Mountains and lakes

These periods of claustrophobic confinement are strongly contrasted with the times Victor spends outside the laboratory, particularly among the mountains and lakes of Switzerland:

  • in these episodes in the novel, the language emphasises
    • the openness and freshness of the natural world
    • that direct contact with nature is not only a source of pleasure, but can be restorative
  • at the same time, both mountains and lakes can take on a gloomier and more sinister significance, depending upon the circumstances in which Victor visits them.

Mountains and lakes: an example

A good example of how Mary Shelley employs the imagery of mountains and lakes can be found in Volume 1, Chapters 5 and 6. After his recovery from the illness brought on by the creation and disappearance of the monster, Victor resolves to abandon science and joins Henry Clerval in the study of oriental languages. This immediately seems to inspire a different outlook in Victor and he remarks of Eastern writers that in their work ‘life appears to consist in a warm sun and garden of roses'. Later, he and Henry set off on a walking tour and Victor describes its profound effect on his state of mind and body:

… I became the same happy creature who, a few years ago, loving and beloved by all, had no sorrow or care. When happy, inanimate nature had the power of bestowing on me the most delightful sensations. A serene sky and verdant fields filled me with ecstasy. The present season was indeed divine; the flowers of spring bloomed in the hedges, while those of summer were already in bud; I was undisturbed by thoughts which during the previous years had pressed upon me, not withstanding my endeavours to throw them off, with an invincible burden.

Frankenstein, Volume 1, Chapter 5

Victor seems now to have:

  • restored his connection with the natural world
  • through his companionship with Henry, restored his connection with other people
  • a sense of pure pleasure (‘filled me with ecstasy') and of freedom, of having been liberated from the burden imposed by his creation of the monster.

Mountain and lakes: irony

But the passage above is also deeply ironic, for Chapter 6 begins with the letter from Victor's father telling him that William has been murdered. As he approaches his home in Geneva, he travels along the banks of Lake Lausanne:

The road ran by the side of the lake which became narrower as I approached my native town. I discovered more distinctly the black sides of Jura, and the bright summit of Mont Blanc; I wept like a child: ‘Dear mountains! My own beautiful lake! How do you welcome your wanderer? Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid. Is this to prognosticate peace, or to mock at my unhappiness?'

Frankenstein, Volume 1, Chapter 6

Here, Victor's view of nature is very different: its beauty and capacity for soothing the individual now seem to be a mockery of his situation:

  • he is overjoyed to be back in his native country and acutely aware of the beauties of the Swiss mountains
  • but his pleasure is marred by the news of William's death.

In the midst of a mountain storm he decides to visit the spot where William was murdered and a lightning flash reveals the monster ‘among the precipices of an inaccessible mountain.'

Mountains and the monster

From this moment in the text, mountains are as much associated with the monster as they are with any sense of beauty and renewal. At the beginning of Volume 2, after Justine's conviction and execution, the Frankenstein family travels to the Vale of Chamonix. In the last five paragraphs of the chapter describing their journey and arrival (from ‘The weather was uncommonly fine') Victor once again dwells on the beauty of nature, but emphasises its power and sublimity as represented by the awesome sight of the mountains. More on the mountains?

Mountains: feelings and confrontation

At the beginning of the next chapter (Volume 2, Chapter 2), Frankenstein describes the effect of the mountains on his feelings and sets off for the summit of Montanvert in the hope it will have ‘the effect of solemnizing my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life'. As he approaches the summit and contemplates Mont Blanc, his quest seems to have been successful:
I remained in a recess of the rock, gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and glittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy; I exclaimed – ‘wandering spirits, if indeed ye wander and do not rest in your narrow beds, allow me this faint happiness, or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life.'

Frankenstein, Volume 1, Chapter 2

Victor is granted neither of these wishes, however: he continues to live; and his ‘faint happiness' is ruined by the reappearance of the monster, once again in a high mountain place. Shunned by society, the monster has to live his life in such remote locations, and it is here on the summit of Montanvert that Victor comes face-to-face with his creation and hears his story (Volume 2, Chapters 2-9). It is worth noting that:

  • the creature describes how he has learned to live in and from nature, eating roots, nuts and berries and drinking from streams
  • although he is an unnatural creation, he is much more in tune with nature than with his creator.

Mountains: positive and negative

A final example of how the novel balances the positive and negative associations of mountains can be found in Volume 3, Chapters 5 and 6. Here, the narrative calls the reader's attention to the contrast between Victor and Elizabeth's journey to Evian and Victor's return alone:
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 by a kind of canopy, while we enjoyed the beauty of the scene

Frankenstein, Volume 3, Chapter 5

I saw the scenes which were familiar to me from my happier time, and which I had contemplated but the day before in the company of her who was now but a shadow and a recollection … The sun might shine, or the clouds might lour; but nothing could appear to me as it had done the day before. A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness: no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the history of man.

Frankenstein, Volume 3, Chapter 6

After the death of Elizabeth, Victor:

  • turns his back on Switzerland and its mountain scenery
  • shares the fate of the monster as he pursues him through ‘deserts and barbarous countries' and through ‘the wilds of Tartary and Russia', until he encounters Walton in the Arctic wastes.
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