a mixture of curiosity and compassion
If Victor Frankenstein's dying injunction carries a weight equivalent to
that of the law, what suspends Walton's obedience to it are attributes of
our human constitution that, for good or for bad, actively resist a rigid
legalistic construction. The law, which has persecuted both Justice Moritz
in volume 1 and Victor Frankenstein in volume 3, is accorded no special
privilege by this novel; but on the other hand curiosity, which has led
Walton to endanger the lives of his crew (Letter 1.2) and Victor to be blind to the
consequences of his scientific obsessions (1.7.1 and note), seems deliberately to have been
accorded a bad repute by Mary
Shelley. Yet, for the author so to link it
with compassion is to suggest an ethical likeness underpinning the two.
This similarity between sympathy and intellectual inquiry resonates as
well in other writings of Mary Shelley and her husband. A central passage of Percy Bysshe Shelley's
"Defence of Poetry" succinctly outlines the dimensions of this similarity
and suggests why its terms might matter so deeply to these writers.