Frankenstein Chapter Summaries Volume 1

Frankenstein Chapter Summaries (and initial impressions)
Letter One:
Captain Walton writes to his sister displaying an inescapable desire to be a great man, a poet who undertakes the burden of
trying to discover something about the world. He describes ideas such as having a ‘steady purpose’ and the way in which he
tells his sister of the weather implies he believes his voyage is a great struggle - something to conquer and claim. It seems
Walton wants to follow in the footsteps of explorers prior to his age - perhaps Francis Drake or Walter Raleigh? I also think
Walton's uplift of poetry - in a particularly Romantic sense - draws a resemblance to Percy Shelley - Mary's husband, who also
believed poetry was the highest form of literature - something that elevated the soul to heaven.
He is also fairly stoic in his approach to emotion - stoic in regards to the Roman philosophy (more great men). But I also sense
a sense (wow) of insecurity in him, perhaps due to his ‘neglected’ education during youth. Maybe he feels as if he is beginning
on unsteady foundations. Captain Walton also comments thoroughly on the weather as his voyage makes its way through a
harsh winter climate, propelled by a ‘wind of promise’ - which could by either symbolic of the progressive century Shelley was
writing in or Walton's own desire to simply be great - to ride the winds of change, perhaps. Currently he is between St
Petersburg and Archangel, two Russian cities (towns?) and he tells Margaret he is departing in three or four weeks. Finally,
Walton ends the later asking Heaven to ‘save’ him, which I thought was interesting - could be a cry for salvation perhaps? This
is odd considering he described his own ‘ardent curiosity’ - a trait so linked to the concept of original sin, the cause of the fall
of man.
Letter Two:
Walton has made it to Archangel (a possible biblical reference here?)
In the second letter the Captain sends Margaret, Shelley introduces us to his yearn
for companionship (resembling the Creature later on in the novel?). He describes a
loneliness in spite of being surrounded by sailors and seamen, but these do not
provide him with the emotional (and perhaps spiritual) fulfilment he seeks. He is
lonely but not alone. Walton wants somebody who engages him both on an
intellectual level and sympathetic level. ‘I have no one near me, gentle yet
courageous, posessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind’. I think you
could view this desire differently - Walton as the lonely artist, seeking someone to
share his poetry with - or Walton as the isolated Captain, unknowingly separating
himself from the presumably lower class seamen.
However I cannot commit to that later view due to Walton's commitment to his
distaste of ‘the usual brutality exercised on a board ship’. I think this is an interesting
layer to his character because it echoes the teachings of Shelley's father who said that knowledge was nothing without
benevolence. Due to the similarities Walton also draws with Shelley's husband Percy, I think perhaps this man Walton could
be modelled off the two most influential ‘great’ men in Shelley's life, considering of course that her mother died young. I'm
not sure yet because I haven't read much of the book only looked into its context but, my intital impression of Walton is
perhaps he provides Shelley with a character in which she can explore the masculine world she grew up - and was writing in. Anyway, as for the plot here, Walton talks of a noble man whom he admires. This man gave his newly purchased farm away
to his wife... and the man she was in love with. An extremely generous act is both praised and commended by Walton who, in
despite of his admiration, describes this man as having ‘a kind of ignorant carelessness about him’. Due to the fact that he is
not given a name, I think the purpose of this section is not to introduce this man's character, but to present Walton as
grappling with his own stance on what makes a man ‘great’, worthy and of the admiration.Perhaps, a combination of both
relentless intellectual pursuit, and genuine empathy and kindness for other human beings.
Walton continues his letter by noting his slight unease in moving forward with the voyage, determined not to act irrationally
and rashly (very Victorian, repressing impulse and all that). The weather has been so dreadful it has delayed his voyage in
moving forward. He also draws an allusion to another great man of the past - Coleridge's ‘Ancient Mariner’.
Letter Three:
In this short account Captain Walton uses his letter less to dwell on the events of his voyage - which include ‘one or two stiff
gales, and the springing of a leak’ - and more to one again express his yearn for greatness - the ultimate defining feature of
his letters so far. Here he addresses man's desire to seek an order over chaos, an idea which clearly resonated with Shelley
considering the tumultuous world the eighteenth century saw unfolding. To Walton his order is ‘tracing a secure way over
the pathless seas’.
