Here you will find a Frankenstein summary (Mary Shelley's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.
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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024
In the freezing climes of the North Pole, the captain of a ship, Robert Walton, encounters a weakened man traveling on a dog-drawn sledge. On rescuing him, Walton learns of Victor and his dreadful creation – a monstrous being crafted from old body parts. Walton hears how Victor, once a happy child living in Geneva, becomes engrossed in the study of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Ingolstadt. His obsession leads to the discovery of the secret of life, and he spends months crafting a creature in the solitude of his apartment. However, upon the creature's animation, Victor is horrified and flees in remorse. Victor's life goes into a downward spiral. As he plans to return home, he learns of his younger brother's murder and is convinced that his monstrous creation is to blame. Returning home, he discovers that an innocent family friend, Justine Moritz, has been falsely accused and executed for the crime. Overcome by guilt and grief, Victor retreats to the mountains, where he encounters the monster. The creature confesses to the murder but pleads for empathy, revealing his loneliness and desperation. He asks Victor to create a companion for him. Despite initial reluctance, Victor agrees and travels to England with his friend Henry to gather knowledge for this daunting task. In the desolate Orkneys, Victor begins to create a female companion for the monster but is overcome by the possible repercussions of his actions and destroys the second creature. Enraged, the monster threatens Victor's impending wedding night. On the same night, Victor discards the creature's remains in a lake and, unable to return due to the weather, ends up near an unknown town. Here, he is wrongly accused of murder and imprisoned until his acquittal. Upon his release, he marries Elizabeth, but she is murdered by the monster, leading to his father's death from grief. Sworn to revenge, Victor pursues the monster up to the Arctic where he meets Walton. Victor's health worsens, and he dies shortly after. Walton finds the monster mourning Victor's death, after which the creature vows to end his own life to cease his suffering.
A glimpse is given of a pale scholar, who dabbed in forbidden studies, beside the creature he assembled. Frankenstein's introduction, penned by Mary Shelley yet generally believed to have been composed by her spouse, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is presented. It asserts that the inspiration for the book came during a holiday in the Swiss Alps. Stormy weather and evenings filled with reading spooky German tales led the author and her literary friends to hold a ghost story writing challenge. The only finished tale from this contest is the book itself.
Who could predict what occurs in the land of perpetual daylight? "Frankenstein" starts with letters written by sailor Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton, a wealthy Englishman with a love for the sea, is captaining a ship on a perilous journey towards the North Pole. In the inaugural letter, he shares with his sister the details of his expedition's planning and his fervent wish to achieve a significant goal. It could be finding a new route to the Pacific through the north, discovering the origins of Earth's magnetism, or simply exploring uncharted land.
In the subsequent correspondence, Walton expresses his solitude. He feels alone and distant, too advanced to connect with his crew yet too lacking in education to find a like-minded individual to confide his aspirations in. His character displays romantic traits, with his "passion for the extraordinary, a faith in the extraordinary," guiding him through the hazardous and solitary journey he's embarked upon.
Walton, in a succinct third letter, informs his sibling that his voyage has begun and he's quite certain his goal will be reached.
In the final letter, Walton's ship becomes stuck in ice, and he and his crew spot a huge creature on a sledge nearby. The following day, they find another sledge stuck on ice with only one surviving dog. The man on this sledge looks weak and starved, but refuses to come aboard until he learns they are heading north. The crew nurses him back to health over two days without asking any questions due to his delicate state. Walton and the man form a bond, and the man agrees to share his story. The letter concludes with Walton saying the man will begin his tale the next day, ending Walton's narration and transitioning to the stranger's account.
We are introduced to Victor Frankenstein, who begins to narrate his tale. He first details his early life, speaking of his father, Alphonse, and his mother, Caroline. Caroline was taken under Alphonse's care after her father and Alphonse's friend, Beaufort, tragically passed away in poverty. They wed two years later, soon welcoming Victor into the world. Victor goes on to recount how Elizabeth Lavenza, his childhood friend, became a part of his family. The story splits here based on the original (1818) and revised (1831) editions of Frankenstein. In the first version, Elizabeth is Victor's cousin, daughter of Alphonse’s sister. She joins the Frankensteins after her mother's death when Victor was just four. However, in the revised edition, Caroline finds Elizabeth during a visit to Italy when Victor is about five. Amidst a family of dark-haired Italians, Caroline is struck by a beautiful blonde girl. Upon learning that Elizabeth is the orphaned child of a Milanese nobleman and a German woman, and her caregivers struggle to provide for her, Caroline chooses to adopt her. From the moment of adoption, Caroline wished for Victor and Elizabeth to eventually marry.
