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"Now Misery Has Come Home": Sibling Rivalry in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

William Crisman

Studies in Romanticism 36 (Spring 1997): 27-41.

{27} As J. M. Hill says, a reader can "begin[ ] with the commonplace that Frankenstein is a family romance."1 Indeed, as Frankenstein's creature itself reminds, the scientist's lab book is half a technical "progress" report and half "accounts of domestic occurrences,"2 and Elizabeth reminds Victor Frankenstein that his story is really one of how "misery has come home."3 The question for criticism is exactly how this "misery has come home."

Critical literature imagines Frankenstein's family tragedy almost exclusively in generational terms, a matter of problems developing in the vertical series of grandparent to child to grandchild: Mary Shelley is unconsciously describing some distress in "the emotion surrounding the parent-child relationship."4 Understandings of this distress belong generally to one of three camps. One camp stresses Mary's response to her own famous parents, reflected in Victor Frankenstein's "aggressive feelings toward his parents" and his "need[ ] to dethrone them."5 The novel's oedipal character is {28} "widely noted" as Mary's "intensely rebellious anti- patriarchal impulse."6 "In the Monster's spiritual isolation we see a projection of Mary Shelley's own situation in the Godwinian milieu,"7 a "profound awareness of woman's position under patriarchy" leading to a "symbolic, upwardly displaced, castration" of the father.8 By a mechanism never entirely clear, this female, anti-oedipal instinct9 transforms as well into Victor's traditionally male "oedipal rivalry for possession of the mother,"10 in which his bride, Elizabeth, becomes a mother "surrogate."11

In contrast to this emphasis on Mary's response to her father's generation, the second camp stresses her response to the generation to come. Most famously, Ellen Moers points out Mary's problems with her own illicit pregnancies and the deaths of her babies during the time of writing the novel. Producing the monstrous creature becomes a symbol of bad births, expressing a "suprahuman knowledge of motherhood and its potential for tragedy,"12 just as Victor's treatment of it suggests "deficient infant care."13

The third camp seems really a compromise between camps one and two: the novel reflects both aggression toward the father and anxiety about maternity. The creature's "mother," Victor, is really a father and therefore not much of a mother at all. Ulrich Knoepflmacher refers to Mary's experience growing up as an "inadequate substitute" for a lost mother in {29} a "father's household."14 "Frankenstein is . . . about what happens when a man tries to have a baby"15 and thereby interferes with "the specifically female discourse of reproduction and procreation."16 This interference constitutes a "crime against womanhood" as "an attempt . . . to circumvent mature sex."17

Without discrediting points of these important interpretations, the reader cannot help noticing that the positions of each camp are becoming increasingly ingenious. Fully acknowledging Mary Lund's warning not to simplify the novel to the point of ignoring its "tangled threads,"18 the present study would like to take some of the "tangle" out of the threads by questioning the prime assumption of these critical camps, namely that Frankenstein is mainly a "family" tragedy of vertical, parent-child relations. Construing the novel instead as dramatizing horizontal, sibling, tensions provides perhaps a clearer, less convoluted, and consistent guide to the novel's events in detail.

Sibling rivalry receives short mention (Claridge 16), but it never gains center stage as a way to read this novel. The neglect is strange on two grounds. First, sibling rivalry has as much place as "anti- oedipal" experiences and sad motherhood in Mary's childhood and teenage experience. She was "jealous" of the "abounding health and vivacity" of her half sister, Claire,19 and acted with "muted hostility" toward her half brother (Knoepflmacher 103). Second, the novel focuses so plainly on the murder of siblings and near siblings that a reader would naturally wonder if sibling rivalry plays a prime role in the horrific plot.

The analysis that follows will make an assumption so old in Frankenstein criticism that it no longer needs extensive proof: that Victor's "creature" {30} functions also as "his own Doppelgänger, his alter ego, his objectified id";20 "it is customary by now to discuss Frankenstein and the monster as the feuding halves of a single personality" (Knoepflmacher 109), and most critics agree that "the monster's ugliness symbolizes his creator's own monstrosity."21 Victor calls himself "creature" at a time long before the creature's production (29); calls himself directly "murderer" on several occasions (84, 88, and passim); and sometimes even dramatically appears like the creature, as when Victor portrays both of them bearing numerous pistols (189 and 204). That the murders are also Victor's murders, by his own admission, will be treated as a given. What is up for investigation is how much sibling rivalry functions as the motive.