Letter Four:
This path to order (and greatness) is then disrupted in the Captain's next letter. His boat becomes stuck in ice. And, if the sea
is by nature wild and chaotic - then its opposite, land, takes on the symbol of the familiar. I think, then, that ice - being a
liminal state in between the two, could stand as a wider image in Walton's story. He is stuck in ice - stuck in between the
‘common\ of his youth and the greatest he wishes for his future. (However this is only my first reading so I could be
While stuck in ice Walton witnesses a strange figure skirting the ice, controlling a sledge of dogs (embodying the image of
the unfamiliar, the outsider). Walton and crew are surprised both by the fact that they believed they were miles from land
and by the odd appearance of this lone traveller, who Walton describes as a ‘savage inhabitant’ - striking some parallels with
the Colonialism of the great adventurers he admires. I think this figure is Frankenstein's creature, so the fact that he is closer
to land than the crew previously believed could be showing that the creature is closer to humanity (the familiar) than
previously believed.
After the sighting of the traveller, Walton's ship comes across another stranger drifting
across the ice, half-dead by European. This man is fairly dazed by the whole encounter but is
taken on board by the crew and brought back to life with warmth and brandy. This echoes
an event to happen later in the novel,
Upon returning to a more stable health the traveller, while quiet, attracts the hearts and
curiousity of the crew but more so of Walton himself - who recognises in the stranger a kind
of calm sadness, combined with a deep connection to nature. The stranger and Walton
begin to talk first about why exactly the man found himself deserted on the ice - before
engaging in more philosophical discussion about the nature of friendship. And, as their
relationship becomes solidified, the stranger opens up the discussion to the memory which
haunts his existence - the cause of the melancholy Walton senses within his character. I think it's also important to note here
that Walton possesses both the curiosity to unravel the past of his new friend and the compassion to want to ease the man's
suffering. This again echoes the teaching of Shelley's father - William Godwin, to whom the book is dedicated. Godwin
believed that knowledge couldn't exist (in great people) without benevolence. The letter then ends with Walton introducing
the stranger's tale.
Chapter One:
The perspective shifts to Victor's POV. He begins the account with a recollection of how his parents married - his Father, the
glowing symbol of public business, took under his wing the widow of his late friend - Beaufort. Victor talks about both of his
parents in the highest esteem, his mother having ‘a mind of uncommon mold’. Victor's attitude to his childhood, then,
proves to be a nice counter-point to Walton's attitude who shows nothing but contempt towards his youth.
Victor describes the love his parents spilled onto him during their travels around Europe, his childhood being the greatest
honour his parents could hold - to raise him right appears their life's purpose.
The account then takes another turn as Victor explains how his parents’ love went beyond him, as they would visit poorer
people living in the towns they visited. This, a ‘passion’ to them, led to their adopting of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth stands out from the poor family's other four children, she is fair and very angelic in comparison to their common
hardiness. The Frankensteins then discover she is not actually the poor family's child at all, but a fostered daughter of a late
Austrian nobleman.
The chapter then ends with Victor's narrative taking in an oddly possessive turn as he stresses that Elizabeth was his - ‘a
possession’ for him to own. Here we can see a similarity between Victor and Walton - they both have very strong bonds of
protection and attachment to their sisters.
Chapter Two —>
Chapter Three:
In this chapter we hear of Victor's experiences at Ingolstadt University. His departure to study is somewhat rash, as he leaves
in a flurry following the graceful death of his mother and the illness of his sister. Grief, for Victor, is the first moment of true
unhappiness he faces - a time he describes as ‘the first misfortune of my life’ … ‘when the lapse of time proves the reality of
the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences’. So, with his family ties crumbling, Victor rushes off into uncertainty,
tearing himself away from his companions and the security of his home.
At the University Victor meets two professors. There is M.Krempe, a man who disregards Victor's fascination with the ancient
scientists as frivolous nonsense, and M.Waldman whose opening lecture throws the young Victor into an internal battle.
Waldman strips away the prejudice Victor has of the modern scientists, explaining how, while they don't quite have the
extreme imagination of the ancients, they are still able to ‘penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in
her hiding places’. Victor views these as the words of fate, and they send his soul into chaos of passion as he sets himself onto
the path that will later lead to his creation of life.
It is also important to note here that the nature and appearance (physignomy) of M.Waldmen marks a resemblance to
Shelley's father, William Godwin.
Chapter Four:
In this chapter Victor dwells at length on his obsession with his creation. After being led by his professors down the path of
natural philosophy - in particular Chemistry, and later physiology - Victor cuts himself off from his life in Geneva and
attaches himself instead to the pursuit of his ‘secret’. This secret appears to him whilst examining the relationship between
life and death, in an attempt to examine the cause of life. In a moment defined by constant references to light, visions and
miracles, Victor stumbles across a secret never actually revealed to the reader - or Walton, as Victor's entire narrative could
be viewed as the answer to Walton's curiosity at the start of the novel.
Victor's discovery pushes him further into isolation and feverous passion. In a trance, he abandons himself, and it is like his
body becomes his pursuit, as he has ‘lost all soul or sensation’ by this point. Everything
about him is defined by his desire to animate life. But Victor doesn't praise this fixation,
in fact, he calls knowledge ‘dangerous’ and talks about how much happier he'd be with
a simpler mind confined to the town he was born in. His laboratory is a workshop of
‘filthy creation’ - the idea of dirt here having potentially biblical connotations, a stain on
the purity of god's creation, perhaps. Victor loses sight of the natural world, ignoring
the turn of the seasons and the companionship of his fellow humans - so it is ironic how
he is trying to recreate nature while banishing himself from it. But he pursues
nevertheless, relishing in how he will create a new race who will ‘owe their being’ to
him. He sees himself as a father, so it now makes more sense the attention Shelley gave
in chapter one and two to Victor's own upbringing, as this could be an influence.
Chapter Five:
Victor finally achieves his goal. He animates the body with life. And… it almost kills him. In a culmination of two years of
ravaged health and social isolation, Victor finally reaches the end of his pursuit. But in the animation of life all Victor finds is
a hideous monster - a bad copy, the skewed face of humanity staring back at him. One thing I picked up on here is the
amount fo colours Shelley uses in this first physical description of the monster, with his ‘yellow eyes’ and skin matching the
‘yellow light of the moon’, and his white teeth and jet black hair and lips. These features Victor views as both beautiful and
disturbing - so disturbing that he runs away in horror at his creation, and is then
plagued by strange dreams. His sister Elizabeth turns into his dead mother, and then
he wakes up to find the monster sat staring at him in one sequence of sheer Gothic
horror. The fact the monster is also smiling here makes the scene even more
disturbing, and Shelley's writing plays out like a nightmare itself.
Disappointment also wounds Victor's soul at this point. As the pain and mental
torment he put himself through has just come crashing down at his knees. He turns
from being dedicated to a sole purpose, to wandering the streets ‘without any clear
conception of where I was or what I was doing’. He continues to unravel in this way
until by chance he stumbles upon his old friend Henry Cheval, who then takes on the
role as saviour to Victor.The two manage to converse - but it is broken and uneasy.
Finally, Henry realises the full extent of Victor's illness and madness. Victor collapses
into himself, fits, and then spends the next few months being nursed back to health by Henry. The chapter ends in the reveal
that Elizabeth has sent Victor a letter, continuing Shelley's experimentation with the epilostary novel form. The most
interesting thing I could draw from this chapter though, was the parallel between Henry's role here as saviour, Walton's
rescue of Victor earlier on in the novel, and Victor's initial reaction to hearing M.Waltman's words. Each event embodies the
concept of the ‘miracle’ - they are all moments in which Victor, a man striving to be great and glorious, is saved by another
human being.
Chapter Six:
The first half of the chapter is told from Elizabeth's perspective, in the form of a letter she sent to her brother. Elizaebth's
concerns are directly opposite to Victor's - where he is worldly and knows no limits to thought, idea or ambition, she is bound
to local leisures: gossip, neighbours and family. Yet Elizabeth's narrative rests on a steady calm where Victor's can be erratic
and dramatic. Elizabeth also talks of a servant girl - Justine Moritz - who the Frankenstein's took in from her abusive
birthmother. Elizabeth mentions how this girl was called back by her mother, who open the death of Justine's siblings, was
desperate for repentance - and also someone to blame for the deaths. I'm not too sure how this story affects the wider
narrative of the novel as a whole, but it does display Elizabeth's boundless benevolence as she expresses a deep concern for
And Elizabeth's love and kindness (as well as Henry's) propels Victor back into good health once more. In the second half of
the chapter we see a completely different man. Victor here, while momentarily troubled by visits to his professors who
remind him of the science he now hates, is calm, simple, and open to nature. He speaks in passages brimming with Romantic
ideals, talking poetically of ‘a serene sky and verdant fields’ amongst other natural pleasures. This seems to contrast the
hideous replication of nature Victor created in the previous chapter. Victor also engages himself with the studies of Henry as
they both embark into learning the ‘Oriental’ languages. This activity acts as a kind of salve for the previously restless Victor,
who finds a joy in the warmth of the Orientals - in comparison to the ‘manly and heroical poetry of Greek and Rome’. It
seems, then, that he has been freed from the pursuit of glory you'd associate with emperors of Greek and Rome.
Chapter Seven:
At the beginning of this chapter Shelley lends us yet another letter, this time from Victor's father's perspective. He writes to
cushion the blow of a family tragedy, not wanting Victor to feel the shock of William's death when he returns. The boy went
missing during a the family's walk which they extended due to the warmth of the evening. However this warmth soon left
them, as night soon fell and hid William from them who they did not discover until five the following morning. Victor's
father describes the scene in this one sentence which contains within both the joys of life and the furrow of death - a theme
Victor himself dwelled upon pre-experiment. ‘I discovered my lovely boy, whom the night before I had seen blooming and
active in health, stretched on the grass livid and motionless: the print of the murderer's was on his neck’. In fact, Shelley
structures the novel so that the previous chapter was infused with life and this one weighed by death. She flip flops between
the two in quite a lovely expression of that theme. Thoughts.
The family bear the grief heavily too, as Elizabeth believes William's murder is her fault. To soothe her, Victor's father
summons him home from Ingodladt immediately, believing his presence to be enough to bring her out from misery. Victor's
father also is keen to encourage no feelings of vengeance, but instead of love and kindness - again displaying the quality of
benevolence Shelley admired in her own father.
We then switch back to Victor's narrative. He makes a quick exit from Ingosladt but his journey is plagued by fear.
Approaching his homeland his feelings shift between that of restoration (in seeing nature) and grief. Upon entering Geneva
Victor witnesses what he calls ‘a vast and dim scene of evil’ - a storm. There is this really lovely line which does subvert the
storm though, as Victor hopes it is the sky's funeral for young William. Yet, immediately after uttering such a symbol Victor
catches sight of his demon. As soon as Victor recognises the monster he knows almost instinctively that his own creation
murdered William. This realisation drives Victor into the night, in a scene where it seems he is punishing himself, forcing
himself to endure the wet and cold, as well as the internal torment of his spirit.
Victor then enters the house at five in the morning - strangely (probably a purposeful choice by Shelley) the same time as
William's body was discovered. Besides a solemn welcome, the first words they utter to Victor are that the murderer has
been discovered, and it is, in fact, the girl from Elizabeth's letter in the previous chapter - Justine Moritz. And to think I
thought her intital placement in the story made little sense... But the despite the accusation the family believe that Justine is
innocent. This entire situation also puts Victor under a great moral test - perhaps a truer test of his ‘greatness’ then his
intellectual pursuit, in my opinion anyway. He must decide whether to confess or not. Justine's life is on the line.
Chapter Eight:
The next chapter is consumed by the events of Justine's trial, during which Victor ensures ‘living torture’. However due to the
extent to which Victor seems to dramatise his near constant state of anguish, I'm bringing to question how much of his
suffering his self-inflicted or not. Perhaps part of it is, an unconscious attempt to make his existence somewhat heroic.
Tragically heroic, but still. May be a thought to pursue with more research!
Victor starts the entry by dwelling on how calm Justine carried herself at the beginning of the trial, knowing that she is
innocent. But the good grace of her character only heightens Victor's sense of internal torment. The witness reports against
Justine are also loose and flaky, until it is revealed that a pendant of Victor's late Mother that William was wearing the night
of his murder was found in Justine's pocket. Yet, still believing she innocent, Elizabeth is able to take a stand in the
courtroom, becoming Justine's fierce defendant. However, the court take her words more as a reflection on the goodness of
her character than Justine's case. In the morning Victor rushes to court, finding that in desperation Justine made a false
confession. This destroys Elizabeth, who visits Justine in jail that day. Victor comments on how Justine does not fear death at
this point, but feels worthy that at least the Frankensteins believe she is innocent, and he calls her a ‘saintly sufferer’ (again
tying into the whole greatness theme). This attitude resembles that of Victor's mother on her own deathbed. Victor then
ends the chapter, and the volume, by regarding both William and Justine as the ‘first hapless victims’ of his monster, his
creation. More internal anguish, dramatic stuff.
Related flashcards
Create Flashcards