Victor Frankenstein is a character of emotion and reason. As we hear his tale throughout the first half of the book, we the readers sympathize with him and his passions. We know his motives in creating the monster, and understand his fears once his goal is realized. If we take the view of Henry Clerval, we only see Frankenstein’s extremes. Clerval sees his dear friend who has been driven crazy by his studies, and by an unknown experience. Seeing the novel through the eyes of Clerval makes us see Frankenstein as more of an emotional man than a logical one.
Clerval is static throughout the novel, while Frankenstein is dynamic. Clerval is nothing but a kind-hearted, optimistic, and supporting man. Frankenstein is extremely happy and hopeful when he leaves for Ingolstadt, but when he meets Clerval again, he is depressed and manic. Clerval is unclear about what made his dear friend so upset, but when he tries to ask, “My dear Victor! What, for God’s sake, is the matter?... How ill you are! What is the cause of all this?” he is only met with an incomprehensible response from Frankenstein (Shelly 58). Nevertheless, he nurses Frankenstein’s emotional health back to normal. Clerval never doubts Frankenstein; he gives no hints to thinking that Frankenstein has gone mad. He trusts that his friend has good reason for his actions. As the reader taking his perspective though, it is difficult not to think Frankenstein has lost his mind.
Since their childhood friendship, Clerval has had an interest in human nature. He was intrigued by, “The busy stages of life, the virtues of heroes, and the actions of men” (Shelly 29). As he grows older, he takes these interests and decides to apply them to the study of language. Even though his father disapproves of study (Shelly 37), he pushes and finally succeeds in joining Frankenstein at Ingolstadt. Seeing that Frankenstein has become ill from something he did while at school, he only defers his studies. Once Frankenstein has been revived, Clerval continues with years of schooling afterwards. It is strange that he is not deterred by Frankenstein’s sudden illness. He knows that something at the school did this to him, and a very influential figure in his life has expressed dislike towards studying in general. He must be a very self-driven character to desire to continue, despite the circumstances. In addition, Frankenstein joins him in his studies for lack of other things to do to keep his mind busy (Shelly 68). Yet Clerval never questioned when Frankenstein studied with him. He may have understood Frankenstein’s needs, but did not find it insulting that it is what Frankenstein chose to do. This was Clerval’s passion, and Frankenstein was merely studying for a pass time. He also may have thought that Frankenstein was being kind by partaking in a subject that he enjoyed; giving it a chance after his studies in science had seemed to fail him. Both of these events could have easily driven Clerval away from study, but he instead stayed. We see from Clerval that study can be either good or bad, depending on how it is used. Frankenstein’s knowledge turned evil, but Clerval’s was used for peace and would help him later in his endeavors. Frankenstein let his emotions and desires lead him to using his learnings to create a monster.
Once Frankenstein has recovered from the terror of his creation, a tragedy calls for him back at home. This is an understandable reason for Frankenstein to become emotional, but is worth some attention. Right before receiving the letter disclosing William’s death, Frankenstein describes himself as happy saying, “My own spirits were high, and I bounded along with great ingenuity” (Shelly 70). This feeling is an extreme difference from his long depression a few months earlier. Again, Clerval sees Frankenstein only at his emotional peaks. His joyous state, rocketing right back into a confused depression, must be hard for Clerval to grasp and support him through. He is understanding, and says a few words before he sends Frankenstein off to Geneva, but they focus on William and not Frankenstein. Although, he does end his monologue with “He [William] can no longer be a subject for pity; we must reserve that for his miserable survivors” (Shelly 74). Clerval does not only demonstrate sympathy for Frankenstein, but for everyone William has left behind, including himself. He remains the supportive friend through Frankenstein’s sadness.
In Robert Walton’s second letter, he expresses a need for “a friend who would have sense enough to not despise me as a romantic, and affection enough for me to endeavor to regulate my mind.” (Shelly 6) This is exactly what Clerval is to Frankenstein. Through his consistent friendship, we can more easily see the emotional changes that Frankenstein is experiencing. The reasons for his highs and lows are more clear and sensible to the readers, but the same cannot be said about Clerval. Even though he may not understand, he is supportive and a good friend.