Victor and Elizabeth, childhood companions, enjoy a strong bond. Victor also finds a good ally in his classmate, Henry Clerval. His teenage years spark an interest in the natural sciences. He stumbles upon a book by Cornelius Agrippa, an occult scholar, which sparks his interest in natural philosophy. He eagerly explores the antiquated theories of alchemists like Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. During a violent storm, a tree near his home is obliterated by lightning. This spectacle of nature's power is explained by a contemporary natural philosopher who accompanies the Frankenstein family, introducing Victor to the concept of electricity. The modern explanation makes the ancient alchemic theories appear obsolete and irrelevant. In the original 1818 version, it is Victor's father who demonstrates electricity, further convincing Victor of the erroneousness of the alchemists.
Embarking on a path of novel exploration, the seventeen-year-old protagonist, Victor, parts ways with his family in Geneva to study at Ingolstadt University. Prior to his departure, his mother contracts scarlet fever from Elizabeth, who she was caring for, and passes away. On her deathbed, she implores Elizabeth and Victor to unite in matrimony. A few weeks later, with his heart heavy with grief, Victor leaves for Ingolstadt. On reaching the university, Victor finds accommodation in the town and arranges a meeting with M. Krempe, a professor of natural philosophy. Krempe criticizes Victor's past studies of alchemy, discouraging Victor further. However, a chemistry lecture by Professor Waldman and a following interaction with him inspires Victor to continue his pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Victor passionately dives into his research, disregarding his distant family and social connections in Geneva, and progresses quickly. He becomes captivated by the enigma of life creation, studying the human body's construction (anatomy) and decomposition (death and decay). After years of relentless effort, he surpasses his teachers' knowledge and uncovers the secret of life. In the isolation of his apartment, hidden from others' views, he resolves to create a living creature, dreaming of originating a new species of extraordinary beings. Victor throws himself into this task wholeheartedly, forsaking all else—his family, friends, studies, and social life—becoming progressively more gaunt, solitary, and consumed by his obsession.
Victor finishes his project on a storm-filled evening. However, he's terrified by its horrific look as it comes to life. He flees to another room and tries to rest but is haunted by dreams of Elizabeth and his dead mother. He awakens to find the monster grinning eerily at him by his bedside, causing him to dash out of his house. He roams his courtyard all night, and in the morning he walks around Ingolstadt, carefully evading his now-creepy apartment. During his walk, he bumps into his friend Henry Clerval at the local inn. Henry, who's in town for university, becomes a source of comfort for Victor, reminding him of his family. He invites Henry over, and they find the apartment empty of the monster. Drained from the long months of toil and the shock of his grotesque creation, Victor falls into a feverish illness for several months. Henry takes care of him, nursing him back to health, and presents him with a letter from Elizabeth that arrived during his sickness.
Elizabeth writes to Victor, worried about his sickness and pleading for him to communicate with his family in Geneva. She updates him about Justine Moritz, a former housemate of the Frankensteins, who has returned following her mother's passing. Once Victor recovers, he presents Henry, who's studying Eastern languages, to his university professors. However, being around any chemistry equipment exacerbates Victor's symptoms, and even conversing with his professors distresses him. He opts to go back to Geneva, waiting for a letter from his father to confirm his departure date. In the meantime, he and Henry embark on a countryside excursion, finding solace in the splendor of nature.
Victor gets back to the university only to receive a letter from his dad, revealing that his little brother William has been killed. Deeply shaken and anxious, Victor rushes back to Geneva. He gets there after dark when Geneva's gates are closed, so he winds up spending his night wandering the woods near the town. He unexpectedly spots his creation, the monster, near the location where William's body was discovered. He quickly concludes that the monster must have killed his brother. When he goes home the next morning, Victor finds out that Justine, a family servant, has been blamed for the homicide. The motive of their suspicion is a picture of Caroline, which was found in Justine's pocket. The last time Victor had seen this picture, it was with William. Victor staunchly defends Justine, declaring her innocent. However, the evidence against her is strong, and Victor chooses not to reveal his suspicions about the monster, fearing they'll think he's lost his mind.
