Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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Letter 1d

St. Petersburgh(h), Dec. 11th, 17—d

TO Mrs. Saville, England

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.

I am already far north of London,h and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise,d my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There—for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigators—there snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe.h Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this voyageh to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyagesh which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good Uncle Thomas' library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father's dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.

X [(d)] Frankenstein

Writing & Reading

A superscript w denotes the annotation is a definition of a word; a superscript h addresses factual or historical material; a superscript d indicates a discussion or critical commentary; and a (w), (h), or (d) indicates an illustration, often one of Jane Freeman's paintings. …

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X [d] Letter 1

Writing & Reading

Frankenstein is what's known as an epistolary novel, its narration told through epistles or letters. Samuel Richardson perfected the form in his influential Pamela, Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), in Clarissa, Or, The History of a Young Lady (1748), and then, turning from a female to a male protagonist of superior virtue, Richardson wrote …

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X [(h)] St. Petersburgh

City associated with Peter the Great, the Russian czar who admired England, considered himself an enlightened autocrat, and ruled Russia from 1682-1725. 

X [d] 17—

Daily Life

Mary Shelley's omission of the decade means she can evoke a general historical landscape from the later 18th c.. But, absent anachronism, the year must be 1799. 

Walton refers to Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," published in 1798. Walton is writing either in that year or, given his travels and distance from England, in 1799, ten years after the fall of the Bastille, s…

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X [h] far north of London,


St. Petersburg is 59 deg., 56' north, London 51 30', and Inverness, Scotland, 57 28', or about 450 miles north of London.


X [d] Inspirited by this wind of promise,

Writing & Reading

"Inspirited" is a more literal rendering of inspired, the breathing into one of the spirit of divinity or of nature.

The breeze or wind was for the Romantics a sacred messenger of Nature. Perhaps the most famous poem on the subject is Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Wordsworth formally opens his epic-length autobiographical poem, …

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X [h] a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty ev…

Science & Technology

The hope is for discovery of a passage through the Arctic and arrival at some Arcadian paradise of the sort Captain Cook discovered when in 1769 Endeavour dropped anchor off Tahiti. 

Mary Shelley has chosen for the frame story that of an explorer, a subject of broad interest with the general public, who avidly read the botanical, zoological, astronomical, and anthropological narratives of voyage and discovery. Exploration was the most literal expression of what many saw as the age's motto, …

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X [h] only this voyage

Science & Technology

To discover true north, which is the geographic North Pole and differs from magnetic north, the point to which a compass responds. Shelley may have chosen this enterprise because of its connecting link, magnetism, with animal magnetism ("animal spirits") and hence with Frankenstein's possible use of electricity to revive human matter.   

X [h] the various voyages

Science & Technology

Among those explorers would be Captain George Vancouver, whose four-year expedition beginning in 1791 sought a Northwest Passage (he concluded there was none) and surveys for mapping the northwest Pacific coast. He died in 1798.