, again, I considered whether my marriage

would hasten my fate. My destruction might indeed arrive

a few months sooner, but if my torturer should suspect that I postponed it,

influenced by his menaces, he would surely find other

and perhaps more dreadful means of revenge. He had vowed

*to be with me on my wedding-night*, yet he did not consider

that threat as binding him to peace in the meantime, for as if to show me

that he was not yet satiated with blood, he had murdered Clerval

immediately after the enunciation of his threats. I resolved, therefore,

that if my immediate union with my cousin would conduce either to hers

or my father's happiness, my adversary's designs against my life

should not retard it a single hour.

In this state of mind I wrote to Elizabeth. My letter was calm

and affectionate. "I fear, my beloved girl," I said, "little happiness

remains for us on earth; yet all that I may one day enjoy is centred in you.

Chase away your idle fears; to you alone do I consecrate my life

and my endeavours for contentment. I have one secret, Elizabeth,

a dreadful one; when revealed to you, it will chill your frame with horror,

and then, far from being surprised at my misery, you will only wonder

that I survive what I have endured. I will confide this tale of misery

and terror to you the day after our marriage shall take place, for,

my sweet cousin, there must be perfect confidence between us.

But until then, I conjure you, do not mention or allude to it.

This I most earnestly entreat, and I know you will comply."

In about a week after the arrival of Elizabeth's letter

we returned to Geneva. The sweet girl welcomed me with warm affection,

yet tears were in her eyes as she beheld my emaciated frame

and feverish cheeks. I saw a change in her also. She was thinner

and had lost much of that heavenly vivacity that had before charmed me;

but her gentleness and soft looks of compassion made her

a more fit companion for one blasted and miserable as I was.

The tranquillity which I now enjoyed did not endure. Memory brought madness

with it, and when I thought of what had passed, a real insanity possessed me;

sometimes I was furious and burnt with rage, sometimes low and despondent.

I neither spoke nor looked at anyone, but sat motionless,

bewildered by the multitude of miseries that overcame me.

Elizabeth alone had the power to draw me from these fits;

her gentle voice would soothe me when transported by passion

and inspire me with human feelings when sunk in torpor. She wept

with me and for me. When reason returned, she would remonstrate

and endeavour to inspire me with resignation. Ah! It is well

for the unfortunate to be resigned, but for the guilty

there is no peace. The agonies of remorse poison the luxury

there is otherwise sometimes found in indulging the excess of grief.

Soon after my arrival my father spoke of my immediate marriage

with Elizabeth. I remained silent.

"Have you, then, some other attachment?"

"None on earth. I love Elizabeth and look forward to our union

with delight. Let the day therefore be fixed; and on it

I will consecrate myself, in life or death, to the happiness

of my cousin."

"My dear Victor, do not speak thus. Heavy misfortunes have befallen us,

but let us only cling closer to what remains and transfer our love

for those whom we have lost to those who yet live. Our circle

will be small but bound close by the ties of affection

and mutual misfortune. And when time shall have softened your despair,

new and dear objects of care will be born to replace those

of whom we have been so cruelly deprived."

Such were the lessons of my father. But to me the remembrance

of the threat returned; nor can you wonder that, omnipotent

as the fiend had yet been in his deeds of blood, I should almost

regard him as invincible, and that when he had pronounced the words

"*I shall be with you on your wedding-night*," I should regard

the threatened fate as unavoidable. But death was no evil to me

if the loss of Elizabeth were balanced with it, and I therefore,

with a contented and even cheerful countenance, agreed with my father

that if my cousin would consent, the ceremony should take place

in ten days, and thus put, as I imagined, the seal to my fate.

Great God! If for one instant I had thought what might be

the hellish intention of my fiendish adversary, I would rather

have banished myself forever from my native country and wandered

a friendless outcast over the earth than have consented

to this miserable marriage. But, as if possessed of magic powers,

the monster had blinded me to his real intentions; and when I thought

that I had prepared only my own death, I hastened that

of a far dearer victim.

As the period fixed for our marriage drew nearer, whether from cowardice

or a prophetic feeling, I felt my heart sink within me. But I concealed

my feelings by an appearance of hilarity that brought smiles and joy

to the countenance of my father, but hardly deceived the everwatchful

and nicer eye of Elizabeth. She looked forward to our union

with placid contentment, not unmingled with a little fear,

which past misfortunes had impressed, that what now appeared certain

and tangible happiness might soon dissipate into an airy dream

and leave no trace but deep and everlasting regret.

