The following is an extract from Frankenstein; I'd like to know what the clause in bold means. Does it have anything to do with being saintly? Does the word sympathy refer to a two-way or one-way sentiment?

The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine-dedicated lamp in our peaceful home. Her sympathy was ours; her smile, her soft voice, the sweet glance of her celestial eyes, were ever there to bless and animate us. She was the living spirit of love to soften and attract: I might have become sullen in my study, rough through the ardour of my nature, but that she was there to subdue me to a semblance of her own gentleness. And Clerval—could aught ill entrench on the noble spirit of Clerval?—yet he might not have been so perfectly humane, so thoughtful in his generosity—so full of kindness and tenderness amidst his passion for adventurous exploit, had she not unfolded to him the real loveliness of beneficence, and made the doing good the end and aim of his soaring ambition.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • I'm not sure this isn't off-topic. Interpretation where there are various possibilities is 'open to opinion', and interpretation from context falls into the realm of comprehension. However, here, the blessing seems to be described as one-way. We had the benefits ensuing from / reifying her sympathy. 'We had her sympathy' as with 'we had her help'. Jun 12, 2020 at 11:22
  • It can be either. It depends on the context. It's quite possible to say I had sympathy for her, even though she had none for me. The section in bold doesn't explicitly say anything about the object of the everybody's sympathy, so it's not possible to say if it's talking about something that's reciprocal, or if her and "us" all have sympathy for something else (that may or may not return it). Jun 12, 2020 at 18:10
  • @JasonBassford I suspect the OED definition Greybeard quoted is incompatible with the sentence frame "A has sympathy for B."
    – Apollyon
    Jun 13, 2020 at 1:23
  • The passage in question will be coherent if the clause is taken to mean "because of her, there was conformity of disposition among us." If it means "She had sympathy for us" or "We had her sympathy," it would lack supporting evidence and the passage would be thus incoherent.
    – Apollyon
    Jun 13, 2020 at 1:26
  • @Apollyon A "conformity of feeling" also does not imply reciprocity. They could all conform in having sympathy for the same thing—which is neither themselves nor the other. The passage in the question still does not state the object of the sympathy. Jun 13, 2020 at 4:22

1 Answer 1


Her sympathy was ours I understand this as “[From her and by her example] we held those common sentiments that we shared amongst ourselves and which bound us together.”


Sympathy: 3. a. Conformity of feelings, inclinations, or temperament, which makes persons agreeable to each other; community of feeling; harmony of disposition.

  • So the sympathy in question was a two-way sentiment?
    – Apollyon
    Jun 12, 2020 at 10:56
  • Given what I wrote, what do you think?
    – Greybeard
    Jun 12, 2020 at 11:02
  • Probably yes. Some people told me the clause means "She had sympathy for us" or "We had her sympathy" in current English. Do you think that conveys the idea accurately?
    – Apollyon
    Jun 12, 2020 at 11:09
  • 1
    No. It does not mean (i) "She had sympathy for us" which, in current English, would mean "She shared the sorrow of our condition", or (ii) "We had her sympathy", which, in current English, means "She had given us an expression of sorrow she felt for our condition"
    – Greybeard
    Jun 12, 2020 at 11:16
  • 1
    Othello (Shakespeare) - There should be sympathy in yeares, manners and beauties; all which the Moore is defective in. Putting aside the outrageous racism (I fully expect people to start chucking statues of Shakespeare into the canal soon! :) that usage seems to reflect approximately the above sense. It's a cite from preceding OED definition 2 - Agreement, accord, harmony, consonance, concord; agreement in qualities, likeness, conformity, correspondence. Which they say is Obsolete or merged in 3a. Jun 12, 2020 at 11:25

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