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Contents > Author > Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley > Frankenstein 09 1797- 1851
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein 09
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Chapter 9

Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have
been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of
inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope
and fear. Justine died, she rested, and I was alive. The blood flowed
freely in my veins, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my
heart which nothing could remove. Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered
like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond
description horrible, and more, much more (I persuaded myself) was yet
behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness and the love of virtue.
I had begun life with benevolent intentions and thirsted for the moment
when I should put them in practice and make myself useful to my fellow
beings. Now all was blasted; instead of that serenity of conscience
which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and
from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and
the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures
such as no language can describe.

This state of mind preyed upon my health, which had perhaps never
entirely recovered from the first shock it had sustained. I shunned
the face of man; all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me;
solitude was my only consolation--deep, dark, deathlike solitude.

My father observed with pain the alteration perceptible in my
disposition and habits and endeavoured by arguments deduced from the
feelings of his serene conscience and guiltless life to inspire me with
fortitude and awaken in me the courage to dispel the dark cloud which
brooded over me. "Do you think, Victor," said he, "that I do not
suffer also? No one could love a child more than I loved your
brother"--tears came into his eyes as he spoke--"but is it not a duty
to the survivors that we should refrain from augmenting their
unhappiness by an appearance of immoderate grief? It is also a duty
owed to yourself, for excessive sorrow prevents improvement or
enjoyment, or even the discharge of daily usefulness, without which no
man is fit for society."

This advice, although good, was totally inapplicable to my case; I
should have been the first to hide my grief and console my friends if
remorse had not mingled its bitterness, and terror its alarm, with my
other sensations. Now I could only answer my father with a look of
despair and endeavour to hide myself from his view.

About this time we retired to our house at Belrive. This change was
particularly agreeable to me. The shutting of the gates regularly at
ten o'clock and the impossibility of remaining on the lake after that
hour had rendered our residence within the walls of Geneva very irksome
to me. I was now free. Often, after the rest of the family had
retired for the night, I took the boat and passed many hours upon the
water. Sometimes, with my sails set, I was carried by the wind; and
sometimes, after rowing into the middle of the lake, I left the boat to
pursue its own course and gave way to my own miserable reflections. I
was often tempted, when all was at peace around me, and I the only
unquiet thing that wandered restless in a scene so beautiful and
heavenly--if I except some bat, or the frogs, whose harsh and
interrupted croaking was heard only when I approached the shore--often,
I say, I was tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters
might close over me and my calamities forever. But I was restrained,
when I thought of the heroic and suffering Elizabeth, whom I tenderly
loved, and whose existence was bound up in mine. I thought also of my
father and surviving brother; should I by my base desertion leave them
exposed and unprotected to the malice of the fiend whom I had let loose
among them?

At these moments I wept bitterly and wished that peace would revisit my
mind only that I might afford them consolation and happiness. But that
could not be. Remorse extinguished every hope. I had been the author
of unalterable evils, and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I
had created should perpetrate some new wickedness. I had an obscure
feeling that all was not over and that he would still commit some
signal crime, which by its enormity should almost efface the
recollection of the past. There was always scope for fear so long as
anything I loved remained behind. My abhorrence of this fiend cannot
be conceived. 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. I wished to see him again, that I
might wreak the utmost extent of abhorrence on his head and avenge the
deaths of William and Justine. Our house was the house of mourning. My
father's health was deeply shaken by the horror of the recent events.
Elizabeth was sad and desponding; she no longer took delight in her
ordinary occupations; all pleasure seemed to her sacrilege toward the
dead; eternal woe and tears she then thought was the just tribute she
should pay to innocence so blasted and destroyed. She was no longer
that happy creature who in earlier youth wandered with me on the banks
of the lake and talked with ecstasy of our future prospects. The first
of those sorrows which are sent to wean us from the earth had visited
her, and its dimming influence quenched her dearest smiles.

"When I reflect, my dear cousin," said she, "on the miserable death of
Justine Moritz, I no longer see the world and its works as they before
appeared to me. Before, I looked upon the accounts of vice and
injustice that I read in books or heard from others as tales of ancient
days or imaginary evils; at least they were remote and more familiar to
reason than to the imagination; but now misery has come home, and men
appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other's blood. Yet I am
certainly unjust. Everybody believed that poor girl to be guilty; and
if she could have committed the crime for which she suffered, assuredly
she would have been the most depraved of human creatures. For the sake
of a few jewels, to have murdered the son of her benefactor and friend,
a child whom she had nursed from its birth, and appeared to love as if
it had been her own! I could not consent to the death of any human
being, but certainly I should have thought such a creature unfit to
remain in the society of men. But she was innocent. I know, I feel
she was innocent; you are of the same opinion, and that confirms me.
Alas! Victor, when falsehood can look so like the truth, who can
assure themselves of certain happiness? I feel as if I were walking on
the edge of a precipice, towards which thousands are crowding and
endeavouring to plunge me into the abyss. William and Justine were
assassinated, and the murderer escapes; he walks about the world free,
and perhaps respected. But even if I were condemned to suffer on the
scaffold for the same crimes, I would not change places with such a
wretch."

