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| Home | Reading Room Frankenstein


or, the Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley

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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 exertion.

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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