Go back to Frankenstein 01

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 - 1851)
Frankenstein 01

Chapter 1

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. He was respected by all who
knew him for his integrity and indefatigable attention to public
business. He passed his younger days perpetually occupied by the
affairs of his country; a variety of circumstances had prevented his
marrying early, nor was it until the decline of life that he became a
husband and the father of a family.

As the circumstances of his marriage illustrate his character, I cannot
refrain from relating them. One of his most intimate friends was a
merchant who, from a flourishing state, fell, through numerous
mischances, into poverty. This man, whose name was Beaufort, was of
a proud and unbending disposition and could not bear to live in poverty
and oblivion in the same country where he had formerly been
distinguished for his rank and magnificence. Having paid his debts,
therefore, in the most honourable manner, he retreated with his
daughter to the town of Lucerne, where he lived unknown and in
wretchedness. My father loved Beaufort with the truest friendship and
was deeply grieved by his retreat in these unfortunate circumstances.
He bitterly deplored the false pride which led his friend to a conduct
so little worthy of the affection that united them. He lost no time in
endeavouring to seek him out, with the hope of persuading him to begin
the world again through his credit and assistance. Beaufort had taken
effectual measures to conceal himself, and it was ten months before my
father discovered his abode. Overjoyed at this discovery, he hastened
to the house, which was situated in a mean street near the Reuss. But
when he entered, misery and despair alone welcomed him. Beaufort had
saved but a very small sum of money from the wreck of his fortunes, but
it was sufficient to provide him with sustenance for some months, and
in the meantime he hoped to procure some respectable employment in a
merchant's house. The interval was, consequently, spent in inaction;
his grief only became more deep and rankling when he had leisure for
reflection, and at length it took so fast hold of his mind that at the
end of three months he lay on a bed of sickness, incapable of any

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

Several months passed in this manner. Her father grew worse; her time
was more entirely occupied in attending him; her means of subsistence
decreased; and in the tenth month her father died in her arms, leaving
her an orphan and a beggar. This last blow overcame her, and she knelt
by Beaufort's coffin weeping bitterly, when my father entered the
chamber. He came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who
committed herself to his care; and after the interment of his friend he
conducted her to Geneva and placed her under the protection of a
relation. Two years after this event Caroline became his wife.

There was a considerable difference between the ages of my parents, but
this circumstance seemed to unite them only closer in bonds of devoted
affection. There was a sense of justice in my father's upright mind
which rendered it necessary that he should approve highly to love
strongly. Perhaps during former years he had suffered from the
late-discovered unworthiness of one beloved and so was disposed to set
a greater value on tried worth. There was a show of gratitude and
worship in his attachment to my mother, differing wholly from the
doting fondness of age, for it was inspired by reverence for her
virtues and a desire to be the means of, in some degree, recompensing
her for the sorrows she had endured, but which gave inexpressible grace
to his behaviour to her. Everything was made to yield to her wishes
and her convenience. He strove to shelter her, as a fair exotic is
sheltered by the gardener, from every rougher wind and to surround her
with all that could tend to excite pleasurable emotion in her soft and
benevolent mind. Her health, and even the tranquillity of her hitherto
constant spirit, had been shaken by what she had gone through. During
the two years that had elapsed previous to their marriage my father had
gradually relinquished all his public functions; and immediately after
their union they sought the pleasant climate of Italy, and the change
of 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
born at Naples, and as an infant accompanied them in their rambles. I
remained for several years their only child. Much as they were
attached to each other, they seemed to draw inexhaustible stores of
affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon me. My mother's
tender caresses and my father's smile of benevolent pleasure while
regarding me are my first recollections. I was their plaything and
their idol, and something better--their child, the innocent and
helpless creature bestowed on them by heaven, whom to bring up to good,
and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or
misery, according as they fulfilled their duties towards me. With this
deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they
had given life, added to the active spirit of tenderness that animated
both, it may be imagined that while during every 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 but one train of enjoyment
to me. For a long time I was their only care. My mother had much
desired to have a daughter, but I continued their single offspring.
When I was about five years old, while making an excursion beyond the
frontiers of Italy, they passed a week on the shores of the Lake of
Como. Their benevolent disposition often made them enter the cottages
of the poor. This, to my mother, was more than a duty; it was a
necessity, a passion--remembering what she had suffered, and how she
had been relieved--for her to act in her turn the guardian angel to the
afflicted. During one of their walks a poor cot in the foldings of a
vale attracted their notice as being singularly disconsolate, while the
number of half-clothed children gathered about it spoke of penury in
its worst shape. 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 to five hungry babes. Among these there was one which
attracted my mother far above all the rest. She appeared of a
different stock. The four others were dark-eyed, hardy little
vagrants; this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the
brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed
to set a crown of distinction on her head. Her brow was clear and
ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the moulding of her
face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could behold
her 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 and
admiration on this lovely girl, eagerly communicated her history. She
was not her child, but the daughter of a Milanese nobleman. Her mother
was a German and had died on giving her birth. The infant had been
placed with these good people to nurse: they were better off then.
They had not been long married, and their eldest child was but just
born. The father of their charge was one of those Italians nursed in
the memory of the antique glory of Italy--one among the schiavi ognor
frementi, who exerted himself to obtain the liberty of his country. He
became the victim of its weakness. Whether he had died or still
lingered in the dungeons of Austria was not known. His property was
confiscated; his child became an orphan and a beggar. She continued
with her foster parents and bloomed in their rude abode, fairer than a
garden rose among dark-leaved brambles. When my father returned from
Milan, he found playing with me in the hall of our villa a child fairer
than pictured cherub--a creature who seemed to shed radiance from her
looks and whose form and motions were lighter than the chamois of the
hills. The apparition was soon explained. With his permission my
mother prevailed on her rustic guardians to yield their charge to her.
They were fond of the sweet orphan. Her presence had seemed a blessing
to them, but it would be unfair to her to keep her in poverty and want
when Providence afforded her such powerful protection. They consulted
their village priest, and the result was that Elizabeth Lavenza became
the inmate of my parents' house--my more than sister--the beautiful and
adored companion of all my occupations and my pleasures.

Everyone loved Elizabeth. The passionate and almost reverential
attachment with which all regarded her became, while I shared it, my
pride and my delight. On the evening previous to her being brought to
my home, my mother had said playfully, "I have a pretty present for my
Victor--tomorrow he shall have it." And when, on the morrow, she
presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish
seriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth
as mine--mine to protect, love, and cherish. All praises bestowed on
her I received as made to a possession of my own. We called each other
familiarly by the name of cousin. No word, no expression could body
forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me--my more than
sister, since till death she was to be mine only.


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