I listened to this discourse with the extremest agony. I, not in deed,
but in effect, was the true murderer. Elizabeth read my anguish in my
countenance, and kindly taking my hand, said, "My dearest friend, you
must calm yourself. These events have affected me, God knows how
deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are. There is an expression of
despair, and sometimes of revenge, in your countenance that makes me
tremble. Dear Victor, banish these dark passions. Remember the
friends around you, who centre all their hopes in you. Have we lost
the power of rendering you happy? Ah! While we love, while we are
true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty, your native
country, we may reap every tranquil blessing--what can disturb our
peace?"

And could not such words from her whom I fondly prized before every
other gift of fortune suffice to chase away the fiend that lurked in my
heart? Even as she spoke I drew near to her, as if in terror, lest at
that very moment the destroyer had been near to rob me of her.

Thus not the tenderness of friendship, nor the beauty of earth, nor of
heaven, could redeem my soul from woe; the very accents of love were
ineffectual. I was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial
influence could penetrate. The wounded deer dragging its fainting
limbs to some untrodden brake, there to gaze upon the arrow which had
pierced it, and to die, was but a type of me.

Sometimes I could cope with the sullen despair that overwhelmed me, but
sometimes the whirlwind passions of my soul drove me to seek, by bodily
exercise and by change of place, some relief from my intolerable
sensations. It was during an access of this kind that I suddenly left
my home, and bending my steps towards the near Alpine valleys, sought
in the magnificence, the eternity of such scenes, to forget myself and
my ephemeral, because human, sorrows. My wanderings were directed
towards the valley of Chamounix. I had visited it frequently during my
boyhood. Six years had passed since then: _I_ was a wreck, but nought
had changed in those savage and enduring scenes.

I performed the first part of my journey on horseback. I afterwards
hired a mule, as the more sure-footed and least liable to receive
injury on these rugged roads. The weather was fine; it was about the
middle of the month of August, nearly two months after the death of
Justine, that miserable epoch from which I dated all my woe. The
weight upon my spirit was sensibly lightened as I plunged yet deeper in
the ravine of Arve. The immense mountains and precipices that overhung
me on every side, the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and
the dashing of the waterfalls around spoke of a power mighty as
Omnipotence--and I ceased to fear or to bend before any being less
almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements, here
displayed in their most terrific guise. Still, as I ascended higher,
the valley assumed a more magnificent and astonishing character.
Ruined castles hanging on the precipices of piny mountains, the
impetuous Arve, and cottages every here and there peeping forth from
among the trees formed a scene of singular beauty. But it was
augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and
shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another
earth, the habitations of another race of beings.

I passed the bridge of Pelissier, where the ravine, which the river
forms, opened before me, and I began to ascend the mountain that
overhangs it. Soon after, I entered the valley of Chamounix. This
valley is more wonderful and sublime, but not so beautiful and
picturesque as that of Servox, through which I had just passed. The
high and snowy mountains were its immediate boundaries, but I saw no
more ruined castles and fertile fields. Immense glaciers approached
the road; I heard the rumbling thunder of the falling avalanche and
marked the smoke of its passage. Mont Blanc, the supreme and
magnificent Mont Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles,
and its tremendous dome overlooked the valley.

A tingling long-lost sense of pleasure often came across me during this
journey. Some turn in the road, some new object suddenly perceived and
recognized, reminded me of days gone by, and were associated with the
lighthearted gaiety of boyhood. The very winds whispered in soothing
accents, and maternal Nature bade me weep no more. Then again the
kindly influence ceased to act--I found myself fettered again to grief
and indulging in all the misery of reflection. Then I spurred on my
animal, striving so to forget the world, my fears, and more than all,
myself--or, in a more desperate fashion, I alighted and threw myself on
the grass, weighed down by horror and despair.

At length I arrived at the village of Chamounix. Exhaustion succeeded
to the extreme fatigue both of body and of mind which I had endured.
For a short space of time I remained at the window watching the pallid
lightnings that played above Mont Blanc and listening to the rushing of
the Arve, which pursued its noisy way beneath. The same lulling sounds
acted as a lullaby to my too keen sensations; when I placed my head
upon my pillow, sleep crept over me; I felt it as it came and blessed
the giver of oblivion.


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