The second letter begins the exact way readers might guess: more complaining (and this is not a chastisement: he describes his own words as being complaints). Walton becomes more unrelenting in detailing his desire for a friend. It is peculiar to read how he envisions friendship. He has only one “want” that he hasn’t yet been able to “satisfy. ” He specifies that his “desire” is for “the company of a man who could sympathize” with him and whose “eyes would reply” to his (8).
In a later passage he tells Margaret that his ideal friend would “not despise [him] as romantic” and he would have enough “affection” for Walton that he would help Walton keep his mind clear (9). Many of these word choices seem less than appropriate for talk of friendship. Shelley chose to use words like “desire,” “want,” “satisfy” and “affection” in reference to friendship, although those words are often used in terms of more romantic, intimate, or carnal relationships.
For instance, “satisfaction” typically denotes a gratification or utter fulfillment of an appetite or pleasure (OED), again, words we more often associate with more carnal wants and needs. In other words, there is a somewhat sexual (or at least romantic) element to what Walton seeks in his companio. Shelley could have used phrases like “I had a hope that I was unable to fulfill” or “I wished for a friend who would be likeminded, caring, and who would look me in the eye with respect” or “he would keep me level-headed,” but she doesn’t.
This is not to say that homosexual desire or intimate homosocial behavior between Walton and Frankenstein would be wrong or disturbing. What is disturbing is his insistence that his only desire is for a platonic friend, despite how he describes it. It can also be troubling to uncover how confident Walton is in himself. He asserts that if anyone on their journey will make it worth the danger by making life-changing discoveries, it will be him (6). We also learn that it was his father’s “dying injunction” that he would not become a seafarer, yet his increasing guilt over this fact does not hinder him (6).
As a poet he saw himself as a god creating a paradise. He believed he would one day become akin to the master writers of antiquity, Homer and Shakespeare, but even that failure and its subsequent disappointment didn’t stop him (7). Similarly, despite being trapped in their icy passage to the north, in a “dreadfully severe” winter, Walton assures his sister that he is like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, but that he will be wise enough to “kill no albatross” on his journey (10).
Thus he places himself in the lofty position of the messenger of a grave and terrible warning, but it won’t be because he sabotaged himself into living through the terrible ordeal. With every literary reference or Biblical comparison Shelley makes she shows that she is just as well-learned as any of her male peers and she can match, if not surpass, any of them in literary skill.
This also allows her narrators (Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster) to each prove themselves to be perfect representations of the inflated male ego of the Romantic era (and every other era, for that matter). This inflated ego makes them think they can do no wrong and they deserve every reward life has to offer and they will accept nothing less than perfection. “Pathologically isolated selfhood” is what defines the Gothic subgenre of Romanticism for University of Texas professor Thomas Schmid.
He quotes Fred Botting as arguing that “it is at the level of the individual that Romantic-Gothic writing takes its bearings. The individual in question stands at the edges of society and rarely finds a path back into the social fold” (19). For Walton and other characters in Frankenstein, they see their own isolation as being because they are a higher caliber of person than others around them (or only the result of someone else’s wrongdoing), but as these scholars argue, this is a delusion of grandeur.
Thus, Walton has no friends and experiences intense melancholy because his standards are largely unobtainable. Walton wants a relationship in which the friend sympathizes with him. However, he doesn’t ever explicitly mention wanting to reciprocate that sympathy, and he doesn’t necessarily care if the other person empathizes or not; as long as they react strongly to his emotions, it doesn’t matter if they understand his feelings or not.
This at least seems to be the implication of what he is saying because he never mentions himself supporting the friend’s endeavors, only the friend supporting him. This ideal relationship is shallow and one-sided, which would be easy to expect from someone who is as narcissistic and full of melancholy as Walton is. As the story progresses, readers will learn that Victor was even more narcissistic and melancholy before he meets Walton. Instead of butting heads because of their incompatible personalities, Walton is changed in shocking ways.