Contents Index

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.