Frankenstein Summary

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein tells the story of scientist Victor Frankenstein’s creation of a monster and the disaster and woe that result.

  • Victor Frankenstein, telling his story to explorer Robert Walton, explains that he assembled a creature out of body parts, brought it to life, and fled in terror. 
  • The creature was rejected by humans and came to realize the horror of his existence, blaming Victor.
  • The creature began to hunt down and kill Victor’s loved ones and pursued Victor to the Arctic.
  • Victor dies on Walton’s ship. The creature wanders into the Arctic alone after Victor's death and plans to end his life there.

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Summary

Volume One

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein begins with a series of letters from English explorer Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton has traveled to Russia to fulfill his lifelong dream of embarking on a voyage to the Arctic, where he hopes to make important scientific discoveries. After sailing steadily north for a while, Walton and his crew find themselves surrounded by ice and witness a strange sight: a huge man in a dogsled speeding across the frozen sea. The next day they rescue a different, emaciated man who is stranded on a sheet of ice with the remnants of a dogsled beside him. This man is later revealed to be Victor Frankenstein. Victor is near death and remains unable to speak for several days. Walton nurses him back to health in his cabin, and as the two men become acquainted, Walton grows to love and admire his mysterious, melancholy guest. Victor is clearly suffering from some terrible loss, and he reveals that he came to the Arctic to pursue the huge man Walton saw previously. After Walton tells him that he is willing to sacrifice anything to achieve his scientific ambitions, Victor decides to tell the captain the story of his life, which Walton records.

In the first part of his tale, Victor spends an idyllic childhood in Geneva, Switzerland, with his loving upper-class family. He enjoys particularly close relationships with his adopted sister, Elizabeth, and his best friend, Henry Clerval. At an early age he develops a passion for natural philosophy, and he spends his adolescence devouring the works of the medieval alchemists, dreaming of discovering the elixir of life. When he realizes how outdated the alchemists’ theories are in comparison to modern theories, however, he becomes disillusioned and gives up his study of the sciences entirely.

When he is seventeen, Victor’s parents decide to send him to school at the University of Ingolstadt. But just before he is scheduled to leave, his mother, Caroline, dies of scarlet fever. After spending time mourning with his family, Victor travels to Ingolstadt as planned. There he meets professor of biology M. Krempe and professor of chemistry M. Waldman, who inspires him to resume his study of the sciences. For the next four years, Victor applies himself to his studies with a passion, driven by an ambition to reveal the mysteries of nature, life, and death, and winning acclaim for his achievements. He is particularly fascinated by the idea of discovering how to create life. Just as he is about to return home to Geneva, his experiments finally succeed. Victor spends the next two years assembling an eight-foot-tall man out of parts taken from cadavers. When he succeeds in bringing his creation to life, however, Victor is so horrified by the creature’s hideous appearance that he runs away. After wandering the streets of Ingolstadt all night, Victor runs into Henry Clerval, who has arrived to begin his own course of study at the university. When the friends return to Victor’s apartment, Victor is relieved to find the creature gone, but he remains so agitated that he falls into a months-long state of fever and delirium. Clerval nurses him back to health.

Just as Victor is beginning to feel like his old self again, he receives word that his youngest brother, William , has been murdered. He returns to Geneva for the first time in six...

(The entire section is 4,570 words.)