Hoo boy! has it been a while since I’ve done this feature. I was going through old content and realized there were some things from the older version of this site (when it was only British Scifi) that I had dropped entirely in around 2016. Looking at my site statistics, I only really made a single post in the whole of that year, and for good reason. The year 2016 was not a great year for me, my mother lost her house in a flood, then shortly died of cancer mere months later, I went through marriage issues that eventually led to a divorce, all while enduring the stress of my job changing management and trying to buy a house. I had some stuff like the start of an audio podcast and a handful of recurring articles that all went in the trash due to me not being willing to do much of anything. I dropped this feature, in particular, at around that time and kicked myself for doing so. The past is in the past, and it’s time to move on and pick this back up. As readers may have noticed, I’ve slowly been trickling in old content like a return to my Doctor Who audio reviews and more and figured that Book Club needed to come back. That’s enough about my personal issues though, let’s get on with the reading!
I am using the 1831 edition of the text. The book is in the public domain as far as I know, so if you don’t have a tangible copy handy, there are many sites that host the work for free. Feel free to add to comments, ask questions, or suggest future books for this series!
As we are still in the beginnings of the book, truly only the second chapter after the introductory letters, I can’t really say that much happens here from a plot standpoint, but some very important characterization does happen. Victor Frankenstein is sent to school in Germany; this happens for many reasons chiefly being that his father wants him to experience different cultures and attend a prestigious school. He is sent to The University of Ingolstadt, which is located in Munich Germany, and was also the home place of the notorious secret society the Illuminati – that’s not really mentioned in the chapter, but I thought it was a cool tidbit to throw in there. victor is going to attend the school in order to study natural philosophy, which in many ways is the precursor to natural sciences.
Unfortunately, Victor experiences his first true tragedy in his entire life right before his departure to school. The love of his life, Elizabeth, came down with a bad case of scarlet fever. Seeing that Elizabeth basically lived in the Frankenstein household and was almost a sister to Victor, it was victor’s own parents that were tending to her- especially his mother. While Elizabeth was quarantined, victor’s mother thought that she was better before she actually was and broke the rules in order to be closer to her. This one instance of misguided empathy resulted in her immediate death. Victor is shaken by the loss of his mother, and truthfully it does not help his initial entry into the school where he starts having problems visualizing his future right off the bat. It seems Victor was at odds with “what he wanted to be when he grew up” a bit.
You see, it does not seem that Victor does well with pompous individuals, which is exactly the person he runs into when he is trying to get set up with natural philosophy coursework. This man, a portly fellow named M. Krempe, showed utter disdain for Victor being well-read solely in alchemy, notably Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus. He tries, as if doing charity work, to get him to start studying “Natural Philosophy”. Victor is torn – he knows that the ancient alchemists he read as a child were likely misguided at best, charlatans at worst, but he’s upset that modern scientists did not go for any sort of grandeur within their teachings:
“I returned home, not disappointed, for I had long considered those authors useless whom the professor had so strongly reprobated; but I did not feel much inclined to study the books which I had procured at his recommendation. M. Krempe was a little squat man, with a gruff voice and repulsive countenance; the teacher, therefore, did not prepossess me in favour of his doctrine. Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different, when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand: but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.”
These so-called “musty and ancient fancies” are what got Victor into science, so being told off in such a way was no way to endure him to progress through his studies. Even after collecting his recommended book list, he has no ambition to actually read any of them due to their mundanity. Without tales of men trying to unlock immortality or endless riches, what’s the point?
Out of idle curiosity, Frankenstein ventures into one of Krempe’s colleagues lecture rooms, to find a man that he did not see with utter disdain from the outset. That was M. Waldman.
“The ancient teachers of this science,” said he, “promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted, and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and shew how she works in her hiding places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
With Victor being at the point of ignoring modern Chemistry, this lecture, showing that modern science does still have a little bit of theater and grandeur to it, reignited Victor Frankenstein’s plan to enter a scientific career path. While you don’t really see the complete transition into a man obsessed with creating life from death, you do see him start to put together his approach of trying to combine alchemy from the distant past with modern science.
That’s it for now, join me again soon for an other chapter of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Hopefully it happens sooner than five years from now!
For the previous installments of this: