Frankenstein By Mary Shelley Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

Summary

Victor Frankenstein is now the main narrator of the story from this point on to Chapter 24. He begins his story just slightly before his birth. His father, although as of yet unnamed, is Alphonse Frankenstein, who was involved heavily in the affairs of his country and thus delayed marriage until late in life. Alphonse quits public life to become a father and husband.

Victor's father and Mr. Beaufort, his mother Caroline's father, had a congenial relationship. Mr. Beaufort and his daughter move from Geneva to Lucerne, Switzerland to seek refuge from poverty and a damaged reputation. Alphonse sets out to aid his lost friend to "begin the world again through his credit and assistance."

While in Lucerne, Beaufort had saved a small amount of money and had recovered his reputation somewhat, but he became ill and within a few months had died. When Alphonse finds the Beaufort home, he discovers an impoverished Caroline grieving at her father's coffin. Alphonse gives his friend a decent burial and sends Caroline to his family in Geneva to recover. During a two-year period, Alphonse visits Caroline and they eventually became husband and wife.

Seeking a better climate, the couple moves to Italy for a short period. During this time, Victor was born and lavished with attention. He was their only child for five years until Caroline comes across an impoverished family in need of help. She falls for a beautiful little girl who is Victor's age and asks the family if she could adopt her. The little girl, Elizabeth, becomes Victor's adopted cousin and playmate.

Analysis

Mary Shelley seems to pull her own experiences from childhood into the writing of Victor's background, which is the topic of this chapter. Mary Shelley came from a family of half siblings and a stepmother; Victor's family includes his two brothers and an adopted "cousin" Elizabeth. Mary's mother and Victor's mother also share an interest in visiting the poor. The care for the poor and the uneducated was a theme in Mary Wollestonecraft's life. Also, note that Elizabeth's mother and Mary's died during childbirth.

While on a summer visit to Lake Como, near Milan, Italy, Caroline comes upon a poor family who has five children to feed and little income. Mary's own mother was a champion of the poor and this autobiographical concept of her own life made its way into this novel. Caroline offers to take a girl child and adopt her for their own. The poor family reluctantly gives this adopted child, Elizabeth Lavenza, to the Frankenstein family. Elizabeth is almost the same age as Victor and described as "none could behold her without looking at her as a distinct species, as being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features."

Elizabeth is a beautiful and striking child."Her mother was a German and had died on giving her birth," much like Mary Shelley's own mother, Mary Wollestonecraft, had done. Elizabeth is seen not as a mere orphan, but as a child the Frankenstein's had wanted for their own. Victor sees Elizabeth as a "pretty present" from his parents. Victor tells how Elizabeth was so much more than family to him; she was "more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only." These words have a true, ominous ring to them later in the novel.

Glossary

abode a place where one lives or stays; home; residence.

chamois a small goat antelope of the mountains of Europe and the Caucasus, having straight horns with the tips bent backward.

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