2 July 2012
Letters from Captain Walton; Chapters 1-7
This is an unusual read, obviously, because everybody knows the basic storyline. Even if you only know the 1931 movie with Boris Karloff as the flat-headed monster, you’ve still got the basic premise: scientist thinks he’s god, creates life, and it gets out of his control. As it happens, I know a bit more about the original story than that – two different play versions and extracts I remember from school – so I’m even more familiar with some of its elements. But I want to try to forget about that. The other great 19th Century scientifically created monster who has become part of the collective psyche is Mr Hyde, and I used to try to get students to imagine what it must have been like to read Stevenson’s novel without the knowledge we all have now about who he is: the first readers didn’t find out until the final chapter that he and Dr Jekyll are the same man. I wondered if the first-person narration of Mary Shelley’s novel would defer the reader’s understanding this way, and if her archetype of the arrogant scientist who goes too far really is the model that others are based on.
Answers: not really; and, emphatically, yes. Walton describes a giant of a man on a sledge crossing the ice, a day or two ahead of the man who turns out to be Victor Frankenstein. This more or less removes any suggestion there might otherwise have been that her narrator might not be reliable. Sure, only he has seen the creature come to life and then again, two years later near where his youngest brother has been murdered. But… that ‘being’ that Walton has seen, with ‘the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature’ is fairly conclusive: this man isn’t making it up. At the point I’ve reached, just after Frankenstein’s return to Geneva, he is keeping his creature a secret because he knows what anyone would think if he tried to explain who the murderer must be. ‘I paused when I reflected on the story that I had to tell….’ All the circumstances of its creation and of his having seen it nearby ‘would give an air of delirium to a tale otherwise so utterly improbable.’ You bet.
Shelley was no seasoned writer of thrillers when she wrote this, so it’s no surprise that she’s missed a trick or two. But the idea of the scientist whose arrogance is only matched by his obsessive nature is one that authors are still exploiting. (I’ve just read Robert Harris’s latest thriller, The Fear Index, complete with its epigraph from this novel published nearly two centuries earlier. It has the OCD scientist absolutely certain of his own project, the warnings of danger that he ignores, the amoral and often murderous intelligence he creates, thinking of it as his child, and unleashes on the world. In Harris’s story the main character, now living in Geneva, is called Hoffmann – and there is a suggestion that some of the inspiration for Frankenstein derives from one of Hoffmann’s tales, ‘The Sandman’.) And the invented intelligence that breaks away from its inventor’s control has been a staple of science fiction practically forever.
So, the plot. Walton’s letters are a framing device. He, like Frankenstein, is looking for the very thing that others say cannot be found: the fabled Northwest Passage through the Arctic ice. He is also, as he writes feelingly to his sister, looking for a friend. Ok. Enter, half-starved and almost frozen, the traveller across the ice… who eventually begins the story. I’ve often wondered about this framing device, which strikes a modern reader as unnecessary. But, though Shelley might have blocked off one possible story element – the idea that Frankenstein has imagined the whole thing – she’s demonstrating quite graphically that his misery is going to be never-ending. (Frankenstein himself often reminds us as the story goes on. The most recent that I can remember is when, on his journey to Geneva after hearing of the death of his brother, he imagines how awful it is going to be. But ‘in all the misery I imagined and dreaded, I did not conceive the hundredth part of the anguish I was destined to endure.’ Oh dear.)
Comfortable upper-middle class childhood with ultra-loving parents. His mother’s wish for a daughter – and their adoption of a girl of noble birth being fostered by ordinary people fallen on hard times. (Don’t ask me why she needs to be noble. Shelley is usually scrupulous in her insistence on the equality of all people, whatever the circumstances of their birth: the older Frankensteins’ enlightened treatment of Justine, their servant, is where the idea is demonstrated most forcibly. I’ll get back to Justine.) The golden-haired girl is Elizabeth and, later, it is the mother’s dying wish that she and Victor should one day marry. They are both ok with this idea. He has a wonderful, loving childhood. He is scientifically-minded, whilst Elizabeth and his bestest friend Clerval both seek sublime experiences in poetry and the landscape, (It’s hard to forget who, famously, Shelley was with when the idea for this story came to her.)
