Alphonse and Caroline Frankenstein are Victor Frankenstein’s parents. From an elite ancestry in Geneva, Alphonse spent his entire youth working in public positions. People who knew Alphonse knew him for his commitment to his country. Caroline was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Beaufort. Alphonse and Caroline met through Beaufort. Beaufort was a very close friend of Alphonse’s who fell into poverty, paid off his debts, and, out of pride, moved towns with his daughter, Caroline. Alphonse wanted to help Beaufort “begin the world again,” but by the time Alphonse was able to find Beaufort, Beaufort’s health had declined (18). At that point, Caroline was not only trying to take care of her father financially by doing “plain work,” but was also taking care of him physically (18). When Beaufort died, Alphonse took Caroline back to Geneva. Caroline committed to take care of Alphonse and they were married two years later.
Alphonse and Caroline Frankenstein represent the ideal parents in Shelley's Frankenstein. Victor was their first child and was meant to be “the successor to all [Alphonse’s] labours and utility” (19). After Victor, Alphonse adopted Elizabeth, his deceased sister’s daughter. Then, Alphonse and Caroline had two other sons together, Ernest and William. Alphonse gave up his public duties and like Caroline, he devoted himself to his children. Victor says, “My father directed our studies, and my mother partook of our enjoyments” (25).
Both Caroline and Alphonse die in Shelley's Frankenstein. Caroline contracts scarlet fever when nursing Elizabeth when she gets scarlet fever; she dies when Victor is seventeen, right before he leaves for the university. Alphonse comes in and out of the Frankenstein narrative, but dies from grief after the Creature kills Elizabeth on Victor's and her honeymoon.
Major Themes/Scenes Edit
Theme: Duty Edit
Alphonse Frankenstein is a big believer that serving others is the purpose of life. He believes it is one's duty. Alphonse spent the majority of his youth as a public official working for his country. He gives up his public duty to raise his children. He views taking care of his family as one of his duties and he teaches his children that communicating with each other and taking care of one another are their duties too. For instance, when Victor is engaged during the summer months on his project, he thinks of his father's words - "You must pardon me, if I regard any interruption in your correspondence as a proof that your other duties are equally neglected" (35). When William dies, Alphonse says to Victor, "Is it not a duty to the survivors, that we should refrain from augmenting their unhappiness by an appearance of immoderate grief? It is also a duty owed to yourself; for excessive sorrow prevents improvement or enjoyment, or even the discharge of daily usefulness, without which no man is fit for society" (65). Here, Alphonse is saying that even Victor's duty to himself is meant to benefit society. Alphonse continuously reminds Victor of his duties to others. However, Victor ironically does not fulfill his duties to his family most of the time, as he recurrently isolates himself for months at a time. Also, he does not fulfill his duties to the Creature. He abandons the Creature to fend for itself rather than nurture and educate the Creature.
Theme: Caroline Frankenstein as Ideal 18th Century Woman Edit
Caroline characterizes the ideal woman in the 18th century. She is described to be the ideal daughter, wife, and mother. Victor describes his mother as possessing “a mind of uncommon mould” (18). Her whole life revolved around taking care of her family. She is a selfless nurturer. Before marrying Alphonse, once her father became financially unfortunate, she attempted to take care of her father by taking on plain work. When his health left him, she nursed him until his death. When he died, she committed herself to taking care of Alphonse and became his wife. Then, she committed herself to their children, encouraged the adoption of Elizabeth, and took in Justine to live with them. When Elizabeth gets scarlet fever, Caroline cannot stay away from checking on her, which ends in her contraction of the fever and to her demise. However, even on her deathbed, “the fortitude and benignity of this admirable woman did not desert her” (26).