Victor is an ideal candidate for sibling rival. Until the birth of Ernest he "remained for several years his [parents'] only child" in a situation where, he recalls, "no creature could have had more tender parents" (29). This quality of "tender" parent-child relations noticeably appears as well in the girlhood of Victor's mother, always an only child, a childhood which Victor imagines as one of "the greatest tenderness" (28). Mary Shelley expands on this situation in the 1831 edition, where Victor feels himself his parents' "idol," to whom they perform "duties . . . owed" to him as a gift from "Heaven" (234). The appreciated tenderness toward the only child produces a megalomanic feeling that his existence is a divine gift to which worship is due.

From this position of imagined, ideal tenderness, Victor is brought into a situation of multiple siblings, a condition that may even seem plotted before his birth. Victor's father only considers marriage to have several "sons . . . who might carry his name down to posterity" (27), even though Victor imagines himself in the singular as "the destined successor" (29).

Such a shock to the young "idol" "destined" to receive adorational "duties" is one that Victor tries to suppress in his oft-quoted remarks about his "perfect family," where life "passed happily," and "discontent never visited my mind" (37, 31, and 158). With Matthew Brennan as a rare {31} exception,22 most readers of the 1818 edition already take this idyllic description as suspiciously overstated, and Shelley in the 1831 edition gives the reader a direct glimpse behind the suppression in Victor's reference to his youthful "temper . . sometimes violent, and my passions vehement" (237).

The same edition emphasizes that such a violence arising from wanting to be an only child has been ingrained in Victor's general impressions. The mountain wanderings after William's death are ones "associated with . . . boyhood" (248) in a location where nature has two child-related characteristics. On the one hand, the mountains "congregated round me . . . they all gathered round me, and bade me be at peace" (249), suggesting "a reunion with the lost mother."23 This twice-stated image of the single "me" encircled by adoring, huge shapes parallels a child's impression of being surrounded by much larger parents and draws out as well the megalomanic, Christ-child implication already present in Victor's sense of himself as Heaven's gift. On the other hand, the mountainous terrain also recalls a situation "ever and anon rent and torn, as if . . . a plaything" (248 f.). Destruction of toys -- the violence of the nursery -- is the alternative to worship of the single child.

These impressions, especially drawn out in the 1831 edition, are already latent in 1818. Victor wants to be alone with "his" mountains. Already in the earlier version he "determined to go [the mountain route] alone, for . . . the presence of another would destroy the solitary grandeur of the scene" (92). Again seeking to be in the center, he would boat alone "into the middle of [Lake Geneva]" and "gave way" to his "own . . . reflections," "reflection" as often (especially on water) suggesting both thought and a narcissistic, visual self-mirroring. He is content as "the only . . . thing . . . in a scene so beautiful and heavenly." As he leaves the "middle" of this "heavenly" isolation, however, and approaches its periphery, a multiplicity of beings affront his senses, "some bat, or the frogs, whose harsh and interrupted croaking was heard only when I approached the shore" (86 f.). Leaving central isolation is to confront conventionally slimy creatures.

{32} The link between these loathesome things and siblings is not stretched. Swiss lakes are once again the nursery, where waves resemble "the play of a lively infant" (162), but violence usually appears in multiples. A "storm," Victor says, "as is often the case in Switzerland, appeared at once in various parts of the heaven" (71). The "lightnings" are also portrayed as "playing . . . in the most beautiful figures," but with a "violence [that] quickly increased" (70). As symbolic nursery, Swiss lakes present two forms of alternative "play," the "lively" play of the single child, and the "violent" play of multiple figures that appear "at once."

Transferring this automatic way of perceiving non-human nature to Victor's way of perceiving human interchange is straightforward. As he wants to be the single, central figure on the lake, so Victor instinctively wants to be the single, central figure of the human realm. As the narrator, Walton, writes, Victor "seems to feel his own worth" (208). When in the 1831 edition Victor thinks of humankind in general, he blurts that he "abhorred the face of man. Oh, not abhorred! they were my brethren" (255). Even his casually conventional and general siblings, the "brethren" of humankind, evoke an instant "abhorrence" to be quickly suppressed, just as Victor's "passions violent" in childhood become suppressed behind the fiction of the "perfect family." The reader can chart the same suppressed abhorrence lexically in the shift between Victor's 1818 reference to "my fellow-creatures" to its 1831 version of "the beings of my own species" (259). "Fellow"ship is gone, replaced by a coldly grudging acknowledgment of biological kinship that implicitly rejects any other human bond. The reader might recall the bats and croaking frogs on the periphery of Victor's otherwise isolated lake.

In a transferred sense, Victor's destruction of the female creature comes from his awareness that she might bear a family of multiple "children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth" (163). When he thinks of a childless union, before and after the partial assembly of the female creature, Victor feels sympathy for the male creature (142 and 214). Importantly, when he imagines a truly monstrous family, he bypasses the otherwise harmonious possibility of a single baby and instantly leaps to a crowd of destructive "devils." Given this "abhorrence" of others and centering of the self, the murder of Victor's true sibling William makes perfect sense. Victor judges the baby William "the most beautiful little fellow in the world" (36), initiating a theme of physical beauty that will be important throughout. In near homoerotic appreciation, Walton will later praise Victor himself for "his fine and lovely eyes" (207). Victor is something of an acknowledged "beauty," and for his first impression of William to be that of "the most beautiful" already prepares for jealousy. Elizabeth's later reference to William's beauty as located in his "sweet {33} laughing blue eyes" (62) makes the beauty contest with Victor's "lovely eyes" direct.

Furthermore, William inspires "the tenderest affection" (37). In its previous occurrences, "tender" is associated with the state of the single child, both Victor himself and his mother as a child. For Victor to apply the word to William suggests Victor feels his brother is being treated as if single, that is, as if Victor did not exist.

The reader learns also that William's portrait hangs, apparently alone, beneath that of their mother, a painting especially commissioned by their father. Visually the impression of William as only child has been built even into the interior design of the house. Significantly, what the mother's portrait depicts is her kneeling over the coffin of her father, a celebration of an always-only child's devotion. As Victor sees her portrait, he unconsciously refers to her by her maiden name, "Caroline Beaufort," indicating his awareness of the parent-single child relation (73).

When the creature, as Victor's alter ego, actually murders William, the elements of beauty competition and jealousy over parents come together. The creature is, of course, ugly in comparison with those around him; noticeably the "disgust and affright" this ugliness would inspire is specifically contrasted with Victor's beautiful mother as the creature sees her in William's locket. William more than anyone else in a short space reminds him of his deformity: "'monster! ugly wretch! . . . You are an ogre. . . . Hideous monster!'" Simultaneously William reminds the creature of paternal preference: "'I will tell my papa. . . . My papa . . . would punish you"' (139). The single- child possessiveness of "my papa" is noticeable, and the murder of the "most beautiful" in the painted presence of the beautiful mother by the exaggeratedly and self-consciously ugly creature brings the reader back to the nursery of "rent and torn playthings" and "temper violent." Bringing the "misery home" to Mary Shelley, Ulrich Knoepflmacher reminds that Mary's own troublesome half brother was a "William" and Mary Thornburg's impression of sibling violence is so strong that she argues, oversubtly, that no "objective monster" was responsible for William's murder at all. Rather, Victor slipped out to commit the murder personally (Thornburg 86).

Victor's response to William's death underscores their sibling rivalry. If recent studies of sibling death indicate a "search for a new self" and a "greater maturity" on the part of the bereaved sibling,24 Victor's reaction indicates something quite different. He has moments of despair, but on the trip to the family house of mourning they disappear entirely into "happiness" {34} over "my mountains" (70). Victor has not grown but simply relaxed again into the central figure surrounded by what have appeared elsewhere as huge parental shapes. The single-child possessiveness inherent in "my mountains" recurs as Victor tries to convert William's tragedy into his own: the letter announcing William's death, Victor says, is "the account of my misfortune" (68). This obsessive use of "my" in this and other passages recalls James Carson's remark that in her own prose Mary attempts to de-emphasize "personal pronouns" as a means of "eliminat[ing] personal considerations," a way of "draining the adjective my of most of its possessive force" (Carson 435, 437; his emphasis). Conversely, Victor sinks back into personal possessiveness and self-absorption. Shortly after William's murder, Victor finds himself "entirely recovered" (85), returned to a state unthreatened, at least by his "most beautiful" sibling.

Victor's relief is attended by signs that the murder has in fact been his doing, though physically performed by his alter ego. On seeing the creature in the area, Victor is "instantly convinced" that it is the culprit and maintains his conviction in spite of what seems at this point a compelling theft motive in the murder. The theft in question is that of the mother's special locket that William has been wearing, a sign of special privilege; and Victor's second reference to his conviction of the creature's guilt is his "faith" that it performed the act (71). The overlap in "faith" between certainty and religious hope is not accidental.

Reading William's murder as an act of sibling aggression has at least the advantage of critical economy. Trying to read the novel as an oedipal fantasy, Kate Ellis confesses that William's killing is an act that "does not seem to fit."25 Rather than see it as an artistic mistake, however, she strains to show that killing William is as close as Victor can come to killing the actual father. Seeing the little boy as what he is -- a brother -- makes much more sense than trying to take him as what he is not.

The "recovery" Victor experiences after William's death is only shortlived, and William is only the first of the creature's victims. Even after death, William re-emerges as a sibling threat. In addition to his miniature in a special place under the mother's portrait, the terms of consolation for his death carry their own reminders of William's privilege. Clerval says William "now sleeps with his angel mother" (69), an implication of near- incestuous favoritism that Mary Shelley draws out in the 1831 edition with references to William's "young beauty" (244) instead of his "gentle {35} form" of 1818. As John Dussinger suggests, maternal love in the novel verges on incest (46); in a sense, Victor's "murder" has backfired, intensifying the mother's admiration for William to the point of putting the "young beauty" in bed with her.

The middle brother, Ernest, also serves to keep the post- mortem sibling rivalry alive in a way that additionally recalls Victor's self-centeredness. Ernest's accusation of Victor for not having come home before William's death leads Victor to respond "be more calm, that I may not be absolutely miserable the moment I enter my father's house" (74), the frequent "I's" and "my's" recalling that Victor considers William's death really "my" tragedy. The 1831 edition also makes the sting of sibling rivalry even sharper by having Ernest remind Victor that William "was our darling and our pride" (245).

Moreover, the change in Ernest himself between 1818 and 1831 emphasizes this sibling threat. In both editions, Ernest "had been afflicted with ill health from his infancy," making him not much of a rival, and indeed making him both an inferior and a possession of Victor's, as Ernest becomes "my . . . pupil" (36). In 1818 his frailty makes him a passive object of "constant illness" for whom others have to seek a career (59), whereas in 1831 his recovery to "activity and spirit" makes him "desirous" of a "military career" (243). Taking self-initiative for a vigorous, aggressive life -- in a way that recalls the contrast of the sickly Mary Shelley with her own healthy, vivacious half sister -- Ernest ceases to be under Victor's control at the same time that he reminds Victor of William's privilege.

William's phantom and the uncomfortable ascendancy of Ernest contribute to, but do not wholly explain, the motive for the murders of Clerval and Elizabeth. Although they are not literally siblings, they play near-sibling roles. Elizabeth most directly resembles William in her connection to the mother. "I have often heard my mother say," reports Victor, "that [Elizabeth] was at that time the most beautiful child she had ever seen" (29), a description "often" eliminating Victor from this beauty contest as well. Victor refers to his adoptive sister as so much his mother's "favourite" that the mother dies for her (37 f.). The most significant plot change between 1818 and 1831 highlights this maternal affection for Elizabeth. In 1818 Elizabeth is the father's niece, brought into the household "as [his] own daughter" (29). By 1831 Elizabeth has ceased to be a cousin rescued by the father and has become an independent discovery of the mother. With Victor himself as witness, his mother discovers Elizabeth at a peasant's hut, a beautiful child "which attracted my mother far above the rest" (234). On being brought into the household by the mother, she becomes -- in Victor's ambiguous phrase -- "my more than sister" (235).

While Henry Clerval does not share the dangerous distinction of being {36} the "most beautiful" adoptive child of Victor's mother, he appears as "the brother of my soul" who must be "includ[ed]" in "our domestic circle" (31), the circle recalling the lake whose only center Victor should be. If Henry lacks the connection to the mother, the 1831 edition makes plain that he has an annoying connection to the father. Victor says that his father "interfered with the solitude I coveted" by "arrang[ing] that Clerval should join me" on the trip to produce the creature's mate (235).

An "interference" in the "solitude" Victor craves, both near siblings also become targets of jealousy. "Every one loved and caressed" Elizabeth, Victor says (75). Clerval, Victor's own age and constantly with him in school, wrote tales that were "the delight and amazement of all his companions" (30). Even in the frame narrative of the novel, Victor tells Walton that Walton would find Clerval's writing "more amus[ing]" than Victor's own (152). The jealousy involved in admiring Clerval's writing may explain the resentment latent in the 1831 edition. Instead of providing a source of "amazement" through his poetry that his fellows volunteer to "act" (1818, 30), Clerval now "tried to make us act out plays" (183l, 236 f.). The enjoyment becomes a burden.

As near siblings, Elizabeth and Clerval in fact share an intellectual characteristic. Both are imaginative types, pursuing "the aerial creations of the poets" and "books of chivalry and romance." While Victor pretends to admire these airy, poetic spirits, he also moves rivalously to undercut the admiration. He wants to understand "facts relevant to the actual world" (30). Though this description may appear at first neutral, Victor quickly freights it with value. He advocates matters "real and practical" as opposed to matters merely "chimerical" (33). His own enterprise ascends over that of his supposedly admired siblings. Following the tortuous course of Victor's jealousies makes one amazed at a remark like Milton Mays's that the "Monster [is] indisputably more complex" than Victor because Victor is incapable of "envy."26

On route to his murder by Victor's alter ego, Clerval in fact awakens the thought of sibling killing. Victor says the name "Chamounix . . . made me tremble when pronounced by Henry," since it is associated with the site of William's murder. Directly after awakening the thought of fratricide, Clerval also arouses jealousy when Victor notices "the delight of Clerval was proportionately greater than mine," just as Victor himself was "almost" on the verge of "happiness" (159). Directly thereafter Victor begins to fear that the creature follows them with an intent of "murdering my companion" (160). After the killing of his near brother, Victor not only confesses {37} himself a "murderer" -- though the creature has actually performed the act -- but three times proclaims "murderous machinations" (174, 180, and 183), admitting the plotting that has unconsciously occurred on the trip.

Victor's aggression toward his "more than sister" Elizabeth is apparent if suppressed from the start. As a child he appreciates her ambiguously. "Playful as a summer insect," she is "the most fragile creature in the world" (29 f.). The description could express admiration for a butterfly existence, but by now the emphasis on extreme "fragility" must carry as much a suggestion of a gnat to be crushed. The epithet "creature" also resonates with the "creature" Victor produces as a device for murdering siblings. This reference to Elizabeth, which phases into one of a "favourite animal" to be "tend[ed]" (30), contains in one mix patronizing superiority and hostility prefiguring sororicide.

Aggravating the aggression Victor feels toward his near sister is her association with parental abandonment, an acute psychological problem over generations for Mary Shelley and her family,27 as well as an intellectual problem in her response to J. J. Rousseau's abandoning his children.28

In the novel this abandonment is direct through the mother's death, which Elizabeth causes, and which Victor relives in his dream of Elizabeth's transforming into his mother's corpse on the night of the creature's vivification (53). The association is also indirect when Victor approaches Elizabeth to confess his scientific pursuits, "but she could not interest herself . . .. and I was left by her . . . alone" (34). The paradox of Victor's sibling rivalry is that he wants to be better than his "airy," un"realistic" near siblings, but this exclusive superiority itself becomes a reminder of the abandonment felt because of the siblings to begin with.

Victor's murderous antagonism toward Elizabeth becomes more prominent in the 1831 edition. When he thinks of their marriage, he thinks of her as "mine only till death" (236); when he thinks of their wedding day, he does so chillingly as the time when "I might claim Elizabeth" (253). His impression of her corpse has correspondingly changed from attention to her "deathly" arms in 1818 to her "deadly" arms in 1831 (193 and 257), an expression much more commonly taken, in the nineteenth century as well, to mean causing death rather than resembling death. As Kari Weil says -- disbelievingly -- "monstrosity is the hidden truth of the angel."29 {38} Even in death Elizabeth is a threat; and in a reflection of the self- centered, nursery possessiveness that characterizes all Victor's actions, his response to this threat is to "claim" her as "mine," as the mountains are "my mountains," and William's death is "my misfortune."

Victor's progress toward murdering Elizabeth exhibits fairly transparent suppressions, marked by self-centeredness. After William's murder, Victor's instinct is to worry about the creature's threat to others, not himself: "I thought . . . of my father, and surviving brother: should I leave them exposed and unprotected to the malice of the friend . . .?" (87). He worries on the trip with Clerval not that the creature will strike Victor himself but Henry, as in fact the creature does. Yet amazingly Victor takes the creature's threat to be with him on his wedding night not as a threat to Elizabeth but to him: "Such was my sentence, and on that night would the daemon employ every art to destroy me" (186). The "my" and "me" are again prominent. In spite of Victor's protest that he had not "for one instant" thought "the hellish intention of my fiendish adversary" was to kill Elizabeth, the reader sees that this is not simply naive obtuseness, as Christopher Small would have it,30 or an indictment of language as unclear, in James Carson's view.31 Within a paragraph, Victor confesses a "prophetic feeling" of Elizabeth's murder, but he never lets this awareness break verbal surface until, with her dying scream, "the whole truth rushed into my mind" (193).

Fittingly, the last stage of this selfish, suppressive ruse is punctuated by Victor's lament for himself. On the eve of her murder, he complains to the despondent Elizabeth that she is spoiling his fun: "Ah! if you knew what I have suffered, and what I may yet endure, you would endeavour to let me taste the quiet . . . that this one day at least permits me to enjoy" (190). Victor works even before Elizabeth's death to make yet another person's unhappiness "my" pain.

Sibling aggression in Frankenstein goes beyond a psychopathology of Victor and becomes more threateningly a characteristic of family existence as Mary Shelley imagines it. Victor's father, for instance, "had a sister, whom he tenderly loved," but on her marriage and relocation to Italy he "had very little communication with her" (29), an odd isolation of a wealthy, politically powerful figure from a "loved" one who lives fairly close to Switzerland.

{39} More telling is how much sibling aggression afflicts the otherwise "angel," Elizabeth. She too has a troublesome adoptive sister in Justine, to whom she reacts in a way parallel to Victor's reaction to William. A beauty contest ensues: Justine is "extremely pretty," Elizabeth remarks (61), when Elizabeth herself long before was praised as the "most beautiful" child. In remarking Justine's beauty, Elizabeth casually lets drop that she thinks of another family as having a "pretty" and an "ugly sister" (62). Like Victor and his monstrous alter ego, she seems caught in a bind of unconscious extremes, according to which one is either exaggeratedly lovely or exaggeratedly deformed.

Like Victor's fatal competitions, this competition leads to Justine's death, this time through Elizabeth's agency. Elizabeth gives William the locket that eventually provides the evidence to hang Justine, mistakenly, for William's murder. Like Victor, Elizabeth suppresses her antagonism behind protests of devotion, or, as Iain Crawford puts it, "layers of protective auto-valorization" (Crawford 253): "I assure you," Elizabeth says out of the blue, "I love her tenderly," as if some "assurance" were mysteriously required (61). And, like Victor after William's death, she seems "entirely recovered" remarkably fast. Leaving Justine to die, she sighs "how much I am relieved" (84), the "I" and its satisfaction recalling Victor's sense that the story is "my" tragedy. Elizabeth says "I feel as if I were walking on the edge of a precipice, toward which thousands are crowding, and endeavouring to plunge me into the abyss" (88).

In this interlayering of self-centered sibling antagonisms, the reader cannot forget that Justine herself is the literal beneficiary and victim of parental "partiality." The "favourite of her father," she can return to her mother's deathbed only after "the deaths of her [mother's] favourites," the other three children of the household (60 f.).

Mary Shelley seems to imagine mutually supportive sibling relations only with great difficulty and under unusual, controlled circumstances. Agatha and Felix, the emblematically named "happy" siblings the creature spies on at the De Lacey household, have a blind father who cannot judge a beauty contest to begin with. As Elissa Marder emphasizes, the family is also motherless,32 and it had been Mother Frankenstein who began her family's beauty contests to begin with.

Even the instrument of brother and sister murder, the creature, seems himself to be sensitive to sibling competition. In the De Lacey household, which the creature imagines as his family, he "boast[s]" that he learns to speak faster than Saphie, "who understood very little, and conversed in {40} broken accents" (114). James O'Rourke finds "noteworthy" that in reading Paradise Lost the creature identifies with not just any devil but with the "chief" and most "admired" devil, Lucifer, a cosmic center of attention (O'Rourke 551). Ulrich Knoepflmacher sees the creature's killing William as a "delayed fratricidal act" caused by the betrayal of the creature's "potential brother" Felix when Felix drives the creature from its imagined, De Lacey, home (Knoepflmacher 101).

If Frankenstein has a pervasive atmosphere of sibling aggression, the one character who may seem to breathe outside this atmosphere is the frame narrator, Captain Walton, to whom the reader is ultimately indebted for all the information about the Frankenstein story. Taking the ultimate narrator as immune to the story's poisoned air might be a sign of hope that, under other conditions, a good sibling relation can exist. The story is, after all, in the form of letters from Walton to his sister, Mrs. Saville, suggesting connectedness and interchange. This reading of Walton and his sister is common in the critical literature. Mary Shelley "identifies . . . with Walton" in his relation to Mrs. Saville ('civil')" because it reveals his "socially adjusted self" (Brennan 41); Walton's sister is his "female complementary . . . ego ideal" (Knoepflmacher 107).

A second look at this relation, however, makes one wonder how much this idealization holds. For starters, he is writing these "communications" on a voyage he imagines taking him as far from his sister as possible, to the North Pole, the Northwest Passage, and around the world; the reader remembers, for instance, how much even insignificant distance between Victor's father and his sister creates an almost total barrier. Walton does not think Mrs. Saville can respond to him: "I may receive your letters (though the chance is very doubtful)" (35). Walton says of his own letters that he feels it "highly probable that these papers will never reach you" (211), and the "papers" themselves are peppered with confessions that "it is impossible to communicate" this and that (15). A letter the intended recipient probably will not receive, to which she probably cannot respond, and which constantly confesses it does not "communicate" looks more like a sign of poor communication than an open channel of interchange. Indeed, most of the "letters" Walton refers to as his "journal," a self-directed diary that by 1831 begins to discuss Mrs. Saville not as a "you" but as a "she": "Heaven bless my beloved sister!" (231).

