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Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

The Greatness of His Fall

The forms of the beloved death flit before me, and I hasten to their arms. Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.

Victor Frankenstein to explorer Robert Walton
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818

A black and white etching of a death mask. Broussais. Charles Blanc. Photographic reproduction of an etching. National Library of Medicine Collection.
Broussais. Charles Blanc. Photographic reproduction of an etching. National Library of Medicine Collection.

As he lies dying aboard Walton's ship, Frankenstein offers an ambivalent assessment of his own conduct. In both the subtitle (The Modern Prometheus) of her novel and through Frankenstein's dying words, Mary Shelley suggests that Frankenstein's misfortune did not arise from his Promethean ambition of creating life, but in the mistreatment of his creature. Frankenstein's failure to assume responsibility for the miserable wretch he fathered in his workshop is his real tragedy.