Next bit: the scientific education. First, by chance, the young Victor reads Agrippa and Paracelsus and is smitten. He doesn’t realise that their ideas are completely discredited, and that science – or natural philosophy or whatever – has moved on. In his arrogant way he dismisses the whole lot of it, resorts to pure mathematics instead… until he goes to university in Ingolstadt. Cue, basically, two years of full-on study in the conventional sciences followed by – what? – his own project in which his former obsession with earlier forms of science comes to his aid. Various experiences – the death of his mother, the sight of an oak tree being turned to thin splinters by a lightning-strike – fill him with a desire to find the ‘principle’ of life. And, reader, he finds it.
His research and experiments take all his time – he’s been away from his family for six years by the time he’s finished – and take him into some strange places. Once he realises that he is never going to be able to replicate an organism as complex as a human being, and that nothing less will be of any value to him, he begins to haunt charnel-houses and dissecting rooms. He is going to assemble a tall, beautiful, ideal creature from the tissues he can find there. He does it. And he brings it to life. There’s a quite perceptible gap in the explanation as to how this happens a) because Frankenstein refuses to revisit the territory and b), I should imagine, Shelley couldn’t think of anything convincing. There’s been some talk of galvanism and we had that lightning-strike earlier on, but that’s all.
And it’s horrible. The description of the first living moment of the creature contains enough horror and disgust for it to feature as one of those extracts for study in schools. ‘A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. … when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.’ Frankenstein scarpers, has dreams filled with gothic phantasms, as of an embrace with Elizabeth that becomes one with his dead mother, complete with ‘grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel of her shroud.’ And so on. Luckily, as he runs off, Clerval arrives in Ingolstadt for the first time ever… so there’s someone to nurse Frankenstein through the winter of his breakdown.
After many months, he is recovered enough for his thoughts return to the family he’s hardly had any contact with for most of his adult life. It’s lucky that the Frankensteins, and Elizabeth, are a tolerant bunch. In a letter she sends him, all she seems to want is the return of her thoughtless fiancé. Fine. But the weather is too bad for travel, and he spends a recuperative walking holiday with Clerval. Lucky chap. But Shelley decides it’s time to raise the emotional pitch again, and there’s a letter waiting for him, from his father. It’s about the murder of his brother. Aaargh. He gets back to Geneva, which is when we get the line about his anguish being only a hundredth of what he’ll one day be feeling. He’s seen the creature in the mountains nearby, knows in his heart that it must have killed the boy – but guess who’s been accused of the murder. You can’t guess. It’s the servant-girl, genuinely one of the family, who’s always loved the little boy and whom Elizabeth loved as a sister. But the evidence against her is circumstantial, and her trial – it is to be the next day, which is handy – is bound to find in her favour. Isn’t it?
As it becomes clear that, no, the trial is not going to establish her innocence, we get the first of many attempts by Frankenstein to describe the exquisite agony of his position. Not only has the monster – his creation – killed an innocent boy, but it has left evidence enough to condemn an innocent and loving girl as well. Shelley manages to get a dig in at the Catholic church, when the family hear after the guilty verdict that Justine has confessed: they still believe in her innocence, obviously, but she tells them that the priest refused her absolution if she didn’t confess – on pain of going straight to hell. Cue more self-recriminations from Frankenstein, in which the hyperbole does him no favours at all. ‘Despair! Who dared talk of that? The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death, felt not, as I did, such deep and bitter agony.’ Oh, right. Does Shelley want us to condemn his monumental egoism? Hmm….
Big thing in this book, egoism. After the emotional peaks and troughs of the trial and poor Justine’s execution, the Frankensteins go for a break in their holiday home over the lake. It gives our boy the chance to go looking for some egotistical sublime (a phrase coined by Keats in 1816, apparently). He rides, first on horseback and then by mule, into the highest alpine scenery available… which turns out to be very high indeed. Ruined castles in rocky valleys give way to peaks so high they seem to be in a different realm entirely – and it all seems to be having the right effect on him: ‘A tingling long-lost sense of pleasure often came across me…’ Which is just what you want.
