Mary Shelley? Victor Frankenstein? Scott Galloway? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: English author Mary Shelley penned the famous science fiction novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. The overweening ambition of the main character, scientist Victor Frankenstein, caused him to create a monster. He learned bitterly that his passion for success and fame was destructive. Apparently, his dying words were a powerful injunction to avoid ambition. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818. Victor Frankenstein’s final conversation occurs with Robert Walton, the captain of a ship which is on a dangerous journey toward the North Pole. Crewmembers of the ship discover an exhausted and gaunt Victor floating on a block of ice. After Victor partially recovers his health he proceeds to tell the captain his tragic saga. Below are Victor’s last words before expiring. This passage uses the British spelling: “tranquillity”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1818, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Volume 3 of 3, Chapter 7, Quote Page 177, Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London. (Google … Continue reading
“The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms. Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”
Oddly, Victor’s final two sentences seem to undercut the admonition to avoid ambition. Victor’s ambivalence reflects the complexity of his character. Mary Shelley did not wish to enforce a single meaning for her sophisticated fable. The framing tale of Captain Robert Walton’s perilous voyage illustrates a counterpoint to Victor’s story. Walton decides to halt his expedition. Thus, Walton selects safety over ambition.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.