generous and self-devoted being

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NOTES

generous and self-devoted being

In a novel in which oxymorons have increasingly come to represent implacable ambivalences, this summary of Victor Frankenstein stands out as an epitome. If readers should wonder whether it is really possible so to overlay what appear to be opposite constructions, a scrupulous respect for earlier connotations of the terms will sharpen the meaning if not wholly dispel its ambiguities. Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (1755) lists these meanings for "generous":
  1. Not of mean birth; of good extraction.
  2. Noble of mind; magnanimous; open of heart.
  3. Liberal; munificent.
  4. Strong; vigorous.
It is clear that the third, which is the customary modern sense of the word, would be generally inappropriate to the figure that Victor Frankenstein has cut in this novel, but either of the other three meanings would in one phase or another of his existence adequately characterize him. The main thrust of the Creature's meaning is probably the second. Even here, however, some readers might wish to cavil, asking whether, given Frankenstein's ambitions and good intentions but customary self-enclosure, it would be possible to retain a nobility of mind without being greatly magnanimous or open-hearted.

With "self-devoted," the range of possibility is even greater and likewise is further from a modern, loose conception of the term as meaning "devoted to one's self." The three definitions of "to devote" in Johnson's Dictionary are:

  1. to dedicate; to consecrate; to appropriate
  2. to addict; to give up to ill
  3. to curse; to execrate; to doom to destruction
All of these definitions have a bearing on Victor Frankenstein's character, even simultaneously so, but in the context of the Creature's expression of "wildest rage," an attribute mirrored between him and his creator, the last of the definitions would seem to bear a particular relevance.