What you don’t want, as you pick your way across a glacier in the next chapter, is ‘the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution; his stature, also, as he approached, seemed to exceed that of man. I was troubled; a mist came over my eyes, and I felt a faintness seize me.’ You bet. This is the first time we’ve been shown the full extent of the creature’s powers, and the meeting is Shelley’s way of taking the story to the next level. It speaks, in a considered and educated-sounding tone, and it invites Frankenstein to a hut. It’s going to tell him its story.
It occurred to me that we’re three levels down now, like the dream-levels in Inception: Walton is giving us, verbatim, what Frankenstein tells him on the ship in the ice; and now we’re getting Frankenstein’s verbatim account of what the creature has told him. It goes a level deeper when the creature tells Frankenstein the story of the family whose cottage in the woods that he haunts for almost a year… but not yet. What we get to begin with is extraordinary.
Whilst some aspects of this novel are sometimes mind-numbingly creaky (the story of the family’s exile from France, the point where I decided to give up for a while, being a case in point), sometimes Shelley takes us to places that feel extraordinary even now. The creature’s awakening – it isn’t referred to as that – is a fast-forwarded description of the growing awareness of the child. At first the senses are indiscriminate, and then they’re not. At first light and shade are a blur, and then they’re not, as night follows day and the creature first sees the sun and the moon… and so on. Meanwhile there’s a different set of references as the creature, in the forest, begins to recognise birds and their songs, what berries and roots can be eaten. It’s a Garden of Eden – but a lonely one. There’s no God here, and no mate – but the creature doesn’t say this. Perhaps he doesn’t need to, because the next part of the story make it plain. (I realise I’m referring to the creature as ‘he’ now. Fair enough.)
The creature doesn’t have any sense of himself in a community, or even as a human being. When he first sees a shepherd – who, seeing him, shrieks and runs away – he has never seen a man before. When he sees a village he is surprised and hugely impressed. Shelley has decided that he has the potential to be a fully-rounded, decent person, with as phenomenal a mental capacity as physical. She needs to get him away from what he sees as the barbarism of people’s treatment of him – he doesn’t know yet how terrifying he looks – and to a place where he can get an education. Hence the frankly mind-boggling plot device of the upper-middle class family living in a cottage, with a hovel next door with a crack just wide enough for the creature to see and hear absolutely everything that goes on.
He gets his education. We see how he picks up fragments of language – Shelley does her best to make that plausible, at least – and a grounding in the way that family relationships work. But she needs another plot device to get him fully up to speed, so… enter Safie, the Turkish fiancée, who not only needs to learn their language but get a grounding in European history and culture to boot. We hear how the creature is bewildered by what he learns of mankind, how a being so suited to live harmoniously with others so often resorts to evil.
We can see where Shelley is going with this. Already we’ve noticed parallels between the creature’s development and Frankenstein’s. Now we begin to see parallels with humanity as a whole. In this forest idyll, unseen by the family, he is the good spirit who cuts wood for them at night and clears paths in the snow in winter. He cannot see the need for laws if everyone merely seeks what he needs and does his best for others. But he has already told Frankenstein that he wants to explain how he went from being what he was then to what he is now. And we know what he’s become by the time he tells his story, know that it parallels the fall of man and that he won’t be in Eden much longer. All his potential for good has been turned, as for Frankenstein himself, into an urge for destruction. It appears that lurking inside the melodrama of the plot are the most important themes that Shelley can think of.
… during which we get to the end of the creature’s story. It confirms what we already know: that this being has learnt about all that is good about human nature from the family in their cottage – and that he is forever excluded. He’s in the Garden of Eden and expelled from it at the same time, just as he’s the permanent outsider at the cottage. The others don’t even know he exists, and when he discovers translations of Paradise Lost and The Sorrows of Young Werther it’s no wonder he understands exactly what Milton’s fallen angel and Goethe’s suffering hero are going through. All his knowledge – it’s amazing what you can learn in a year if you’re superhuman enough – is somehow there in his yearning for the life he can never have. There are further parallels with mankind as a whole: the political thinking of Rousseau are hanging in the air somewhere – he was from Geneva, surely no accident in this novel – and all the yearnings of the Enlightenment seem to be dashed against the realities of history as Shelley would have known it. All the creature is after are what we would recognise as his human rights.
