|Frontispiece to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1831)|
Preface: The Preface reveals that, unlike a typical ghost story, this story is based on logic, current science and an understanding of the human condition. The genesis of the story comes from a story-telling competition between friends in Geneva, Switzerland.
Letters from Robert Walton: A young man named Robert Walton is inspired by tales of the exploration of the Arctic North to embark on a self-financed expedition of scientific discovery. One day while ice-locked in supposed wilderness, he and his crew witness a large figure in a dogsled heading north. The next day the ship is freed from the ice but comes across another man on the ice, whom they rescue. After several days of recovery (during which time the ship continues north), Walton befriends the man and expresses to him his ambition to cross new frontiers in science. Disturbed, the newly-recovered stranger offers to tell his story to Walton as a warning.
Chapter 1: Victor Frankenstein is born in Naples. While his father is away, his mother adopts a destitute orphan girl named Elizabeth, who becomes the Victor’s closest confidante.
Chapter 2: After settling in Geneva, Victor and Elizabeth befriend Henry Clerval, a young boy who dreams of becoming an explorer. One day Victor discovers old Greek books describing the science of alchemy and magic (such as those by Cornelius Agrippa). After lightning destroys a nearby tree, a neighbor impresses Victor with the infinite lack of Man’s knowledge. Discouraged, Victor turns to mathematics instead of the natural sciences as his hobby.
Chapter 3: Victor’s mother dies from scarlet fever and Victor goes off to Ingolstadt to attend the University there. He meets a kindly chemistry professor named Waldman who inspires Victor to dream of discovering the secret to the creation of life.
Chapter 4: After several years of prodigious study, Victor discovers an undisclosed method by which he thinks he can reanimate life. He becomes obsessed with his experiments (using human materials from charnel houses) and neglects his correspondence with his concerned family.
Chapter 5: Victor finally gives life to a giant, assembled body and despite his choice of “beautiful parts”, the entity that awakens has watery eyes and pale skin, causing Victor to be overcome with horror. He flees to his bedroom and tries to sleep but the creature finds him at his bedside and tries to communicate. Victor flees his house and eventually by chance runs into his friend Henry Clerval, arriving from Geneva. He soon falls into a months-long nervous fever, during which time Henry cares for him. There is no sign of the Creature. Victor does not tell Henry the reason for his breakdown.
Chapter 6: Victor receives a letter from Elizabeth expressing her concern. Traumatized by his horrible experience, during the next year Victor turns away completely from the natural sciences and studies Arabic languages with Henry to pass the time. Eventually his health returns and he thinks of returning to Geneva.
Chapter 7: Victor receives news from his father that his youngest brother William has been found murdered. William had been wearing a jeweled miniature portrait of their mother. A close family friend named Justine is found with the miniature mysteriously in her possession and she is arrested. When Victor visits the scene of his brother’s murder however, he catches a glimpse of the Creature (created two years past), who escapes by climbing some steep cliffs. Victor is sure that the Creature is behind his brother’s strangulation, but knows that no one will believe his story.
Chapter 8: When Justine is put to trial she relates that she had slept in a barn but thought she heard someone nearby. She has no idea how the miniature came into her pocket. The judges nonetheless condemn her to death and she is executed. Victor feels terrible remorse for being the cause of both William and Justine’s deaths.
Chapter 9: Victor becomes depressed after the execution. Two months later Victor goes riding by himself in the Alps to find some peace.
Chapter 10: On a remote glacier the Creature approaches Victor. Victor threatens to kill it for its crimes, but the Creatures maintains that he is stronger than Victor, and that he had only been turned into a murderer by the treatment he has received from others. He states that if Victor will hear his tale and honor his request, he will leave humanity alone - otherwise he will go on a murdering spree. Victor feels some sense of responsibility for the Creature and reluctantly follows him to his mountain hut.
Chapter 11: The Creature explains that in his first days he had learned how to survive in the forest. Eventually he discovers the hut of a shepherd but the shepherd screams in alarm. The townspeople drive the Creature away. He finds a small cottage where a sad man, a young girl and an old blind musician live. While secretly living in an adjoining hovel, he spies on his neighbors’ daily activities.
Chapter 12: During the winter the Creature becomes fond of the cottagers and secretly provides them with chopped wood. By watching them, he begins to learn how to speak, and makes plans to introduce himself once he can use words to blunt his horrible appearance.
Chapter 13: The cottagers receive an Arabian woman into their care and proceed to educate her on how to speak English. The Creature continues his education by observing the lessons of the Arabian (named Safie). When he learns of the concepts of family and birth, he wonders why he has no memory of such things in his own past.
Chapter 14: The Creature learns that the young man (Felix) had helped Safie’s father escape from prison and in the process had fallen in love with Safie. When Felix’s act had been discovered by the authorities, they had been exiled from their home in Paris to their current cottage. When Safie’s father had returned to Constantinople, Safie had decided to search out Felix.