Walton's relation to Victor suggests an analogous ambivalence. Walton repeatedly says he seeks a "friend" (13 and passim), a word that by this point in the novel has come pointedly to exclude siblings. Though Victor, for instance, in the arctic pursuit of the creature remembers William's death (206), he almost exclusively sees his "friends," his "dearest friends," in dreams (202) and speaks deliriously "with his friends" on Walton's ship {41} (208). In the first instance, these "friends" are identified as Elizabeth and Clerval in the same passage, and immediately after the second instance they are twice identified again as Elizabeth and Clerval. The category "friend" excludes the biological brother William; as threatening as they are as near siblings, Elizabeth and Clerval are not as fearful as the literal sibling himself. So in Walton's search for a "friend," he has noticeably encountered Victor at a time when he is too wasted even to be a figurative "brother of my heart." The potential brother on the verge of death has the same safety as the sister a letter will never reach. Victor is too weak to have a threatening sibling status, which even now Walton imagines as one of "possess[ing]" a brother (22). Like Elizabeth as "insect" and "animal," or Ernest as a "pupil," the sibling is thinkable only as an object of domination, and Victor on his deathbed has passed even beyond the need of this control.

Given these tendencies, the reader has to wonder why Walton's "thoughts, and every feeling of soul . . . have been drunk up" trying to "gain from Frankenstein the particulars of the creature's formation" (207). The suspicion lurks that in spite of all his "blessings," the prime storyteller himself might crave a sibling-killing machine, a way of regaining the center of the nursery floor where all toys and all attention are "mine."33

Penn State, Altoona Campus

Notes: 1. J. M. Hill, "Frankenstein and the Physiognomy of Desire," American Imago 32 (1975): 335.

2. The editor of the MLA's Teaching Frankenstein volume informs me that by vote his authors decided it was politically correct to call Victor's creation "creature" and not "monster," although both Victor and William (at least) do so. Nevertheless, I shall follow their lead except when deleting monster would interfere with another critic's quotation.

3. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text, ed. James Rieger (Indianapolis, 1974; rpt. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982) 88. All subsequent page numbers appear parenthetically in the text. Unless indicated, all quotations are from the 1818 edition. Quotations from the 1831 revision are also from Rieger's edition.

4. Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic," from her Literary Women (Garden City: Doubleday, 1976). Quoted here as reprinted in The Endurance o/Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and Ulrich Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: U of California P, 1979) 87.

5. Laura P. Claridge, "Parent-Child Tensions in Frankenstein: The Search for Communion," Studies in the Novel 17 (1985): 20 and 19. See also Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss, "Fantasy of Paternity and the Doppelgänger: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," in The Unspoken Motive: A Guide to Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism (New York: Free Press, 1973) 126 f.

6. Iain Crawford, "Wading through Slaughter: John Hampden, Thomas Gray, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Studies in the Novel 20 (1988): 251 f.

7. Robert M. Ryan, "Mary Shelley's Christian Monster," Wordsworth Circle 19 (1988): 153.

8. James P. Carson, "Bringing the Author Forward: Frankenstein through Mary Shelley's Letters," Criticism 30 (1988): 432 and 441.

9. William Veeder, "The Negative Oedipus: Father, Frankenstein, and the Shelleys," Critical Inquiry 12 (1986).

10. John A. Dussinger, "Kinship and Guilt in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Studies in the Novel 7 (1976): 42.

11. Mary K. Patterson Thomburg, The Monster in the Mirror: Gender and the Sentimental/Gothic Myth in Frankenstein (Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1987) 84.

12. Barbara Frey Waxman, "Victor Frankenstein's Romantic Fate: The Tragedy of the Promethean Overreacher as Woman," Papers on Language and Literature 23 (1987): 25. The view is shared by Alan Bewell, "An Issue of Monstrous Desire: Frankenstein and Obstetrics," Yale Journal of Criticism 2 (1988): 116 f. See also Marc A. Rubenstein's emphasis on a "pursuit of a coherent maternal identity" through pregnancy and childbirth in "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein," SiR 15 (1976): 165 f., 169 f., 174, 182, and 186.

