This post is an in depth look at Clerval’s death in Frankenstein and his significance in the novel as a whole.
Characterisation of Clerval, earlier in the novel
“he loved enterprise, hardship, and even danger for its own sake. He was read deeply read in books of chivalry and romance. He composed heroic songs, and began to write many a tale of enchantment and knightly adventure”
“he might not have been so perfectly humane, so thoughtful in his generosity – so full of kindness and tenderness amidst his passion for adventurous exploit”
“Nothing could equal my delight on seeing Clerval”
“I could not have a more kind and attentive nurse than himself…he performed the kindest action”
“Clerval had never sympathised in my tastes for natural sciences and his literary pursuits differed wholly from whose which had occupied me”
“He was alive to every new scene; joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise and recommence a new day”
“He felt as if he had been transported to Fairy-land and enjoyed a happiness seldom tasted by man”
“His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart”
“Clerval desired the intercourse of the men of genius and talent who flourished at this time; but this was with me a secondary object”
How is he a mirror of Victor?
- They both indulge in knowledge and are totally inspired by it
- They’re great friends
- They both have the ambition to be the best in their fields
- They both have fear and set back (Clerval is kept back in college
How is he a foil?
- Clerval shows the right path that Victor should have taken
- As Victor gets more and more depressed, Clerval seems to flourish even more
- He is worldlier and his dreams are possible
- His dreams demand leadership which makes him very different to the secluded Victor
- His ambitions lead to him being a better person rather than transgression
“Ay, sir, free enough for honest folks. Mr. Kirwin is a magistrate, and you are to give an account of the death of a gentleman who was found murdered here last night.
This answer startled me, but I presently recovered myself. I was innocent; that could easily be proved… Little did I then expect the calamity that was in a few moments to overwhelm me and extinguish in horror and despair all fear of ignominy or death. I must pause here, for it requires all my fortitude to recall the memory of the frightful events which I am about to relate, in proper detail, to my recollection.”
The ending of 3.3 creates great tension and the reader is led to feel just as confused as Victor may be. There is a pause in the action of the plot.
David Lodge, ‘Suspense’, The Art of Fiction (1992)
NOVELS ARE NARRATIVES, and narrative, whatever its medium – words, film, strip-cartoon – holds the interest of an audience by raising questions in their minds, and delaying the answers. The questions are broadly of two kinds, having to do with causality (e.g. whodunnit?) and temporality (e.g. what will happen next?) each exhibited in a very pure form by the classic detective story and the adventure story, respectively. Suspense is an effect especially associated with the adventure story, and with the hybrid of detective story and adventure story known as the thriller. Such narratives are designed to put the hero or heroine repeatedly into situations of extreme jeopardy, thus exciting in the reader emotions of sympathetic fear and anxiety as to the outcome.
Shelley employs suspense by introducing many new characters that neither Victor nor the reader know and therefore creates confusion. She also makes use of ambiguity by not revealing who the man is that has died and therefore persuades the reader to continue reading. Victor is being put in jeopardy because he could be accused of murder – ‘sympathetic fear and anxiety as to the outcome’
How does suspense continue to build in this chapter?
‘a fatality seems to pursue you’ (p.185)
‘Alas! Why did they preserve so miserable and detested a life? It was surely that I might fulfill my destiny, which is now drawing to a close.’ (p.186)
Plans to return to Geneva, ‘to lie in wait for the murderer’ (p.187)
‘a truce was established between the present hour and the irresistible, disastrous future’ (p.188)
Elizabeth’s death is coming…
How has Victor been affected by Clerval’s death?
We know that Victor faints and succumbs to a fever which lasts for two months. After this he described as ‘the shadow of a human being… a mere skeleton’ (p.187)
How does Clerval’s death affect him emotionally and mentally?
Victor has a nightmare about how he is being killed by the monster in the same way as it has killed all its victims (strangling) “I felt the fiend’s grasp in my neck; and could not free myself from it; groans and cries rang in my ears”
This is perhaps he felt such a connection to the other characters that have been murdered, that it deeply hurts him too and sends him into a state of emotional torment and almost madness.
Clerval’s death is foreshadowed using dramatic irony, how he is so happy to be alive and such and his death is so significant because it hammers home the fact that everything that victor loves is destroyed around him and this is all as a result of his monster.