(What would Shelley recognise them as, I wonder? The Rights of Man as outlined by Thomas Paine? Revolutionary declarations arriving from France and the USA? She’s forcing Frankenstein, as he listens to the creature’s arguments, face up to issues of live concern at the time she was writing. And she’s taking her readers into territory far beyond the scope of the standard gothic novel. Given her own parentage – and how important are parents in this novel? – this is hardly a surprise.)
Things get worse for the creature as he decides that the family must have enough virtue in them to let them see beyond what he now understands to be the hideousness of his appearance. Wrong. Circumstances conspire to have the son and daughter arrive just as the creature makes a kind of lunge of supplication at their blind old father. Their reactions – blind terror mixed with revulsion – are exactly what he encountered in the first weeks and months of his existence. He doesn’t take it well and spends a terrible day alone: ‘my feelings were those of rage and revenge.’ But he hasn’t given way to despair yet, thinks that maybe they will have got over their initial shock. He fantasises about the welcome he might receive…. As I’ve said before, we know where this is going. The family have left, and a meeting with the landlord makes it clear they are never coming back.
What’s a monster to do? He burns down the cottage – not with them in it, which is different from a recent stage version – and thinks about how to get his own back on humanity. He has papers of Frankenstein’s, knows that Geneva is the place to find him, and makes his way there. It takes him the whole winter. He isn’t a foul murderer, as we see when he saves a girl from drowning – only to be shot by the man with her. Right, that’s it: he is confirmed in his realisation that human beings can’t be doing with him, that he’ll have to live alone forever. He makes one last effort to break the mould, when he sees a little boy. Surely he is too young to have been inculcated with the prejudices he meets whenever anyone sees him? Couldn’t he kidnap him and educate him to be a kind of adopted son? Nope. The boy screams, tells him his father – guess who – will punish him…. The coincidence decides it for the creature. He has the chance to punish the creator who made him – he’s read Frankenstein’s journal – only to reject him and leave him to live alone forever. He kills the boy and, later, plants the locket on the girl sleeping nearby in order to prove to himself the ‘sanguinary’ nature of human laws. He knows she’ll hang for it, and the die is cast: he’s turned to the dark side.
He’s reached the end of his story now, and the experience with the boy has confirmed to him something that he has thought about before. If he is ever to have the company of an equal he must be like Adam: what he demands from his creator is a mate. He means it: ‘We may not part until you have promised to comply with my requisition.’ Oh dear.
We’re back with Frankenstein’s own account now, beginning with the argument he has with the creature concerning the little matter of Mrs Creature. Shelley makes the request sound completely reasonable: ‘Oh! My creator, make me happy; let me feel gratitude towards you for one benefit! Let me see that I excite the sympathy of some existing thing; do not deny me my request!’ If Frankenstein does it, they will go and live far from humanity for good. Frankenstein refuses – but, reader, after more arguments on both sides, the creature wrenches a promise from him. He’ll do it.
I’m hoping that Shelley hasn’t finished with the interesting stuff. I say this because the six chapters I’ve just finished consist of stuff happening – a lot of stuff – and Frankenstein telling us how bad he’s feeling. By the end of Chapter 22 he’s just got married, which would be very nice if the creature hadn’t promised to be see him again on his wedding night. But I’m jumping the gun, because there’s a reason why the creature is feeling betrayed, again. The pattern is always the same for him: he does or says something that should lead to a happy outcome – his kindness to the upper-class cottagers, his rescue of the drowning girl… and now, his promise that he will disappear forever if Frankenstein does this one little thing for him – and every time he’s disappointed. This time Frankenstein spends months getting himself ready to create a female version of the creature, travels to – wait for it – the furthest of the Orkney Islands to be as secluded as possible… and changes his mind. The creature, who has secretly followed him all the way – surely there’s a job for him in the Secret Service when all this is over – goes into paroxysms. As anybody would: this is no small disappointment, but the trashing of all his hopes for any kind of happiness.