Chapter 15: The Creature comes into possession of three books which helps him learn about life: 'Paradise Lost,' a volume of 'Plutarch's Lives,' and Goethe’s 'Sorrows of Werter.' He also discovers notes left behind by Victor (in clothes stolen from Victor’s house), and learns of his own genesis. He feels jealous that Adam was loved by his creator. He decides that he must approach the family and try to become friends with them. Due to his horrible appearance, he visits the old blind father first and engages him in friendly conversation. However, when Safie, Felix and his sister return, they recoil in horror and Felix drives the Creature away.
Chapter 16: The Creature becomes angry at his treatment but later calms and resolves to reapproach the family with more tact. Unfortunately they have fled the area. He decides to go to Geneva to seek out Victor. On the way he saves a young girl from drowning, but when her companion arrives he is shot at. Arriving near Geneva, a young boy finds his hiding spot and reveals himself to be a Frankenstein. The Creature tries to make the child (Victor’s brother William) come with him in order to force him to be his friend, but the boy screams. The Creature strangles William and takes his jewelled miniature. Later he finds the girl Justine and decides to incriminate her with the miniature, as he feels she would never have been his friend anyways. Finishing his story, he tells Victor that he wants his creator to make a female companion for him.
Chapter 17: Victor at first refuses to comply, but then decides that he must do as the Creature asks out of a sense of responsibility to his own creation, as well as towards mankind’s welfare and safety. The Creature swears he will live with his mate in peace once she has been delivered and departs. Victor returns to Geneva intending to begin work.
Chapter 18: Victor decides that he needs to go to London to consult with scientists to complete his horrid promise (he also hopes the Creature will follow him to England and leave his family in safety). His father decides that upon his return Victor and Elizabeth will marry. He also has Henry Clerval join Victor on his trip to England.
Chapter 19: Victor and Henry spend some time touring England, but eventually, afraid of what the Creature might do to his family in Switzerland, Victor begins his gruesome work on a remote island in Scotland, alone.
Chapter 20: As Victor nears completion on the Creature’s mate, he fears that she will be repelled by the Creature, or worse yet, she and the Creature will give birth to a race of monsters who will terrorize the rest of mankind. He impulsively destroys his work in progress. Seeing this, the Creature arrives and declares vengeance on Victor on his wedding night. After the Creature departs, Victor thinks that the Creature’s attack on his wedding night will allow him a chance to destroy his nemesis. Later he takes a boat out to dispose of the remains of the Creature’s mate, but after becoming lost in a storm, he arrives in Ireland, where he is accused of a terrible crime.
Chapter 21: Victor is shown the body of Henry, obviously strangled by the Creature. Although shocked into another period of sickness, he is imprisoned for his suspicious circumstances. Victor is eventually exonerated and his father arrives to take him back home to Geneva.
Chapter 22: In order to quickly draw the Creature to him so that he can kill it (or he him), he weds Elizabeth shortly after returning to Geneva. They decide to honeymoon in the Alps. Elizabeth worries that their time of happiness will be brief.
Chapter 23: On their wedding night Victor arms himself with pistols in order to prepare for the Creature’s arrival, but the Creature sneaks past him and kills Elizabeth. Victor sees the face of the Creature in the window and fires but misses. Victor rushes back to Geneva in fear for his father’s life, but the old man is unharmed. However, news of Elizabeth’s death causes him great distress and he dies a few days later. Victor finally tells his entire bizarre tale to the local magistrate in order to rally a search party, but the magistrate feels that he cannot help Victor track down the Creature (if he even exists).
Chapter 24: Victor resolves to kill the monster alone and utters a vow before the graves of William, Elizabeth and his father. The Creature suddenly appears and taunts him. He then flees and for the next several weeks Victor doggedly pursues him. When the trail goes cold, the Creatures leaves clues and further taunting messages. Eventually Victor pursues the Creature north into the Arctic. When he almost catches up with the Creature, the ice melts and they are separated by open sea. Eventually Victor is picked up by Walton’s ship.
Walton’s further letters to his sister: Walton and Victor (and their ship) are stuck in the ice for several days, halting their journey north in pursuit of the Creature. Shortly after the ice melts and Victor is informed that they are abandoning the journey north, Victor succumbs to exposure and dies. Walton encounters the Creature standing above Victor’s dead body, expressing remorse. The Creature tells Walton that he had suffered remorse for all of his murderous crimes. After killing Henry he had had no further plans of violence, but when Victor had rushed into marriage with Elizabeth, jealousy had revitalized his desire for vengeance. He laments his pitiful existence and tells Walton that he plans to go north beyond the domain of man and destroy himself in a funeral pyre.