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Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus

Author:Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many years counsellors and syndics, and my father had filled several public situations with honour and reputation.
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  I am by birth a Genevese, and my family is one of the mostdistinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many yearscounsellors and syndics, and my father had filled several publicsituations with honour and reputation. He was respected by all whoknew him for his integrity and indefatigable attention to publicbusiness. He passed his younger days perpetually occupied by theaffairs of his country; a variety of circumstances had prevented hismarrying early, nor was it until the decline of life that he became ahusband and the father of a family.

  As the circumstances of his marriage illustrate his character, I cannotrefrain from relating them. One of his most intimate friends was amerchant who, from a flourishing state, fell, through numerousmischances, into poverty. This man, whose name was Beaufort, was of aproud and unbending disposition and could not bear to live in povertyand oblivion in the same country where he had formerly beendistinguished for his rank and magnificence. Having paid his debts,therefore, in the most honourable manner, he retreated with hisdaughter to the town of Lucerne, where he lived unknown and inwretchedness. My father loved Beaufort with the truest friendship andwas deeply grieved by his retreat in these unfortunate circumstances.He bitterly deplored the false pride which led his friend to a conductso little worthy of the affection that united them. He lost no time inendeavouring to seek him out, with the hope of persuading him to beginthe world again through his credit and assistance.

  Beaufort had taken effectual measures to conceal himself, and it was tenmonths before my father discovered his abode. Overjoyed at this discovery,he hastened to the house, which was situated in a mean street near theReuss. But when he entered, misery and despair alone welcomed him. Beauforthad saved but a very small sum of money from the wreck of his fortunes, butit was sufficient to provide him with sustenance for some months, and inthe meantime he hoped to procure some respectable employment in amerchant’s house. The interval was, consequently, spent in inaction;his grief only became more deep and rankling when he had leisure forreflection, and at length it took so fast hold of his mind that at the endof three months he lay on a bed of sickness, incapable of any exertion.

  His daughter attended him with the greatest tenderness, but she sawwith despair that their little fund was rapidly decreasing and thatthere was no other prospect of support. But Caroline Beaufortpossessed a mind of an uncommon mould, and her courage rose to supporther in her adversity. She procured plain work; she plaited straw andby various means contrived to earn a pittance scarcely sufficient tosupport life.

  Several months passed in this manner. Her father grew worse; her timewas more entirely occupied in attending him; her means of subsistencedecreased; and in the tenth month her father died in her arms, leavingher an orphan and a beggar. This last blow overcame her, and she kneltby Beaufort’s coffin weeping bitterly, when my father entered thechamber. He came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl, whocommitted herself to his care; and after the interment of his friend heconducted her to Geneva and placed her under the protection of arelation. Two years after this event Caroline became his wife.

  There was a considerable difference between the ages of my parents, butthis circumstance seemed to unite them only closer in bonds of devotedaffection. There was a sense of justice in my father’s upright mindwhich rendered it necessary that he should approve highly to lovestrongly. Perhaps during former years he had suffered from thelate-discovered unworthiness of one beloved and so was disposed to seta greater value on tried worth. There was a show of gratitude andworship in his attachment to my mother, differing wholly from thedoting fondness of age, for it was inspired by reverence for hervirtues and a desire to be the means of, in some degree, recompensingher for the sorrows she had endured, but which gave inexpressible graceto his behaviour to her. Everything was made to yield to her wishesand her convenience. He strove to shelter her, as a fair exotic issheltered by the gardener, from every rougher wind and to surround herwith all that could tend to excite pleasurable emotion in her soft andbenevolent mind. Her health, and even the tranquillity of her hithertoconstant spirit, had been shaken by what she had gone through. Duringthe two years that had elapsed previous to their marriage my father hadgradually relinquished all his public functions; and immediately aftertheir union they sought the pleasant climate of Italy, and the changeof scene and interest attendant on a tour through that land of wonders,as a restorative for her weakened frame.

  From Italy they visited Germany and France. I, their eldest child, was bornat Naples, and as an infant accompanied them in their rambles. I remainedfor several years their only child. Much as they were attached to eachother, they seemed to draw inexhaustible stores of affection from a verymine of love to bestow them upon me. My mother’s tender caresses andmy father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are myfirst recollections. I was their plaything and their idol, and somethingbetter—their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed onthem by Heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot it was intheir hands to direct to happiness or misery, according as they fulfilledtheir duties towards me. With this deep consciousness of what they owedtowards the being to which they had given life, added to the active spiritof tenderness that animated both, it may be imagined that while duringevery hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity,and of self-control, I was so guided by a silken cord that all seemed butone train of enjoyment to me.

  For a long time I was their only care. My mother had much desired to have adaughter, but I continued their single offspring. When I was about fiveyears old, while making an excursion beyond the frontiers of Italy, theypassed a week on the shores of the Lake of Como. Their benevolentdisposition often made them enter the cottages of the poor. This, to mymother, was more than a duty; it was a necessity, apassion—remembering what she had suffered, and how she had beenrelieved—for her to act in her turn the guardian angel to theafflicted. During one of their walks a poor cot in the foldings of a valeattracted their notice as being singularly disconsolate, while the numberof half-clothed children gathered about it spoke of penury in its worstshape. One day, when my father had gone by himself to Milan, my mother,accompanied by me, visited this abode. She found a peasant and his wife,hard working, bent down by care and labour, distributing a scanty meal tofive hungry babes. Among these there was one which attracted my mother farabove all the rest. She appeared of a different stock. The four others weredark-eyed, hardy little vagrants; this child was thin and very fair. Herhair was the brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of herclothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction on her head. Her brow wasclear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the moulding ofher face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could beholdher without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent,and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features.

  The peasant woman, perceiving that my mother fixed eyes of wonder andadmiration on this lovely girl, eagerly communicated her history. She wasnot her child, but the daughter of a Milanese nobleman. Her mother was aGerman and had died on giving her birth. The infant had been placed withthese good people to nurse: they were better off then. They had not beenlong married, and their eldest child was but just born. The father of theircharge was one of those Italians nursed in the memory of the antique gloryof Italy—one among the _schiavi ognor frementi,_ who exertedhimself to obtain the liberty of his country. He became the victim of itsweakness. Whether he had died or still lingered in the dungeons of Austriawas not known. His property was confiscated; his child became an orphan anda beggar. She continued with her foster parents and bloomed in their rudeabode, fairer than a garden rose among dark-leaved brambles.

  When my father returned from Milan, he found playing with me in the hall ofour villa a child fairer than pictured cherub—a creature who seemedto shed radiance from her looks and whose form and motions were lighterthan the chamois of the hills. The apparition was soon explained. With hispermission my mother prevailed on her rustic guardians to yield theircharge to her. They were fond of the sweet orphan. Her presence had seemeda blessing to them, but it would be unfair to her to keep her in povertyand want when Providence afforded her such powerful protection. Theyconsulted their village priest, and the result was that Elizabeth Lavenzabecame the inmate of my parents’ house—my more thansister—the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations andmy pleasures.

  Everyone loved Elizabeth. The passionate and almost reverentialattachment with which all regarded her became, while I shared it, mypride and my delight. On the evening previous to her being brought tomy home, my mother had said playfully, “I have a pretty present for myVictor—tomorrow he shall have it.” And when, on the morrow, shepresented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childishseriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabethas mine—mine to protect, love, and cherish. All praises bestowed onher I received as made to a possession of my own. We called each otherfamiliarly by the name of cousin. No word, no expression could bodyforth the kind of relation in which she stood to me—my more thansister, since till death she was to be mine only.