Henry Clerval

Henry Clerval serves as Victor Frankenstein’s closest and most sincere friend, as well as his foil character. Both men grew up in Geneva. Victor had a brother of his own; however, he considered Clerval, an only child, to be like a brother to him as well. While Victor was able to go off and study science in college, Henry’s father attempted to discourage Henry from furthering his education because he wanted Henry to remain a businessman for him. But after much convincing, Henry sets out to Ingolstadt, where Victor studied, to pursue his dream of furthering his education. Henry is compassionate, optimistic, and had a love for reading and literature. Readers are first introduced to Henry in Chapter two when Victor is describing how admirable of a guy he is. However, readers actually meet Henry in chapter five of the novel when Victor has just finished creating the monster. Victor’s nostalgia disappears when he sees Henry and learns that Henry is just beginning school at Ingolstadt. Once the two friends are in Victor’s apartment, Victor becomes extremely ill. Henry, proving to be the great friend that Victor has described, ignores his studies and nurses the scientist back to health. While with Victor, Henry writes letters to Victor’s family because Victor is unable to do so. However, he does not inform them of Victor’s illness because it would only worry them and his dad would not be able to make the journey (Shelley 39). Once Victor is back to normal, or at least healthy, he and Henry set out to leave for their hometown, Geneva. Victor and Henry eventually part ways on their journey. Chapter twenty-one is the last readers hear of Henry where Frankenstein's monster murders him. </p>

Main Themes

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<p class="MsoNormal">In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor receives compassion from his family and long-time friend, Henry Clerval. In chapter two readers learn that Victor liked to be alone with the exception of his family and one friend, Henry. Victor states, “It was my temper to avoid a crowd, and to attach myself fervently to a few. I was indifferent, therefore, to my schoolfellows in general; but I united myself in the bonds of the closest friendship to one among them” (Shelley 19). Victor then goes on to describe that Henry is a talented person when it comes to writing, business work, and has an adventurous spirit. Even though it is not directly stated at this point in the novel that Henry Clerval demonstrates compassion, readers can safely assume that he is. Considering the fact that Victor selectively chooses with whom he spends his time, Henry must display the characteristic of kindness. If Henry lacked this it would be very unlikely that Victor would want to be so close to him. </p>

<p class="MsoNormal">Chapter five is the first instance that readers actually get to meet Henry Clerval. After the two get caught up on each other’s lives they head to Victor’s apartment. Not long after arriving, Victor starts acting strange, “I felt my flesh tingle with excess of sensitiveness, and my pulse beat rapidly. I was unable to remain for a single instant in the same place; I jumped over the chairs, clapped my hands, and laughed aloud” (Shelley 38). At first Henry thought that Victor was acting this way because he was excited that Henry was visiting him since they had not seen one another in such a long time. However, because Henry cared enough about his friend and took the time to really examine the situation he realized that Victor was actually sick. Victor states, “but when he observed me more attentively he saw a wildness in my eyes for which he could not account” (Shelley 38). Had Victor had his encounter with a casual acquaintance, chances are they would have thought his behavior was perhaps a little odd. And due to not knowing him very well, they would not have done anything about it. Luckily for Victor, Henry genuinely cares for him and is able to realize that he is ill. Had Henry not have discovered that Henry is sick it is likely that Victor would have died shortly after this event. </p>

<p class="MsoNormal">The most obvious way that Henry exemplifies the theme of compassion is the actual act of taking care of Victor while he is unable to care for himself. Victor states, “This was the commencement of a nervous fever, which confined me for several months. During all that time Henry was my only nurse” (Shelley 38). It is important to keep in mind that Henry is supposed to be focusing on his studies at this time in his life; however, he is spending his time nursing his dear friend back to health. Shelley writes, “ ‘This whole winter, instead of being spent in study, as you promised yourself, has been consumed in my sick room’” (Shelley 39). In this same chapter, Henry tells Victor that he practically went against his father’s will by going to college in the first place. Therefore, this definitely says a lot about Henry’s character. Victor also says that he had “frequent relapses” (Shelley 39). This would have to be frustrating. To be taking care of your friend for such a long period of time, then think that he is finally better, only to realize that he is still sick. It would take someone with dedication and sincere kindness to stick with a person through this difficult journey, and Henry does just that without much hesitation, it seems. </p>

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<p class="MsoNormal">It is apparent that Victor is mentally unstable through much of the novel. However, Henry seems to step in and serve as Victor’s sanity. Reflecting back to when Victor sees Henry after completing the monster, Victor is relieved to run into him. At this moment Henry believes this encounter to simply be two friends reuniting. What he does not know is how badly Victor needs this human interaction, especially with a familiar face. Upon seeing Henry, Victor states, “I grasped his hand, and in a moment forgot my horror and misfortune; I felt suddenly, and for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy” (Shelley 37). One could say that Henry serves as a breath of fresh air for Victor and brings him back to reality during this interaction. </p>

<p class="MsoNormal">Once Victor starts to regain his strength, Henry provides guidance to his friend. He offers the highly sane advice that Victor should write to his family if he feels up to it. Henry states, “‘I will not mention it, if it agitates you; but your father and cousin would be very happy if they received a letter from you in your own handwriting. They hardly know how ill you have been, and are uneasy at your long silence’ =” (Shelley 39). This is smart thinking on Henry’s part because Victor is finally showing signs of lasting progress and he knows how much Victor’s family means to him. Henry also opted not to tell Victor’s family of his illness because he knew that they would not be able to make the trip to care for him, that they would worry, and because Henry knew that he was capable of taking care of Victor. This serves as a minute but intelligent decision on Henry’s part. </p>

Impact in/for Frankenstein

<p class="MsoNormal">It is important to note that even though Henry does not show up often in Frankenstein he still has a huge impact on Victor’s character in the novel. Henry exemplifies two themes, compassion and sanity, that Victor has difficulty doing by himself, compassion and sanity. As mentioned before, Henry serves as Victor’s foil character. Even though Victor is not necessarily mean, he definitely shows signs of selfishness. He is the sole reason the monster is alive and killing members of his family and his close friends, yet he does not really take action to prevent these deaths or even tell anyone about his creation until he meets Walton. This is where Henry comes in and provides benevolence to the story. It is not far-fetched to say that Victor acts a tad insane during much of Frankenstein. There are other characters that portray the theme of sanity; however, during Henry’s scenes he seems to be the prominent character that actually brings Victor back to reality and gives his a sense of relief, even if it is only for a short amount of time. The reader has to sense the significance of Henry in chapter five. He shows up at just the right time to presumably save the life of Victor. </p>

<p class="MsoNormal">While Henry plays a significant role in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein his role is almost completely diminished in the film adaptations of the novel. Given that Henry only shows up in a few select scenes in the novel, it is easy to omit his role when this story is transferred into a motion picture. Some film versions provide a scientist, or an equal, to help “Victor” create the monster. In the 1931 version of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein the creator of the monster is named, Henry Frankenstein. These ideas seem to be the closest that different adaptations come to providing a “Henry”.</p>

References/Suggested Readings

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.


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