Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797 - 1851)

by Mary Shelley (1797
- 1851)

Type of Work:

Conceptual horror novel


Switzerland; late 1700s

Principal Characters

Robert Walton, an explorer attempting
to sail to the North Pole

Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist
who creates a "monster"

Clerval, Frankenstein's friend

The Monster, Frankenstein's angry, frustrated,
and lonely creation

Story Overveiw

His ship surrounded by ice, Robert Walton
watched with his crew as a huge, misshapen "traveller" on a dog sled disappeared
across the ice. The next morning, as the fog lifted and the ice broke up,
they found another man, nearly frozen, on a slab of floating ice. By giving
him hot soup and rubbing his body with brandy, the crew restored him to
health. A few days later he was able to speak.

This stranger, Victor Frankenstein, seemed
upset to hear that an earlier sled had been sighted. Then he began to tell
his story:

Victor had been born the only child of
a good Genevese family. During a journey with her husband abroad, his mother
found a peasant and his wife with five hungry babies. All were dark-complected,
save one, a very fair little girl. His mother decided at that moment to
adopt the child.

Victor and his adopted sister, Elizabeth
came to love one another, though they were very diverse in character. Elizabeth"busied herself with following the aerial creations of poets," while, for

Victor, "it was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn
... the physical secrets of the world."

After the death of his mother when he was
seventeen, Victor departed for the University of Inglostadt. There, young

Frankenstein grew intensely interested in the phenomena of the human body:

"Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?" He investigated
the processes of death and decay, and soon became obsessed with the idea
of creating life itself.

After days and nights of laboring, "I succeeded
in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself
capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter." Frankenstein set
out to create a superior living being, hoping to eventually uncover the
formula for eternal life.

In his brilliant and terrible research

' Frankenstein doggedly collected body parts from charnel-houses and cemeteries.

Finally, "on a dreary night of November ... I beheld the accomplishment
of my toils": an eight-foot monster. Applying electricity to the "lifeless
matter" before him, Victor saw "the dull yellow eye of the creature open;
it breathed hard, and convulsive motion agitated its limbs." The scientist
was appalled. "Breathless horror and disgust filled my heart." He had created
a freak.

Exhausted, Frankenstein fell asleep, seeking
a "few moments of forgetfulness." But, as he tossed in bed, a cold draft
woke Victor, and "I beheld the wretch ... his eyes ... fixed on me." He
shrieked in horror, scaring the monster away, then escaped downstairs.

A long depressive illness followed this
episode. Victor slowly began to recover. But soon he received terrible
news from his father: William, the youngest son, had been strangled, and
his murderer remained at large. "Come dearest Victor; you alone can console

Elizabeth," his father pled.

The scientist returned to Geneva during
a terrible storm. As he plodded along, he "perceived in the gloom a figure,"
and knew instinctively that it was "the filthy demon to whom I had given
life." Then a horrible thought struck him: this monster might be his brother's

But when Victor arrived at his mournful
home, he was told that William's killer had already been unmasked. Justine,
the family's long-time servant, had been found in possession of a locket
that held a picture of their mother, taken from William during the murder.

The poor girl seemed to confirm her own guilt "by her extreme confusion
of manner"; and, though Victor believed Justine was innocent, he hesitated
to come forward because he felt the story of his monster was too fantastic
to be taken seriously. Justine was hanged, and Victor, "seized by remorse
and a sense of guilt," took a solitary journey to Mont Blanc. During a
hike up a mountain path he saw a strange, agile figure - his own monstrous
creation - advancing towards him "with superhuman speed.", Be gone, vile
insect," he commanded. But the monster countered: " . . . You, my creator,
detest and spurn me, thy creature .... How dare you sport thus with life?"

Creature and creator argued back and forth until the monster convinced

Victor to hear his account.

Life for the intelligent and sensitive
being had been difficult. "I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time.
. . " he explained. He wandered, surviving on berries and stream water,
until he found a fire left by vagrants,