Darmowy fragment publikacji:
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
or the Modern Prometheus
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Ilustracja na okładce: Theodore Von Holst
Angielska wersja językowa zgodna z wydaniem z roku 1818
FRANKENSTEIN; OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?——
AUTHOR OF POLITICAL JUSTICE, CALEB WILLIAMS, c.
Are respectfully inscribed
THE event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the
physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as
according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the
basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of
supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the
disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty
of the situations which it developes; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point
of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and
commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.
I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementary principles of human nature,
while I have not scrupled to innovate upon their combinations. The Iliad, the tragic poetry of
Greece,—Shakespeare, in the Tempest and Midsummer Night s Dream,—and most especially
Milton, in Paradise Lost, conform to this rule; and the most humble novelist, who seeks to
confer or receive amusement from his labours, may, without presumption, apply to prose fiction
a licence, or rather a rule, from the adoption of which so many exquisite combinations of human
feeling have resulted in the highest specimens of poetry.
The circumstances on which my story rests was suggested in casual conversation. It was
commenced, partly as a source of amusement, and partly as an expedient for exercising any
untried resources of mind. Other motives were mingled with these, as the work proceeded. I am
by no means indifferent to the manner in which whatever moral tendencies exist in the
sentiments or characters it contains shall affect the reader; yet my chief concern in this respect
has been limited to the avoiding the enervating effects of the novels of the present day, and to
the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue.
The opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the hero are by no
means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to
be drawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind.
It is a subject also of additional interest to the author, that this story was begun in the majestic
region where the scene is principally laid, and in society which cannot cease to be regretted. I
passed the summer of 1816 in the environs of Geneva. The season was cold and rainy, and in
the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with
some German stories of ghosts, which happenened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in
us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends (a tale from the pen of one of whom would
be far more acceptable to the public than any thing I can ever hope to produce) and myself
agreed to write each a story, founded on some supernatural occurrence.
The weather, however, suddenly became serene; and my two friends left me on a journey among
the Alps, and lost, in the magnificent scenes which they present, all memory of their ghostly
visions. The following tale is the only one which has been completed.
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; and it was not until the decline of life that he thought of
marrying, and bestowing on the state sons who might carry his virtues and his name down to
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 grieved
also for the loss of his society, and resolved to seek him out and endeavour to persuade 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 mean
time 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.
When my father became a husband and a parent, he found his time so occupied by the duties of
his new situation, that he relinquished many of his public employments, and devoted himself
to the education of his children. Of these I was the eldest, and the destined successor to all his
labours and utility. No creature could have more tender parents than mine. My improvement
and health were their constant care, especially as I remained for several years their only child.
But before I continue my narrative, I must record an incident which took place when I was four
years of age.
My father had a sister, whom he tenderly loved, and who had married early in life an Italian
gentleman. Soon after her marriage, she had accompanied her husband into her native country,
and for some years my father had very little communication with her. About the time I
mentioned she died; and a few months afterwards he received a letter from her husband,
acquainting him with his intention of marrying an Italian lady, and requesting my father to take
charge of the infant Elizabeth, the only child of his deceased sister. It is my wish, he said,
that you should consider her as your own daughter, and educate her thus. Her mother s fortune
is secured to her, the documents of which I will commit to your keeping. Reflect upon this
proposition; and decide whether you would prefer educating your niece yourself to her being
brought up by a stepmother.
My father did not hestitate, and immediately went to Italy, that he might accompany the little
Elizabeth to her future home. I have often heard my mother say, that she was at that time the
most beautiful child she had ever seen, and shewed signs even then of a gentle and affectionate
disposition. These indications, and a desire to bind as closely as possible the ties of domestic
love, determined my mother to consider Elizabeth as my future wife; a design which she never
found reason to repent.
From this time Elizabeth Lavenza became my playfellow, and, as we grew older, my friend.
She was docile and good tempered, yet gay and playful as a summer insect. Although she was
lively and animated, her feelings were strong and deep, and her disposition uncommonly
affectionate. No one could better enjoy liberty, yet no one could submit with more grace than
she did to constraint and caprice. Her imagination was luxuriant, yet her capability of
application was great. Her person was the image of her mind; her hazel eyes, although as lively
as a bird s, possessed an attractive softness. Her figure was light and airy; and, though capable
of enduring great fatigue, she appeared the most fragile creature in the world. While I admired
her understanding and fancy, I loved to tend on her, as I should on a favourite animal; and I
never saw so much grace both of person and mind united to so little pretension.