13. Moers, "Female Gothic" 81, seconded by Claridge, "Parent-Child Tensions" 17.

14. Ulrich C. Knoepflmacher, "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters," in Endurance of Frankenstein 92. See also Barbara Johnson's thoughts about ambivalence toward parenthood in "My Monster/My Self," Diacritics 12 (1982): 3 and 7.

15. Anne K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (1988; rpt. New York: Routledge, 1989) 40.

16. Laura Kranzler, "Frankenstein and the Technological Future," Foundation: Review of Science Fiction 44 (1988/89): 47.

17. Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1972) 165. Mary Jacobus takes such a reading to an extreme in her reading of the novel as a "vision of corrupt female flesh" in which the "monster wreaks his revenge on all women." "Is There a Woman in This Text?" New Literary History 14 (1982): 131 and 133.

18. Mary Graham Lund, "Mary Godwin Shelley and the Monster," University of Kansas City Review 27 (1962): 254.

19. Lund, "Mary Shelley and the Monster" 256. Judith Weissman records Mary's happy letter on her half-sister's death, perhaps paralleling Victor's elation after William's death. "A Reading of Frankenstein as the Complaint of a Political Wife," Colby Library Quarterly 12 (1976): 174.

20. Lowry Nelson, Jr., "Night Thoughts on the Gothic Novel," Yale Review 52 (1963): 244. For an iteration of the Doppelgänger vocabulary, see Kaplan and Kloss, Unspoken Motive 139.

21. Tang Soo Ping, "Frankenstein, Paradise Lost, and the 'Majesty of Goodness,"' College Literature 16 (1989): 258; cf M. A. Goldberg, "Moral and Myth in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Keats-Shelley Journal 8 (1959): 35; Kranzler, "Frankenstein and Technological Future" 43; Thornburg, Monster in the Mirror 6, 8, and 85; Kiely, Romantic Novel in England 165; and Masao Miyoshi, The Divided Self: A Perspective on the Literature of the Victorians (New York: New York UP, 1969) 83 f. George Levine says it is a "commonplace . . . that the hero and his antagonist are one" ("Frankenstein and the Tradition of Realism," Novel 7 [1973]: 18). For a rare exception, see Burton R. Pollin, "Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein," Comparative Literature 17 (1965): 105, n. 27.

22. Matthew C. Brennan, "The Landscape of Grief in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Studies in the Humanities 15 (1988): 34.

23. Brennan, "Landscape of Grief," 39. Rubenstein discusses the importance of "centers in the novel, "'My Accursed Origin"' 172 f. Milton Millhauser notes the extent to which the creature of Victor's making is both infant and adult at the same time. "The Noble Savage in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Notes and Queries 190 (1946): 249. For self-centeredness and narcissistic reflection, see P. D. Fleck, "Mary Shelley's Notes to Shelley's Poems and Frankenstein," SiR 6 (1967): 249. The best study of mountains as symbols of parents is Fred Randel's "Frankenstein, Feminism, and the Intertextuality of Mountains," SiR 23 (1984): esp. 525.

24. David E. Balk, "Sibling Death, Adolescent Bereavement, and Religion," Death Studies 15 (1991): 3 and 15.

25. Kate Ellis, "Monsters in the Garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois Family," in Endurance of Frankenstein 138. As George Levine says, "there is no simple way to define the relation between parents and offspring in this novel" ("Frankenstein and the Tradition of Realism") 20. Supporting the present study's emphasis on sibling rivalry, Kaplan and Kloss also wonder why Victor automatically assumes the creature's guilt in William's murder (139).

26. Milton A. Mays, "Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's Black Theodicy," Southern Humanities Review 3 (1969): 149 f.

27. Nathan Cervo, "Shelley's Frankenstein," Explicator (1988): 15; Ryan, "Mary Shelley's Christian Monster" 154.

28. James O'Rourke, "'Nothing More Unnatural': Mary Shelley's Revision of Rousseau," English Literary History 56 (1989): 545. See also Weissman, "A Reading of Frankenstein" 178 f.

29. Kari Weil, review of William Veeder, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, Critical Texts 6 (1989): 97. Weissman oddly takes Elizabeth as "blameless" (174).

30. Christopher Small, Ariel like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary and Frankenstein (London: Victor Gollancz, 1972) 168.

31. Carson, "Bringing the Author Forward" 440. Gordon D. Hirsch also claims that the "reader knows better" about who the intended victim is on the wedding night. "The Monster Was a Lady: On the Psychology of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Hartford Studies in Literature 7 (1975): 118.

32. Elissa Marder, "The Mother Tongue in Phedre and Frankenstein," Yale French Studies 76 (1989): 74 f.

33. George Levine asserts that "Walton is an incipient Frankenstein" (19).