It was conceived in the Swiss Alps in mid-June 1816 after a conversation about bringing corpses to life provoked a nightmare, and was written over the next eleven months in largely morbid circumstances. Death and the terrors of childbirth--as much as Romanticism, a burgeoning awareness of unconscious drives, and contemporary ideas of atheism, the collapse of the social contract, and the corrupting influence of society on human nature--inform this story of a man (or monster) built by Dr. Victor Frankenstein and brought to life by electricity.
The monster's culpability for various horrific acts, his powerlessness in the face of his complete ostracism from society, and Dr. Frankenstein's lies, abdication of responsibility, and the pain he inflicts on his creation raised chilling questions that made the novel an immediate bestseller.
About the Author
Mary Shelley was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
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To Mrs. Saville, England St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday; and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare, and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.
I am already far north of London; and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves, and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my day dreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is for ever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon, and diffusing a perpetual splendour. Therefor with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigatorsthere snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle; and may regulate a thousand celestial observations, that require onlythis voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent for ever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death, and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But, supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.
These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purposea point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good uncle Thomas's library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father's dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.
These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets whose effusions, entranced my soul, and lifted it to heaven. I also became a poet, and for one year lived in a Paradise of my own creation; I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquainted with my failure, and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned into the channel of their earlier bent.
Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked harder than the common sailors during the day, and devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventure might derive the greatest practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate in a Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own I felt a little proud, when my captain offered me the second dignity in the vessel and intreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness so valuable did he consider my services.
And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh, that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage, the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when theirs are failing.
This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stage-coach. The cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in fursa dress which I have already adopted; for there is a great difference between walking the deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no ambition to lose my life on the post-road between St Petersburgh and Archangel.
I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend to sail until the month of June; and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister, how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, you will see me again soon, or never.
Farewell, my dear, excellent Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings on you, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude for all your love and kindness.
Your affectionate brother, R. Walton
From the Paperback edition.
Table of Contents
Monsters, Visionaries, and Mary Shelley.
Edmund Burke, “On the Sublime and the Beautiful,” from A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.
Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Men.
William Gilpin, from Picturesque Travel.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, 1798.
Mary Wollstonecraft, Jemima's Story from Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman.
Mary Godwin (Shelley), journal entries.
Percy Shelley, from Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude.
Mary Shelley, from History of a Six Weeks' Tour.
Percy Shelley, Mont Blanc.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, Canto 3 from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage III.
George Gordon, George Gordon, Lord Byron, A Fragment.
Richard Brinsley Peake, from Frankenstein, A Romantic Drama.
Mary Shelley, from a letter to E. J. Trelawny.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, “Enjoy Your Baby,” from Baby and Child Care.
Milton's Satan and Romantic Imaginations.
The King James Bible, Genesis, Chapters 2 and 3.
John Milton, from Paradise Lost.
William Godwin, from “An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, “Prometheus.”
John Keats, To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent.
John Keats, Marginalia to Paradise Lost.
William Hazlitt, “On Shakespeare and Milton,” from Lectures on the English Poets.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface Prometheus Unbound.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, from A Defence of Poetry.
Thomas De Quincey, “What Do We Mean by Literature?”
What the Reviews Said.
John Wilson Croker, Quarterly Review, January 1818.
Walter Scott, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, March 1818.
Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, March 1818.
Belle Assemblàe, March 1818.
The British Critic, April 1818.
Gentleman's Magazine, April 1818.
Monthly Review, April 1818.
The Literary Panorama and National Register, June 1818.
Knight's Quarterly Magazine, August 1824.
Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, March 1823.
London Morning Post, July 1823.
George Canning, remarks in the House of Commons, March 1824.
Knight's Quarterly Magazine, August 1824.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Anthenfum, November 1832.
Further Reading and Viewing.
What People are Saying About This
Out of that vampire-laden fug of gruesomeness known as the English Gothic Romance, only the forbidding acrid name of Frankenstein remains in general usage... Mary Shelley had courage, she was inspired. Frankenstein has entertained, delighted and harrowed generations of readers to this day.