Justine admits to the offense, in hope of receiving redemption, yet maintains her innocence to Elizabeth and Victor, voicing her despair. Despite their belief in her innocence, Justine is eventually put to death. Victor is overwhelmed by remorse, aware that his creation of the monster, and the secrecy surrounding it, has led to the demise of two family members.
Following Justine's death, Victor's sadness deepens. Thoughts of ending his own life occasionally cross his mind but he holds back, his affection for Elizabeth and his father keeping him grounded. In an attempt to lift Victor's spirits, Alphonse decides to bring his kids on a trip to their family residence in Belrive. Victor, however, drifts away in solitude towards the Chamounix valley. The breathtaking landscape restores some of his good mood, but the relief from his sorrow is fleeting.
Feeling despair, Victor decides to visit Montanvert's summit, hoping the beautiful scenery will uplift his mood. He feels better when he reaches the glacier peak. But his peace is disrupted when he spots a figure moving rapidly towards him. It's the monster, and despite Victor's threats, it is too strong and fast to be deterred. Victor tells it to leave, but the monster, speaking with surprising eloquence, convinces him to follow it to an icy cave. There, the monster starts to recount its life story.
Anchored by the hearth in his shelter, the creature shares with Victor the bewilderment he felt at his birth. He speaks of his hurried escape from Victor's dwelling to the wilderness, and his slow adjustment to existence through learning about light, darkness, hunger, thirst, and chilliness. As per his account, he stumbles upon a fire one day, enjoying its heat but getting upset when he injures himself on the scorching ashes. He understands that he can maintain the fire by feeding it wood, and that it's beneficial not just for coziness and warmth, but also for improving the taste of meals. Looking for sustenance, the creature discovers a cabin and goes inside. His appearance triggers an elderly man to scream and flee in terror. The creature then moves to a town, where his frightful appearance prompts more people to run. These events lead him to decide to avoid humans. One evening, he finds shelter in a tiny shack near a house. In the daylight, he finds a crevice in the wall of his hideout that allows him to watch the house's occupants, which include a young man, a young woman, and an elderly man.
The creature, after long observation of his unsuspecting neighbors, discovers their sadness is due to their destitution - a situation he unwittingly exacerbated by pilfering their food. Consumed by guilt, he ceases his theft and instead stealthily helps them, amassing firewood for them during the night. The creature notes his neighbors' unique way of communication through sound and resolves to master their language. By associating their words with their actions, he learns their language basics and the names of the young pair, Felix and Agatha. He is charmed by their beauty and, upon seeing his reflection, is horrified by his own hideous appearance. Over winter, he stays hidden in his shelter, safe from weather and growing ever fonder of his unknowing benefactors.
Transitioning from winter to spring, the creature observes the cottagers, especially Felix, appearing sad. A stunning woman dressed in black, Safie, arrives seeking Felix and his joy is evident upon seeing her. Unable to communicate in the cottagers' language, Safie moves into the cottage, bringing newfound happiness to the dwelling. The creature, like Safie, learns the language, reading, and some world history through Felix's teachings using Constantin-François de Volney’s Ruins of Empires. Now fluent in the language, the creature gains insights into human society by eavesdropping on the cottagers. He reflects on his own circumstances, acknowledging his grotesque appearance and solitude. He questions his monstrous existence and the universal rejection he faces. His understanding of family dynamics and human relationships intensifies his sense of loneliness.
Through his ongoing spying, the creature learns the backstory of the cottage dwellers. De Lacey, the elder, was once a prosperous Parisian man, and his children, Agatha and Felix, were esteemed by society. Safie’s father, an accused Turkish man, was unjustly sentenced to death. Felix met and fell in love with Safie when he visited her father in jail. Safie expressed her gratitude to Felix for his help and shared her situation through letters, some of which the creature copied and showed to Victor as evidence of his story. The letters also disclosed that Safie’s mother - a Christian Arab, once enslaved by the Turks - educated Safie to be independent and smart. Keen to avoid the impending servitude in Turkey, Safie wanted to marry a European. Felix organized a successful jailbreak for her father. However, when their scheme was exposed, Felix, Agatha, and De Lacey lost their wealth and were banished from France. They relocated to the German cottage where the creature found them. The Turk attempted to coerce Safie into returning to Constantinople, but she managed to flee with some money and knowledge of Felix's location.