Every one adored Elizabeth. If the servants had any request to make, it was always through her
intercession. We were strangers to any species of disunion and dispute; for although there was
a great dissimilitude in our characters, there was an harmony in that very dissimilitude. I was
more calm and philosophical than my companion; yet my temper was not so yielding. My
application was of longer endurance; but it was not so severe whilst it endured. I delighted in
investigating the facts relative to the actual world; she busied herself in following the aërial
creations of the poets. The world was to me a secret, which I desired to discover; to her it was
a vacancy, which she sought to people with imaginations of her own.
My brothers were considerably younger than myself; but I had a friend in one of my
schoolfellows, who compensated for this deficiency. Henry Clerval was the son of a merchant
of Geneva, an intimate friend of my father. He was a boy of singular talent and fancy. I
remember, when he was nine years old, he wrote a fairy tale, which was the delight and
amazement of all his companions. His favourite study consisted in books of chivalry and
romance; and when very young, I can remember, that we used to act plays composed by him
out of these favourite books, the principal characters of which were Orlando, Robin Hood,
Amadis, and St. George.
No youth could have passed more happily than mine. My parents were indulgent, and my
companions amiable. Our studies were never forced; and by some means we always had an end
placed in view, which excited us to ardour in the prosecution of them. It was by this method,
and not by emulation, that we were urged to application. Elizabeth was not incited to apply
herself to drawing, that her companions might not outstrip her; but through the desire of
pleasing her aunt, by the representation of some favourite scene done by her own hand. We
learned Latin and English, that we might read the writings in those languages; and so far from
study being made odious to us through punishment, we loved application, and our amusements
would have been the labours of other children. Perhaps we did not read so many books, or learn
languages so quickly, as those who are disciplined according to the ordinary methods; but what
we learned was impressed the more deeply on our memories.
In this description of our domestic circle I include Henry Clerval; for he was constantly with
us. He went to school with me, and generally passed the afternoon at our house; for being an
only child, and destitute of companions at home, his father was well pleased that he should find
associates at our house; and we were never completely happy when Clerval was absent.
I feel pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my
mind, and changed its bright visions of extensive usefulness into gloomy and narrow reflections
upon self. But, in drawing the picture of my early days, I must not omit to record those events
which led, by insensible steps to my after tale of misery: for when I would account to myself
for the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny, I find it arise, like a mountain
river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the
torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys.
Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire therefore, in this narration,
to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. When I was thirteen years of
age, we all went on a party of pleasure to the baths near Thonon: the inclemency of the weather
obliged us to remain a day confined to the inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the
works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to
demonstrate, and the wonderful facts which he relates, soon changed this feeling into
enthusiasm. A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind; and, bounding with joy, I
communicated my discovery to my father. I cannot help remarking here the many opportunities
instructors possess of directing the attention of their pupils to useful knowledge, which they
utterly neglect. My father looked carelessly at the title-page of my book, and said, Ah!
Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.
If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of
Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced,
which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were
chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical; under such circumstances, I
should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside, and, with my imagination warmed as it was, should
probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from
modern discoveries. It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received
the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. But the cursory glance my father had taken of my volume
by no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents; and I continued to read with
the greatest avidity.
When I returned home, my first care was to procure the whole works of this author, and
afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studied the wild fancies of these
writers with delight; they appeared to me treasures known to few beside myself; and although
I often wished to communicate these secret stores of knowledge to my father, yet his indefinite
censure of my favourite Agrippa always withheld me. I disclosed my discoveries to Elizabeth,
therefore, under a promise of strict secrecy; but she did not interest herself in the subject, and I
was left by her to pursue my studies alone.
It may appear very strange, that a disciple of Albertus Magnus should arise in the eighteenth
century; but our family was not scientifical, and I had not attended any of the lectures given at
the schools of Geneva. My dreams were therefore undisturbed by reality; and I entered with the
greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher s stone and the elixir of life. But the latter
obtained my most undivided attention: wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would
attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man
invulnerable to any but a violent death!
