a small quantity of laudanum
This revelation helps greatly to explain Victor's manic changes of mood, from almost delirious emotionality to an impassive lethargy. Laudanum, a form of liquified opium, was a narcotic freely available in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In those days its usage lacked the social stigma that would be attached to it by later cultures and it was commonly employed in all stations of society. Thomas DeQuincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was published in its first version in two installments of the London Magazine in 1821, three years after the publication of Frankenstein, making his literary reputation overnight. Percy Bysshe Shelley seems to have used laudanum to dull the pain of the chronic nephritis from which he suffered. Mary Shelley, however, was also well aware of the more consequential abuses to which laudanum lent itself. Her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and the American Gilbert Imlay, committed suicide by an overdose of laudanum in November of 1816, while Mary Shelley was still in the early stages of her novel. Thus, this detail must be seen as colored by that tragic event. At the very least, it is a further indication of the deep instability of Victor Frankenstein's mind at this juncture of his career.