The creature stumbles upon a discarded bag in the forest, filled with clothes and books. Intrigued by the knowledge these books might offer beyond his observance of the cottage dwellers, he takes them to his shelter to read. The books are Goethe's Sorrows of Werter, Plutarch’s Lives, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, but it's the latter that deeply influences the creature. He mistakenly interprets Paradise Lost as real history, finding parallels with his own existence. Rummaging through the pockets of the clothing he'd taken from Victor’s place, he discovers papers from Victor’s journal. With his reading skills, he comprehends the horrifying truth about his creation and Victor's revulsion towards him. Shaken by these revelations, the creature plans to reveal himself to the cottage inhabitants. He hopes they could see beyond his monstrous exterior and accept him. He opts to meet the blind De Lacey first, thinking the old man would not judge him by his appearance and could persuade the others of his benign nature. The perfect chance arises when Felix, Agatha, and Safie go for a lengthy stroll. The creature nervously enters the cottage and starts conversing with De Lacey. However, the others return unexpectedly, and Felix, horrified by the creature's appearance, drives him away.
After being shunned, the creature vows to take revenge on all humans, especially his creator. He travels for months towards Geneva, keeping hidden from sight. Along the way, he comes across a little girl who seems to be alone and accidently falls into a river. The creature saves her from drowning, but the man with her misinterprets the rescue as an attack and shoots the creature. The creature encounters Victor's young brother, William, in the forest as he gets closer to Geneva. On hearing that Alphonse Frankenstein is William's father, the creature, fueled by the need for revenge, strangles William to death. He then plants a picture of Caroline Frankenstein, which William had been carrying, on a girl named Justine Moritz who is sleeping in a barn. Justine is later falsely accused and executed for William’s murder. The creature finally reveals to Victor the truth behind William’s death and Justine's wrongful conviction. He then pleads with Victor to create a companion for him, another creature like himself.
The creature insists to Victor that he deserves a female counterpart. Initially, Victor denies this request, but the creature persuades him by emphasizing his loneliness as the cause of his wicked deeds. He gives Victor his word that, if given a partner, they'll seek refuge in the South American jungles, far from human civilization. The creature believes companionship will eliminate his need to cause harm. Eventually, Victor yields to the creature's reasoning and consents to create a female creature. The creature, though jubilant, remains doubtful, assuring Victor he will keep tabs on his progress and he will approach Victor when the task is complete.
Following his encounter with the monster on the icy terrain, Victor delays the creation of a female monster due to growing apprehension. He notes that he needs to go to England to gather more information for this task. Victor's father observes his anxious demeanor, which is partly due to guilt from William’s and Justine’s deaths and his dread of the task he is about to undertake. He questions if Victor's upcoming marriage to Elizabeth is causing his distress. Victor reassures him that marrying Elizabeth is his only joy. His father, trying to lift his mood, suggests they should bring the wedding forward. Victor declines, resolving not to wed Elizabeth until his responsibility to the creature is fulfilled. He asks for permission to travel to England and it is granted. Victor and his father plan a two-year trip, with Henry Clerval joining. Henry is keen to start his studies after years of displeasing work for his father in Geneva. After some time on the road, they reach London.
Victor and Henry traverse England and Scotland, though Victor is eager to start his work and break free from the monster's bond. Victor knows someone in a Scottish town and convinces Henry to stay with them while he travels alone in Scotland. Henry hesitantly agrees, and Victor leaves for a secluded, barren island in the Orkneys to finish his project. He quickly establishes a lab in a tiny hut and spends numerous hours on his new creation. However, he often finds it challenging to continue his work, aware that the result will be unappealing, even grotesque.
