William in Frankenstein

Instructor: Clayton Tarr

Clayton has taught college English and has a PhD in literature.

In this lesson, we will examine the character of William in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. We will explore William's importance to the narrative and speculate on his role as a child in Romantic literature.

William as a Character

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the title family is the 'most distinguished' family in Geneva, Switzerland. There are three boys: Victor, Ernest, and William. The family eventually adopts Elizabeth, who is either a cousin or a gypsy child, depending on the edition of the novel. Victor is the oldest boy. He goes off to university and leaves his family behind. Ernest is quiet (spoiler alert: he's the only one who survives). Finally, William is the youngest child. He is a favorite of the family, especially Victor, and he is precocious and pretty clearly spoiled.

The Creature's Birth

When Victor is at university, he becomes obsessed with bringing dead matter back to life, probably through the process of galvanism, which entails using electricity to stimulate matter. He gathers materials for his experiments and brings his creature to life. However, Victor is horrified at the appearance of the creature and runs away. The creature awakens to find that he is alone. He also runs away and eventually finds shelter in some woods where he learns language and customs by spying on an isolated family. When he tries to make contact, they shun him, and he is again alone in the world, abandoned by his parental-figure, Victor. It is shortly after this point that the creature coincidentally meets young William Frankenstein.

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