Nor were these my only visions. The raising of ghosts or devils was a promise liberally accorded
by my favourite authors, the fulfilment of which I most eagerly sought; and if my incantations
were always unsuccessful, I attributed the failure rather to my own inexperience and mistake,
than to a want of skill or fidelity in my instructors.
The natural phænomena that take place every day before our eyes did not escape my
examinations. Distillation, and the wonderful effects of steam, processes of which my favourite
authors were utterly ignorant, excited my astonishment; but my utmost wonder was engaged by
some experiments on an air-pump, which I saw employed by a gentleman whom we were in
the habit of visiting.
The ignorance of the early philosophers on these and several other points served to decrease
their credit with me: but I could not entirely throw them aside, before some other system should
occupy their place in my mind.
When I was about fifteen years old, we had retired to our house near Belrive, when we witnessed
a most violent and terrible thunder-storm. It advanced from behind the mountains of Jura; and
the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I
remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at
the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak, which stood
about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had
disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning,
we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely
reduced to thin ribbands of wood. I never beheld any thing so utterly destroyed.
The catastrophe of this tree excited my extreme astonishment; and I eagerly inquired of my
father the nature and origin of thunder and lightning. He replied, Electricity; describing at the
same time the various effects of that power. He constructed a small electrical machine, and
exhibited a few experiments; he made also a kite, with a wire and string, which drew down that
fluid from the clouds.
This last stroke completed the overthrow of Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and
Paracelsus, who had so long reigned the lords of my imagination. But by some fatality I did not
feel inclined to commence the study of any modern system; and this disinclination was
influenced by the following circumstance.
My father expressed a wish that I should attend a course of lectures upon natural philosophy,
to which I cheerfully consented. Some accident prevented my attending these lectures until the
course was nearly finished. The lecture, being therefore one of the last, was entirely
incomprehensible to me. The professor discoursed with the greatest fluency of potassium and
boron, of sulphates and oxyds, terms to which I could affix no idea; and I became disgusted
with the science of natural philosophy, although I still read Pliny and Buffon with delight,
authors, in my estimation, of nearly equal interest and utility.
My occupations at this age were principally the mathematics, and most of the branches of study
appertaining to that science. I was busily employed in learning languages; Latin was already
familiar to me, and I began to read some of the easiest Greek authors without the help of a
lexicon. I also perfectly understood English and German. This is the list of my accomplishments
at the age of seventeen; and you may conceive that my hours were fully employed in acquiring
and maintaining a knowledge of this various literature.
Another task also devolved upon me, when I became the instructor of my brothers. Ernest was
six years younger than myself, and was my principal pupil. He had been afflicted with ill health
from his infancy, through which Elizabeth and I had been his constant nurses: his disposition
was gentle, but he was incapable of any severe application. William, the youngest of our family,
was yet an infant, and the most beautiful little fellow in the world; his lively blue eyes, dimpled
cheeks, and endearing manners, inspired the tenderest affection.
Such was our domestic circle, from which care and pain seemed for ever banished. My father
directed our studies, and my mother partook of our enjoyments. Neither of us possessed the
slightest pre-eminence over the other; the voice of command was never heard amongst us; but
mutual affection engaged us all to comply with and obey the slightest desire of each other.
WHEN I had attained the age of seventeen, my parents resolved that I should become a student
at the university of Ingolstadt. I had hitherto attended the schools of Geneva; but my father
thought it necessary, for the completion of my education, that I should be made acquainted with
other customs than those of my native country. My departure was therefore fixed at an early
date; but, before the day resolved upon could arrive, the first misfortune of my life occurred—
an omen, as it were, of my future misery.
Elizabeth had caught the scarlet fever; but her illness was not severe, and she quickly recovered.