Victor spends one evening deep in thought, worried about the potential consequences of his new creation. He fears that she may not choose to live in solitude as the original creature had vowed, or even worse, they might procreate and populate the earth with “a race of devils.” During his worrying, he suddenly notices the monster leering at him through the window. Overwhelmed by the monster's grotesque appearance and the thought of another being like him, Victor destroys his unfinished work. The monster is furious at Victor for not keeping his promise and is distraught over the prospect of eternal loneliness. He swears vengeance, promising to see Victor on his wedding night. The next night, Victor gets a letter from Henry, who is bored with Scotland and wants to continue their journey. Before Victor leaves his shack, he tidies up, packs his chemical tools, and gathers the remnants of his second creature. Later that night, he rows out to sea and dumps the remains into the water, taking a brief rest in the boat. Upon awakening, he realizes the winds are preventing him from returning to land. As fear grips him, he envisions dying at sea, afloat in the vast Atlantic. But soon the winds shift and he finds himself near a town. Upon his arrival, the locals are hostile, informing him that he's a murder suspect for a crime discovered the previous night.
Victor is seized by the locals and brought before Mr. Kirwin, the magistrate. Witnesses incriminate him, stating they stumbled upon a man's body on the beach last night, close to a boat akin to Victor's. Mr. Kirwin has Victor view the body, thinking this may trigger a reaction if he's the killer. Upon seeing the corpse, Victor is terrified as he recognizes his friend, Henry Clerval, who bears the signs of the monster's attack. This revelation sends Victor into a fit, leading to a prolonged sickness. After his illness, Victor finds himself still behind bars. Now, Mr. Kirwin, taking a softer stance after seeing Victor's deteriorating condition, visits him. He informs Victor of a visitor, causing a moment of panic as Victor fears it might be the monster. It's actually his father, who came as soon as he learned of his son's health and the loss of his friend. Victor is relieved to see his father, who stays by his side until the court, lacking solid evidence, acquits him of Henry's murder. After being freed, Victor and his father return to Geneva.
During their journey back home, Victor and his father pause in Paris where Victor recuperates. Before departing for Geneva, Victor receives a letter from Elizabeth expressing concern over his continual ailments, and questioning if he's in love with someone else. Victor reassures her of his affection, but her letter brings back the monster's warning about his wedding night. He concludes that the creature wants to harm him and decides to counteract. Regardless of who falls, he's certain his suffering will finally end. Upon reaching home, Victor and his father start arranging the wedding. Victor tries to ease Elizabeth's worries by promising her that all will be right post their marriage. He admits he has a dreadful secret that he can only share with her once they are wedded. As the wedding day nears, Victor becomes increasingly anxious about his forthcoming clash with the monster. Eventually, the wedding happens and the newly-weds head towards a family cottage to spend their first night together.
Victor and Elizabeth take an evening stroll, though Victor is preoccupied with the anticipated confrontation with the monster. Afraid of how Elizabeth might react to the monster and the ensuing fight, he urges her to go to bed. He starts to search for the monster, only to be startled by Elizabeth's horrified scream. It dawns on him that the creature had been planning to kill Elizabeth, not him. Overcome with sadness after Elizabeth's death, Victor heads to his family home to share the terrible news. The shock of the horrific turn of events causes his father to pass away shortly afterwards. Victor discards his silence about the creature, and attempts to convince a local magistrate that a supernatural being is behind Elizabeth’s death, but his claims fall on deaf ears. Determined, Victor commits to spending the rest of his existence hunting down and killing the monster.
Victor, devastated by the loss of his family, opts to abandon Geneva and the distressing memories it harbours. For months, he follows the creature, led by subtle hints and provocations left by the monster. Victor's anger fuels his chase into the icy, snowy North. Upon meeting Walton, he recounts his tale and pleads for Walton to carry on his quest for retribution after his death.
Walton resumes his correspondence with his sister, affirming his belief in Victor's tale. He expresses regret that he didn't get to know Victor before he fell ill. One day, Walton's crew pleads with him to return to England if they manage to free their ship from the icy trap. Victor intervenes, persuading them to continue their journey for honor and glory. Initially moved, the crew, however, revert to their original plea after two days. Walton reluctantly agrees to head back home. Just as they're preparing to set sail, Victor passes away. Days later, Walton hears a mysterious noise from the room housing Victor's corpse. To his shock, he discovers the monster, just as horrific as Victor had depicted, mourning over his maker's body. The creature shares his tale of misery and expresses deep remorse for his evil actions. With his creator gone, the monster declares his readiness to die. He leaves the ship, disappearing into the darkness.