Preparations were made for the event, congratulatory visits were received,

and all wore a smiling appearance. I shut up, as well as I could,

in my own heart the anxiety that preyed there and entered

with seeming earnestness into the plans of my father,

although they might only serve as the decorations of my tragedy.

Through my father's exertions a part of the inheritance of Elizabeth

had been restored to her by the Austrian government. A small possession

on the shores of Como belonged to her. It was agreed that,

immediately after our union, we should proceed to Villa Lavenza

and spend our first days of happiness beside the beautiful lake

near which it stood.

In the meantime I took every precaution to defend my person

in case the fiend should openly attack me. I carried pistols

and a dagger constantly about me and was ever on the watch

to prevent artifice, and by these means gained a greater degree

of tranquillity. Indeed, as the period approached, the threat

appeared more as a delusion, not to be regarded as worthy

to disturb my peace, while the happiness I hoped for in my marriage

wore a greater appearance of certainty as the day fixed

for its solemnization drew nearer and I heard it continually spoken of

as an occurrence which no accident could possibly prevent.

Elizabeth seemed happy; my tranquil demeanour contributed greatly

to calm her mind. But on the day that was to fulfil my wishes

and my destiny, she was melancholy, and a presentiment of evil

pervaded her; and perhaps also she thought of the dreadful secret

which I had promised to reveal to her on the following day.

My father was in the meantime overjoyed and in the bustle

of preparation only recognized in the melancholy of his niece

the diffidence of a bride.

After the ceremony was performed a large party assembled at my father's,

but it was agreed that Elizabeth and I should commence our journey by water,

sleeping that night at Evian and continuing our voyage on the following day.

The day was fair, the wind favourable; all smiled on our nuptial embarkation.

Those were the last moments of my life during which I enjoyed

the feeling of happiness. We passed rapidly along; the sun was hot,

but we were sheltered from its rays by a kind of canopy

while we enjoyed the beauty of the scene, sometimes on one side of the lake,

where we saw Mont Saleve, the pleasant banks of Montalegre,

and at a distance, surmounting all, the beautiful Mont Blanc

and the assemblage of snowy mountains that in vain endeavour to emulate her;

sometimes coasting the opposite banks, we saw the mighty Jura

opposing its dark side to the ambition that would quit its native country,

and an almost insurmountable barrier to the invader

who should wish to enslave it.

I took the hand of Elizabeth. "You are sorrowful, my love.

Ah! If you knew what I have suffered and what I may yet endure,

you would endeavour to let me taste the quiet and freedom

from despair that this one day at least permits me to enjoy."

"Be happy, my dear Victor," replied Elizabeth; "there is, I hope,

nothing to distress you; and be assured that if a lively joy

is not painted in my face, my heart is contented. Something whispers to me

not to depend too much on the prospect that is opened before us,

but I will not listen to such a sinister voice. Observe how fast

we move along and how the clouds, which sometimes obscure

and sometimes rise above the dome of Mont Blanc, render this scene of beauty

still more interesting. Look also at the innumerable fish

that are swimming in the clear waters, where we can distinguish

every pebble that lies at the bottom. What a divine day!

How happy and serene all nature appears!"

Thus Elizabeth endeavoured to divert her thoughts and mine

from all reflection upon melancholy subjects. But her temper

was fluctuating; joy for a few instants shone in her eyes,

but it continually gave place to distraction and reverie.

The sun sank lower in the heavens; we passed the river Drance

and observed its path through the chasms of the higher

and the glens of the lower hills. The Alps here come closer to the lake,

and we approached the amphitheatre of mountains which forms

its eastern boundary. The spire of Evian shone under the woods

that surrounded it and the range of mountain above mountain

by which it was overhung.

The wind, which had hitherto carried us along with amazing rapidity,

sank at sunset to a light breeze; the soft air just ruffled the water

and caused a pleasant motion among the trees as we approached the shore,

from which it wafted the most delightful scent of flowers and hay.

The sun sank beneath the horizon as we landed, and as I touched the shore

I felt those cares and fears revive which soon were to clasp me

and cling to me forever.



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