What would Mrs. Saville say?

Our initial introduction to Frankenstein has always intrigued me, particularly Mrs. Saville. I’ve often wondered what Mrs. Saville’s responses to her beloved brother’s letters would have been like. Would she be rapt with excitement? Concern? Horror? Walton gives us hints as to what he thinks his sister feels, but is he a good judge? He is, after all, a bit presumptuous and rash and very self-centered, so I for one, do not completely trust his assertions. He does admit one thing I do take as gospel, though – that Mrs. Saville had “evil forebodings” regarding his enterprise (Shelley 28). This may not be a stretch in anyone’s imagination, but it does tell us a great deal. It was my first inclination that Mrs. Saville is much older than Robert Walton, for example, which was later confirmed to me when he praised her for her “gentle and feminine fosterage” making her sound more motherly than sisterly (32). Furthermore, the fact that he relays explanations about his early childhood makes me think she was grown and out of the family home, probably already married, otherwise why would he need to tell her about his childhood dreams? He definitely tries to calm her, like you would a worried mother, at every turn by claiming his carefulness and good judgement over and over again: “I will be calm, persevering, and prudent” become his mantra (34). His loving feelings for her are obvious, but I also get a sense of him owing her when he says that he “again [testifies his] gratitude for all [her] love and kindness” (30).   It is also important to note that Walton feels his sister has been “refined by books and [retired] from the world” which has made her “somewhat fastidious” (39). Walton’s estimation of his sister conjure up the typical feelings of young, inexperienced people in regards to their elders – that they are a bit picky and difficult to please. In all, Mrs. Saville allows us to look at Walton through the eyes of someone who cares deeply about his welfare, and who knows him well enough to definitely worry, but be far enough removed (he is a grown man) that she can no longer chastise him for his behaviour and mad adventures. Mrs. Saville, while never being present, successfully grounds us and makes us an active participant in wishing for Walton’s success and safety and that allows us all the better to feel her excitement, concern , and even horror.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Johanna M. Smith. Frankenstein: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

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