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The following sentence is from Frankenstein. Does the boldfaced prepositional phrase describe the time at which the speaker was seized with the nervous fever, or the time at which he remembered the nervous fever? Two paragraphs ago, the speaker said, "Two years had now nearly elapsed since the night on which he first received life," so I suppose that the time represented by the utterance two paragraphs ago is the time referred to by "at the time that I dated my creation." In other words, that's when he remembered the nervous fever. But the problem is, the "and which" sets up the border between two relative clauses and confines the prepositional phrase to the first relative clause. Is there anything wrong here?

I remembered also the nervous fever with which I had been seized just at the time that I dated my creation, and which would give an air of delirium to a tale otherwise so utterly improbable.

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Yes, it describes the time at which the speaker had the fever.

But the problem is, the "and which" sets up the border between two relative clauses and confines the prepositional phrase to the first relative clause.

Unlike the common syntactical use of which following a comma, where it typically refers to the thing that came just before the comma, in this sentence there is a conjunction between the comma and which. As such, the second which combines with the earlier one, and they are about the nervous fever.

You can parse the sentence in the following way:

I remembered also the nervous fever with which I had been seized just at the time that I dated my creation, and which would give an air of delirium to a tale otherwise so utterly improbable.

Or, it can be paraphrased:

I remembered two things about a nervous fever I'd had: (1) I had been seized with it just at the time that I dated my creation, and (2) it would give an air of delirium to a tale otherwise so utterly improbable.

Of course, it makes sense that having had a fever at that time would lead people to be skeptical of the reality of its creation—rather than its creation just being part of a fevered dream.


? at the time that I dated my creation

I find this phrasing unusual. The first time I read it, I immediately thought it to mean that he had gone out on a romantic date with the creation—but, of course, that's not right.

A more reasonable phrasing, in my mind, would be something like the following:

at the time that dates the birth of my creation
(Using the birth of my creation sounds better to me than the creation of my creation.)

But since it was written a long time ago now, it might just be my modern use of English that makes the original sound a little odd.

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  • The point of my question is to show that while the syntax of the sentence is just as you described, it doesn't fit the plot accurately. Two paragraphs before the quoted passage, Victor said, "Two years had now nearly elapsed since the night on which he first received life . . ." This specification of his creation as happening approximately two years before took place during the night prior to his return to his father's house. – Apollyon Jul 18 '20 at 15:52
  • It is thus rather likely that the boldfaced prepositional phrase is meant to describe the time of Victor's recalling the fever, and should have been positioned to modify the main clause, not the relative clause. – Apollyon Jul 18 '20 at 15:53
  • The "date" in "dated his creation" means "to show the time when something was produced." – Apollyon Jul 18 '20 at 15:54
  • @Apollyon Yes, I understand what date means in this sentence. It's just not the way it would commonly be used—especially not without a specific context that would warrant such phrasing. For instance, freeze and date your jam. That particular context makes the phrasing expected and normal. This sentence doesn't employ such a context. Also, at the time that I dated my creation is specifically awkward. He didn't date his creation two years ago. Two years ago, he created it. The dating of it is happening now, two years after. – Jason Bassford Jul 18 '20 at 16:02
  • The sentence in the OP is from Chapter 7, while Victor's frantic behavior indicating nervous fever is described in Chapter 5. Before Chapter 7, he had recovered. – Apollyon Jul 18 '20 at 16:05

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