Synopsis Of The Novel

Much of the plot of Frankenstein unfolds through letters a young Artic explorer writes to his sister in England. Captain Walton, who is searching for a northwest passage to the New World, tells her about coming upon the mortally ill Victor Frankenstein adrift on an iceberg. The nearly frozen man is searching for the monster he created and talks about his obsession to learn the secret of life. He tells Captain Walton about his family in Geneva, Switzerland: his parents; Elizabeth Lavenza, an orphan adopted when he was five, whom Victor calls his cousin; and two younger brothers, Ernest and William. His closest childhood friend is Henry Clerval, the well-read, gentle son of a merchant. In youth Victor marveled at the natural world and desired to divine its secrets from studying natural philosophy ("the genius that regulated his fate"). He read the works of Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. Seeing lightening strike an old oak, its stream of fire interested him in the laws of electricity. In learning about the natural sciences, Victor dreamed of eradicating human disease.

At 17 Victor left home to study chemistry and anatomy at the University of Ingoldstadt. From Professor Waldman he learned about the new discoveries of blood circulation and of the nature of air. Clearly, Victor thought, modern science has power over the natural world. Then, suddenly, Elizabeth was struck with scarlet fever. Victor's mother nursed her through it but soon died herself. On her deathbed, she joined the hands of Elizabeth and Victor who became betrothed. Back at the university Victor's interests turned with renewed vigor toward examining the processes of life and death. Might he, in time, bring life to lifeless matter? He spent nights in burial vaults and charnel houses, filling his laboratory with dissected human and animal parts, all of which disgusted him. But he knew that from them he would create a perfect man and that this new species would "bless" him for it. With a singleness of purpose Frankenstein devoted himself to his task for more than two years, absenting himself from family and friends until his work was complete.

On a dreary November night the exhausted Victor Frankenstein sparked life into his sutured corpse, and the superiorly designed eight-foot creature opened its dull yellow eyes, breathed hard, and flailed its limbs. While proportional, the features Frankenstein had selected for his creation were not beautiful: yellow, taut skin scarcely covered muscles and arteries; lustrous black, flowing hair and pearly white teeth were in horrid contrast to its watery eyes set into dun-white sockets; and straight black lips traversed a shriveled complexion. Frankenstein's beautiful dream vanished at the sight of his horrible creation, and he ran to his bedchamber where his fretful sleep filled with prescient dreams of Elizabeth morphing into his mother's wormy corpse. All at once the monster startled him from his sleep, and Victor escaped to the lower courtyard. He remained there for the night, listening for the "demoniacal corpse."

Suddenly Clerval, who arrived to attend the university, surprised Victor with a visit. They returned to the laboratory only to discover the monster had fled. In maniacal relief, Victor fell down into a fit, exhausted. Clerval nursed him for several months, disbelieving his ranting as the product of a wild imagination. When Victor stabilized, Clerval gave him a letter from Elizabeth with news and entreating him to write. Feeling some normalcy again, Victor abandoned his former work, holding his terrible secret inside. Back at the university he introduced Clerval to his professors, but hearing their praise ofhis work, Victor writhed at their words. He turned away from scientific endeavors toward Clerval's studies of language and literature. Then one day Victor received a letter from his father with the cruel news that his brother William had been murdered. Victor went home to Geneva to visit the spot where William died, and a figure not of human shape passed him. It was the creature. Victor did not tell the authorities and cause immediate pursuit because they would only consider it the ranting of a lunatic. His silence exacted a terrible price.

Elizabeth, William's caretaker, anguished in self-reproach over his death. Few felt relief when the servant girl Justine was accused of the crime on circumstantial evidence—the picture William wore around his neck was found in her pocket. Eyewitnesses, caught up in mob hysteria, testified falsely. When the Roman Catholic Justine confessed to the crime to obtain absolution, Victor knew himself to be "the true murderer" but did not speak up. Thus, William and Justine became the first hapless victims of Frankenstein's "unhallowed arts." Feelings of remorse and guilt preyed upon Victor's health, and he and his family retreated to their house at Belrive. A sense of impending doom followed them, and while hiking in the Alps one day Victor saw the monster who entreated him to remember that he was his creation, now irrevocably excluded from humanity because appearances made him a fiend. He described an existence in hiding, except for time spent near a cottage in Germany where the De Lacey family lived. They consisted of an old blind peasant and his daughter, his son, and his son's lover. Compared to the monster's forlorn state, they were blissful, having found asylum from horrendous events in Paris. He observed them clandestinely and gained speech and an understanding of love. Feeling benevolent, he cut firewood for them. Then walking in the forest one day, he found a book, John Milton's Paradise Lost, and he slowly learned to read. Born intelligent and sensitive, the monster's emotions were profoundly stirred by reading the book as he compared his situation to Adam's. But God had not made him into a perfect creature; rather, he was hideous, abandoned, and alone. Feeling more like the fallen angel Satan, the creature envied the family's happiness. Finding the courage to meet them, he saw only how frightening he was, and he fled.

On his travels he saved a child's life, but contacts with other fearful humans added to his growing despair and sense of isolation. By the time he ran into Frankenstein in the Alps, he was despondent and depressed. He demanded Frankenstein make another hideous creature like himself—but of another sex. "We shall be monsters, cut off from all the world," but closer therefore, he argued. Happiness may not always be theirs, but having each other would keep them misery-free and harmless to others. "Let me see that I excite the sympathy of some existing thing; do not deny me my request," he implored his creator. Because normal society would not embrace him, his mate must also be deformed and horrible. The creature Frankenstein abandoned as ugly and unnatural now sought his creator, yearning for love and acceptance. At first Frankenstein considered the implications of adding to this new species, but then he consented. He traveled to Scotland with Clerval, leaving him to withdraw to a lonely Orkney Island to undertake his dreadful task. But then Frankenstein thought of the curse he might bring on future generations by producing "a race of devils" and destroyed the work he had begun. With no mate forthcoming, the monster, who had followed Frankenstein to Scotland, vowed to kill all whom Frankenstein loved.

The monster found and killed Clerval in Ireland—Frankenstein was accused but acquitted of the crime. Later, back in Switzerland, Elizabeth was murdered on her bridal bed. Frankenstein swore he would destroy the monster and pursued him to the Arctic where Captain Walton encountered him. Broken from months of vengeful pursuit, Frankenstein entreated the captain, who like himself was on a quest, to avoid scientific ambition. Hallucinating about his dead loved ones, Frankenstein died. As Captain Walton prepared for home, the monster entered the ship's window. Standing over Frankenstein's coffin, he described his unspeakable torments while he longed only for happiness. Expressing remorse for his misdeeds, the monster jumped onto a nearby iceberg and was lost in the darkness. The tragic tale of Victor Frankenstein ended.

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