Am I the only reader who feels at least as much sympathy for the creature as for Frankenstein? Or is this Shelley’s point? Frankenstein is very forthright in attempting to describe the depths of his misery – his line about how Justine’s despair on the eve of her execution couldn’t possibly compare with his own is merely a taster of what is to come – and, basically, it’s hard to feel as sorry for him as he does for himself. Ok, he’s having a bad time: his boat is blown to the coast of Ireland and he discovers through the suspicious looks of the locals that they think he’s the one who’s murdered another stranger in their midst. This other man turns out to be his bestest friend, Clerval. He knows who really did it – it’s happened shortly after Frankenstein has told the creature he won’t be getting a mate – but it doesn’t stop him from having a breakdown as severe as the one he had in Ingolstadt. He’s held in prison all that time – he’s delirious for two months – and it’s only through the efforts of a friendly magistrate that evidence is discovered that clears him: he was still in Orkney when the murder happened.
He doesn’t know it, but he hasn’t hit rock-bottom yet. His father has come to look after him and, eventually, get him back home. He’s feeling threefold guilt now. Even in lucid moments – he’s usually lucid now – he is prone to bursting out with confessions: ‘William, Justine, and Henry [Clerval] – they all died by my hands!’ His father takes this to be delirium, or a false memory from the time when he was delirious. We know better. And… Elizabeth, after all these years of waiting, is still ready to marry him. Frankenstein – and get this, he thinks the creature’s wedding-night threat is to do with ending his own life – decides to bring it on. He’s contemplated suicide often enough, so why not have somebody else do it for him? He hasn’t been the life and soul of the party for some time now – Clerval was the one interested in the people they met on their journey outward, and in all that scenery in the Rhineland and Britain – and now he describes himself, plausibly, as a broken man. But he and Elizabeth are married ten days after his arrival in Geneva, and Chapter 22 ends with them sailing off on their honeymoon.
What have I missed out? Lots, obviously. I mentioned the scenery, but not that Shelley makes a large part of Chapters 18 into a great tourist brochure for the beauties of the Rhine – and, surprisingly, that she does the same in Chapter 19 for ‘Windsor, Oxford, Matlock, and the Cumberland lakes.’ I love the appearance of Matlock in such elevated company. I spent many childhood Sunday afternoons in the place that still refers to itself as ‘Little Switzerland’, loving its mixture of seedy giftshops and rather fabulous scenery. It actually does remind Frankenstein of Switzerland although, admittedly, ‘everything is on a lower scale, and the green hills want the crown of distant white Alps.’ Well, yes.
The appreciation of scenery is a great indicator in this novel of states of mind. In childhood and before he becomes obsessed with his project he loves it. But by the time he and Clerval are on their journey to Britain he’s too preoccupied: ‘you… would be far more amused with the journal of Clerval, who observed the scenery with an eye of feeling and delight, than in listening to my reflections. I, a miserable wretch, haunted by a curse that shut up every avenue to enjoyment.’ That second sentence is absolutely typical of the way he describes his own misery. And how about this, on the way back to Geneva after the catastrophes of the creature’s threat, the death of Clerval and his own trial: ‘my general state of feeling was a torpor in which a prison was as welcome a residence as the divinest scene in nature; and these fits were seldom interrupted but by paroxysms of anguish and despair. At these moments I often endeavoured to put an end to the existence I loathed….’
Are we nearly there yet?
Chapter 23 to the end
The end comes quickly for one character. It’s the wedding night, and Frankenstein is even more jumpy than usual. He’s even carrying weapons: if he’s got to go, he’ll take the creature with him if he can. He still doesn’t get it, that the creature is only interested in a kind of psychological tit-for-tat: he’s miserable, and he wants Frankenstein to be miserable in exactly the same way. He murders Elizabeth – an act which, bizarrely, comes as a surprise to Frankenstein – so now, up to a point, the creature has got what he wanted. It’s a good job that Elizabeth, like all the characters other than the main two, is underdrawn, unconvincing and of no real interest to us, otherwise we might be feeling rather sad by now. We don’t, of course, any more than we did when we heard of all the other deaths. (It’s just struck me that perhaps this is why Shelley has to have both Frankenstein and the creature telling us how devastating it all is. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be bothered. It’s hard to be bothered anyway.)
