Les fleurs du mal


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Charles Baudelaire

Chapter One

The stranger who is written about in the letters is revealed to be Victor Frankenstein. He then begins his narration of the tale that brought him onto the ice floe where he was rescued by Walton. He provides his background and tells the reader about his family. That includes information about his birth and what life was like in his early childhood years. He also tells Walton about his mother and father. He talks of how his mother met his father and how she came to live with the Frankenstein family when her father died. Victor's father and Caroline's father were long-time friends. Alphonse took Caroline in and protected her when her father died. Eventually they married, and it was not long until Victor was born. Victor then talks about Elizabeth Lavenza, his childhood companion. She entered the family in one of two ways depending on the version of the book the reader has.

In the original version, published in 1818, Elizabeth is the daughter of Alphonse's sister and a cousin to Victor. Elizabeth loses her mother when Victor is four and Elizabeth is adopted by Alphonse. In the revised version, published in 1831, Elizabeth is found on a trip to Italy. Caroline discovers her. Victor is approximately five years old when this happens, and Elizabeth stands out from the crowd because she is fair-haired. Most of the Italian children have dark hair. Elizabeth is said to be an orphan, and the daughter of a German woman and a nobleman from Milan. The Italian family that is caring for her is having trouble, and is scarcely able to provide her enough food. Caroline decides that she will adopt Elizabeth and take her back to Geneva with her. At the time of adoption, Caroline also wants to see Elizabeth and Victor get married someday.

The friendships that are highlighted in this chapter are very important, because friendship is such a significant theme that runs through the entire novel. The friendship between Victor and Elizabeth is particularly interesting because it indicates that Victor looks after her and cherishes her as if she were a sibling, but there is clearly more to the story. The goal is for Victor and Elizabeth to marry one day. Elizabeth is also very beautiful, but she possesses a beauty that is "Northern" in style and that does not fit with the Italian culture in which she is found by Caroline. Despite these issues, the chapter is mostly about Victor and his family relationships. Understanding Victor's family structure and his childhood is important to the overarching concepts of the novel.

Chapter Two

Victor and Elizabeth are the best of friends as they grow up. Henry Clerval is also a good friend of Victor. He is an only child, and goes to school with Victor. His childhood is spent between his home and the Frankenstein's home, playing and having fun. When Victor reaches his teen years he becomes more fascinated by the world and all of the mysteries that it holds. Science is of interest to him, as is alchemy. He finds a book by Cornelius Agrippa, who wrote about occult sciences in the sixteenth century. Even though he stumbled upon that book completely by chance, it sparks something in him and he starts to focus on natural philosophy. Agrippa, Magnus, and Paracelsus are all authors he starts to study. Even though their findings are out of date, he Victor believes that they were onto something big. Perhaps he can discover the very secret of life itself.

During a storm taking place around that same time Victor sees how destructive and amazing nature can be. A tree near his home is hit by lighting. There is, once again, a divergence of information in the book between the original 1818 version and the revised 1831 version. The 1818 version of the story has Victor's father providing Victor with a demonstration of electricity. That demonstration is enough to convince Victor that the alchemists of the past were mistaken in their ideas. The 1831 version is different. There is a modern natural philosopher visiting with the family, and he explains how electricity works to Victor. That shows him that the alchemists' ideas are outdated and that they do not have value in modern society or in the way that science currently works.

This chapter makes it very clear that Elizabeth and Victor have an ideal relationship. It also shows what Victor is most interested in when it comes to science. He reads the alchemists' work from the past, and gets the idea that there must be something to what they were doing, even if they were dismissed by others. He has odd ways of showing his interest in things and that interest becomes almost an obsession at times. During all the events that happen in the book, Victor never takes any responsibility for his actions. For example, when the tree is struck by lightning and Victor loses his interest in science temporarily he says it was a guardian angel trying to stop him from something dangerous. It is not long before his interest resurfaces, though, and he starts contemplating science again.

Chapter Three

When Victor turns seventeen he leaves Geneva and his family behind. He has decided that he will study at the University of Ingolstadt. Right before Victor leaves his mother gets very sick with scarlet fever. She has been nursing Elizabeth back to health from the very same illness. Victor's mother is not strong enough to fend off the illness, and she dies. As she is lying on her deathbed she begs Victor and Elizabeth to marry one another. When Victor leaves for Ingolstadt a few weeks later he is still grieving deeply for his mother. He does not marry Elizabeth before he leaves for the University. When he gets to Ingolstadt he finds a place to live in the town. He also sets up a meeting because he wants to talk to a natural philosophy professor about what he will be studying.

He meets with M. Krempe who tells him that it was a complete waste of time to study alchemy and the work all of the old alchemists did. Victor is even more soured on the idea of natural philosophy after the meeting. He goes to a lecture given by a professor named Waldman. The lecture is about chemistry. While listening to it, Victor is intrigued. He has a meeting with the professor at a later date, and that convinces him that he is going to study science and pursue everything it has to offer. Waldman and Krempe are complete opposites of one another. Where Krempe is grumpy, discouraging, and wary of new talent, Waldman is deeply encouraging and has a kind and gentle disposition. Without Waldman's encouragement, Victor might have been chased away from studying science altogether.