During her confinement, many arguments had been urged to persuade my mother to refrain
from attending upon her. She had, at first, yielded to our entreaties; but when she heard that her
favourite was recovering, she could no longer debar herself from her society, and entered her
chamber long before the danger of infection was past. The consequences of this imprudence
were fatal. On the third day my mother sickened; her fever was very malignant, and the looks
of her attendants prognosticated the worst event. On her death-bed the fortitude and benignity
of this admirable woman did not desert her. She joined the hands of Elizabeth and myself: My
children, she said, my firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your
union. This expectation will now be the consolation of your father. Elizabeth, my love, you
must supply my place to your younger cousins. Alas! I regret that I am taken from you; and,
happy and beloved as I have been, is it not hard to quit you all? But these are not thoughts
befitting me; I will endeavour to resign myself cheerfully to death, and will indulge a hope of
meeting you in another world.
She died calmly; and her countenance expressed affection even in death. I need not describe
the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that
presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long
before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence
appeared a part of our own, can have departed for ever—that the brightness of a beloved eye
can have been extinguished, and the sound of a voice so familiar, and dear to the ear, can be
hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse
of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from
whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connexion; and why should I describe a
sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an
indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed
a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to
perform; we must continue our course with the rest, and learn to think ourselves fortunate,
whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized.
My journey to Ingolstadt, which had been deferred by these events, was now again determined
upon. I obtained from my father a respite of some weeks. This period was spent sadly; my
mother s death, and my speedy departure, depressed our spirits; but Elizabeth endeavoured to
renew the spirit of cheerfulness in our little society. Since the death of her aunt, her mind had
acquired new firmness and vigour. She determined to fulfil her duties with the greatest
exactness; and she felt that that most imperious duty, of rendering her uncle and cousins happy,
had devolved upon her. She consoled me, amused her uncle, instructed my brothers; and I never
beheld her so enchanting as at this time, when she was continually endeavouring to contribute
to the happiness of others, entirely forgetful of herself.
The day of my departure at length arrived. I had taken leave of all my friends, excepting Clerval,
who spent the last evening with us. He bitterly lamented that he was unable to accompany me:
but his father could not be persuaded to part with him, intending that he should become a partner
with him in business, in compliance with his favourite theory, that learning was superfluous in
the commerce of ordinary life. Henry had a refined mind; he had no desire to be idle, and was
well pleased to become his father s partner, but he believed that a man might be a very good
trader, and yet possess a cultivated understanding.
We sat late, listening to his complaints, and making many little arrangements for the future.
The next morning early I departed. Tears guished from the eyes of Elizabeth; they proceeded
partly from sorrow at my departure, and partly because she reflected that the same journey was
to have taken place three months before, when a mother s blessing would have accompanied
I threw myself into the chaise that was to convey me away, and indulged in the most melancholy
reflections. I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions, continually engaged in
endeavouring to bestow mutual pleasure, I was now alone. In the university, whither I was
going, I must form my own friends, and be my own protector. My life had hitherto been
remarkably secluded and domestic; and this had given me invincible repugnance to new
countenances. I loved my brothers, Elizabeth, and Clerval; these were old familiar faces; but
I believed myself totally unfitted for the company of strangers. Such were my reflections as I
commenced my journey; but as I proceeded, my spirits and hopes rose. I ardently desired the
acquisition of knowledge. I had often, when at home, thought it hard to remain during my youth
cooped up in one place, and had longed to enter the world, and take my station among other
human beings. Now my desires were complied with, and it would, indeed, have been folly to
I had sufficient leisure for these and many other reflections during my journey to Ingolstadt,
which was long and fatiguing. At length the high white steeple of the town met my eyes. I
alighted, and was conducted to my solitary apartment, to spend the evening as I pleased.
The next morning I delivered my letters of introduction, and paid a visit to some of the principal
professors, and among others to M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy. He received me
with politeness, and asked me several questions concerning my progress in the different
branches of science appertaining to natural philosophy. I mentioned, it is true, with fear and
trembling, the only authors I had ever read upon those subjects. The professor stared: Have
you, he said, really spent your time in studying such nonsense?
I replied in the affirmative. Every minute, continued M. Krempe with warmth, every instant
that you have wasted on those books is utterly and entirely lost. You have burdened your
memory with exploded systems, and useless names. Good God! in what desert land have you
lived, where no one was kind enough to inform you that these fancies, which you have so
greedily imbibed, are a thousand years old, and as musty as they are ancient? I little expected
in this enlightened and scientific age to find a disciple of Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus. My
dear Sir, you must begin your studies entirely anew.
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