Shelley has almost taken this as far as she can. The creature has wreaked unbearable havoc on Frankenstein’s mental state – he even loses his father who, devastated by the death of his adopted daughter, fades away and dies – and the rest of the novel is a kind of coda. Frankenstein suffers another breakdown of several months, finally waking up in a cell. And, having always been arrogantly single-minded, he now becomes monomaniacal, goaded into an almost superhuman hunger for revenge. He visits the graves of his family, and we get a calling-down of spirits recalling Lady Macbeth’s when she urges the ‘spirits that tend on mortal thoughts’ to fill her with ‘direst cruelty’. He persuades himself that such supernatural entities truly exist: ‘I swear… by thee, O Night, and the spirits that preside over thee, to pursue the daemon who caused this misery, until he or I shall perish.’ Later, as he pursues the Creature across Europe and, eventually, to the Arctic Circle, he never ceases to believe that the spirits are genuinely helping him. (Is this Shelley showing us how far he has fallen from his belief in scientific principles? Or does she simply fancy throwing a few gothic ingredients into the mix? How should I know?)
Once we’re back where we started, with his being rescued by Walton in his ice-bound ship, Shelley can tie up a few ends. In fact, she’s a bit more ambitious than that. We saw in Walton’s first letters to his sister at the beginning of the novel that he displays some of the single-minded arrogance that characterises Frankenstein in his story. Now she makes more of the parallels. Walton’s ship has been stuck in the ice for days or weeks, and Frankenstein is present when a delegation from the crew arrives. They want Walton to promise to turn back if there’s a chance – and it’s as though Frankenstein has learnt nothing. Gaining temporary strength from his passion, he hectors them: ‘What do you mean? What do you demand of your captain? Did you not call this a glorious expedition? … You were hereafter to be hailed as the benefactors of your species, your names adored as belonging to brave men who encountered death for honour and the benefit of mankind.’
This is the dream of glory he himself started off with, not the lesson of years of harrowing experience. And Walton is swept along. All he feels is the disappointment of failure, as a single short paragraph in his ongoing letter shows: ‘The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience.’ We recognise the arrogance of the fanatic: what Walton is forgetting is that men have already died, and that many of those remaining have wives and children who depend on them.
Frankenstein’s animation is short-lived: whatever the principle of life is, he’s running out of it. He knows this, and tries to get Walton to promise to pursue and kill the creature after his death. There seems no end to his obsession – but it turns out that there is. As he reaches his last hours, he changes his mind: ‘I dare not ask you to do what I think right, for I may still be misled by passion. That he should live to be an instrument of mischief disturbs me….’ Ah, this is the problem: what’s going to happen in a world stalked by an amoral monster – one who, we know, is capable of terrorising a village and stripping it of all its food-stocks? Well…
… after Frankenstein’s death we find out. The creature arrives to contemplate the death of his enemy, and Walton faces the hideous being with skin ‘like that of a mummy’. Frankenstein had warned him not to be taken in by the creature’s ‘eloquence’… but Shelley leaves enough room for the reader to decide how much of his final explanation to believe. Sometimes there’s a kind of absurdity in the emotional arms race which, even now, is going on between him and his dead creator. We have heard often enough how Frankenstein considers himself to be the unhappiest of men, and we know he means it literally. Well that’s nothing. The creature describes the anguish of committing murders he knew to be morally abhorrent: ‘Do you think that I was then dead to agony and remorse? He,’ he continued, pointing to the corpse, ‘he suffered not in the consummation of the deed. Oh! Not the ten-thousandth portion of the anguish that was mine during the lingering detail of its execution.’
This is the final twist. According to the creature – and we know how unreliable a witness he is to the workings of his own soul, know how appalling his crimes have been – to commit such atrocities is a torment: ‘My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.’
It’s in this, his continual determination to persuade his listener that his suffering outdoes that of his counterpart, that the creature most resembles Frankenstein. However we might be ‘fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy’, what is it that human beings do, all the time? Frankenstein, the creature – and, Shelley has reminded us, Walton – all let their own egotistical concerns get in the way of sympathy for others. I realise that’s what Walton is there for, to demonstrate that this isn’t just the folly of her two extraordinary creations, but of mankind in general. A dangerous thing, ego.
The creature realises this, tells Walton he has no need to fear any further murders, because his life’s purpose is over: his enemy is dead. He will find his way to ‘the most northern extremity of the globe’ and build himself a funeral pyre. The secrets of his own creation will die with him – another wish he shares with his creator. Perhaps, Shelley seems to be saying, we might learn more from all this than Walton appears to have done: mistakes can only be repeated endlessly if you allow them to be.