Chapter Four

Victor is very passionate about his studies. He has no social life and his family is in Geneva, so there is nothing else for him to do other than devote himself to the study of science. Because he is not distracted, his progress is very rapid. He becomes very interested in how life is (and was) created. He sees it as a big mystery to solve. Victor starts to study anatomy to get a better idea of the actual construction of human beings. He also studies decay and death so he can learn how the body falls apart and ultimately decomposes as a person ages and passes away. Victor spends several years working tirelessly and has learned everything about science his professors can teach him. He is able to go one step beyond what they have taught to him and he uncovers the true secret of life. That is something no one else has, and Victor wants to use it to do great things.

He hides himself away in his small apartment. No one can see what he is doing in there, so he starts work on constructing a creature that he plans to animate. The idea of being able to actually build a being and bring it to life consumes him. As he works he thinks about creating a new race. The beings he would create would be wonderful. He could avoid some of the mistakes that humanity currently has, and the flaws humans have. Everything else is neglected while he is working on the creature. He does not study anything else, does not talk to his friends or family, and does not have a social life of any kind. Everything is put on hold. Victor gets more obsessed and lonely, as well as pale and thin. Still, he is devoted to his cause. He will not give up until the creature has been completed and he uses what he knows to see if he can actually give the creature life. He does not give thought to how the creature might act or whether what he is doing is safe or a "good idea." In his all-consuming desire to use his knowledge of the secret of life, everything else is pushed aside.

This chapter shows clearly how Victor is misusing the knowledge he is gaining through his studies. His father would not approve of the "supernatural" into which Victor is dabbling, and his professors also do not realize that Victor has figured out what the secret of creating life really is. Now that Victor has this knowledge it appears that nothing will stop him from using his knowledge to create and animate something he has created. He is spending nights in the charnel houses where dead bodies are kept in order to understand the decay process better. This chapter is where the reader can clearly see the mood darkening and taking a sinister, somber turn. Up until this point, Victor had been fascinated with something unsettling. Now he has become completed consumed by it.

Chapter Five

After Victor has spent months laboring over his work he finishes his creature. It is a dark, stormy night. He uses his knowledge of the secret of life to animate the creature. It is so hideous that Victor is horrified by it. He runs from the room and goes into his bedroom where he tries to sleep. He has nightmares about his mother's corpse and about Elizabeth. When he wakes from the nightmares the monster is standing over his bed and smiling. He jumps up and runs from the house. All night, Victor paces in the courtyard of his apartment. In the morning he decides to walk through Ingolstadt. He is doing everything he can in a frantic attempt to avoid going back to his apartment and facing up to what he has done. While he is walking through town he passes the inn and finds his friend Henry Clerval. Henry has come to Ingolstadt in order to study at the university.

Victor is thrilled to see him, and they go back to Victor's apartment. There is no sign of the monster Victor has created, but he is so weakened from the stress that he falls ill. He has a fever and is nearly delirious from everything that has happened to him. The long nights of work and the isolation have taken its toll on him. Additionally, the fright of seeing the hideous creature he created and not realizing until it was too late what he had done prove to be nearly too much for him. Henry nurses him back to good health over the course of months. When Victor is feeling better, Henry hands him a letter from Elizabeth. It had arrived while Victor was sick, and Henry did not want to give it to him during that time because he did not know what it contained or whether Victor would have been able to read it and respond properly.

In this chapter all the work that Victor has done is finally realized in the animation of the creature. What was supposed to be a joyous time that could potentially lead the way toward a new race of beings and a potential conquering of death has become something hideous and terrifying. With that in mind the reader is better able to understand Victor's frustration and horror because he had such high hopes for what he was about to create and it turned into something he was unable to accept. The monster wants to learn from him and understand its purpose and its existence, but Victor is so horrified by its gruesome appearance that he is notable to focus on "who" it might be or become in the future. He wants only to be rid of it but does not attempt to kill or destroy it.

Chapter Six

In the letter, Elizabeth conveys her concern regarding Victor's illness. She asks that he write to his family in Geneva as soon as possible and let them know that he is well in Ingolstadt. She also lets him know that Justine Moritz, who is a friend who used to live with the Frankenstein's for a while, has come back to stay with them. Her mother has died, and she did not have anywhere else she could go. Victor introduces Henry to the university professors. Henry is studying Oriental languages, not science. Victor has trouble talking to his professors or seeing any kind of chemical or scientific equipment or instruments. He decides that he will go back to Geneva. He is just waiting on a letter from his father, letting him know when he should return. Henry and Victor go on a walking tour in the country, and the beauty of nature helps to uplift them.

In this chapter the reader gets an idea of how fragile Victor really is and how much of a toll the creation of the monster has taken on him. Also noted is the strong friendship between Victor and Henry and the neglect of the domesticity of the family unit back home. Victor has not written to his father or to Elizabeth in quite some time, and they are very worried about his health and state of mind. He does not tell them or Henry about the monster and must bear his burden in silence. Even as Victor returns to his former self it is clear that he will never be quite the same as he was in the past. Something has changed him, and Henry does not know what that is. He only knows that Victor is his friend and that they are going to remain friends no matter what. Victor decides to write to his family and let them know that he is all right. It is a turning point in the novel.

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