Scene: Alphonse Bashes Cornelius Agrippa - No Explanation Edit
Though this scene is only Victor’s distant recollection of what happened between Victor and his father when he was thirteen, and though Victor only touches on this memory for two paragraphs of the entire novel, it is one of the most important scenes that Alphonse Frankenstein is apart of. This scene also ties into the theme of education. After having children, Alphonse dedicated his life to educating them. When Victor is thirteen years old, he finds the volume of Cornelius Agrippa’s work and becomes enthralled by it. When he shares his findings with his father, Alphonse says, “My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash” (22). Alphonse’s response, though seemingly rudimentary, leaves a lasting effect on Victor. Also, because of Alphonse’s quick and dogmatic response, Victor never felt comfortable to tell his father of his knowledge. When Victor talks of this moment with Walton, he almost seems to blame his father for his ruin. Victor claims that if his father would have explained the irrelevance of Agrippa’s principles to him, then he would “certainly have thrown Agrippa aside” (22). However, during this moment, Alphonse Frankenstein did not clearly explain to his teenage son why Cornelius Agrippa's principles were irrelevant. He did not educate Victor about the modern science that had been introduced during the time and that had prevailed Agrippa. Victor says that if he had taught him about modern science, he "should probably have applied [himself] to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from modern discoveries" (22). Victor is left wondering whether or not he would have ever thought of trying to create life if Alphonse had explained his feelings about Agrippa thoroughly.
Impact in/for Frankenstein Edit
Impact of Alphonse Frankenstein Edit
Alphonse’s character in the novel is a recurring reminder that family should be the most important part of a person's life. Alphonse was a successful public official, but he gave it all up for his family. He chose raising and educating his children over working. That becomes his duty. This trait alone contrasts Victor's character, who continuously leaves his family and fiance to pursue science. Victor isolates himself from his family while Alphonse surrounds himself by family. Alphonse is portrayed as the ideal father figure. From the beginning of the novel, Victor compares Alphonse to a “protecting spirit” when he talks of Alphonse looking out for Caroline after Beaufort died. However, that is how he is after Caroline dies too. He takes care of Elizabeth, Ernest, and William. He goes to Scotland to take care of Victor when he is sick. While his children are growing up, he teaches them Latin and English. Victor says, “Our studies were never forced; and by some means we always had an end placed in view, which excited us to ardour in the prosecution of them” (21). Alphonse thus believed in application. However, Alphonse also affects Victor poorly when instead of explaining his reasons to disregard Cornelius Agrippa's scientific principles, he just tells Victor to disregard him too. Instead, Victor reads Agrippa's work, not knowing that modern science had been established, and becomes obsessed with Agrippa's ideas. In this slip up of dogmatic education, rather than application, Alphonse's response sets the basis for Victor's experiment.
Impact of Caroline Frankenstein Edit
Though Caroline dies before Victor leaves for Ingolstadt, her character plays an important role in Victor’s life as well as to the story as a whole. In terms of story plot, Caroline's character is used to move the story forward. Firstly, she is the reason that Alphonse settles down, which leads to Victor’s birth. Then, on her deathbed, she takes both Victor and Elizabeth by the hands and tells them that her last dying wish is for them to marry. She says that her “firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of [their] union” and that “this expectation will now be the consolation to [Victor and Elizabeth’s] father” (26). Because of Caroline, Victor and Elizabeth marry. Before Caroline dies, when Victor is reading the works of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus, he decides that his dream is to search for the elixir of life, or more specifically to “banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” (23). After Caroline dies, it can be argued that Frankenstein soon after becomes obsessed with creating life from death. It is also a picture of Caroline that had been given to William, but found in Justine’s pocket that gets Justine convicted of William’s murder. Her character is used as a pawn to progress the story even after she dies. To the story as a whole, Caroline represents the ideal 18th century woman. She is represented as a nurturing, selfless, encouraging mother. In this way, her character contrasts Victor’s once he “births” the Creature. After he creates the Creature, Victor deserts him when he should have been more like his own mother.
Impact of Alphonse and Caroline Frankenstein Together Edit
Altogether, Alphonse and Caroline Frankenstein represent the ideal parents and the importance of family. After being raised by parents like them, always looking out for Victor's "improvement and health," it is strange that any child, like Victor, could stray so far away from family and turn to isolation (19). Victor describes them by saying, "No creature could have more tender parents than mine" (19). Both of their characters continuously juxtapose Victor’s character throughout the novel. Especially after Victor creates the Creature. After calling himself his parents' creature, and experiencing such a fulfilling childhood filled with nurture and education, it is surprising that Victor neither nurtures nor educates his own creature.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.