Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus in 1816. This three volume work is now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free on most e-readers and computers. Links are at the end for a summary of the main characters, link to a summary of Volume II and a link to book club and essay questions.
Frankenstein Plot Summary Volume I
Victor Frankenstein has been raised in gentility by doting parents. He has two younger brothers, Ernest and William, and an adopted sister, Elizabeth, to whom he is engaged to be married.
Victor is exposed to death for the first time when his beloved mother dies from scarlet fever after having nursed Elizabeth through her own bout with the disease. His brooding obsession with life and death is awakened, and he eventually leaves for university to study science and philosophy at Ingolstadt.
As a student, Frankenstein applies himself to the goal of creating life, and renewing life where death has taken life. He works night and day in isolation at the expense of his health. After long nights and endless days of horrifying and gruesome experiments Victor is soon successful.
The monster awakens, his eyes open, he breathes his first breath. When Victor realizes what he has done, he flees in terror from the laboratory chamber to his adjoining bedroom, leaving the monster alone shut up in the lab. Victor finally falls asleep on his bed. Dreams of death and corruption fill his mind until he awakes in horror. As he awakes in the dim room, he becomes aware that the monster is standing next to his bed reaching out his hand to him, attempting to speak. Victor recoils, escaping the touch of the monster and rushes from the house. While Victor is fleeing his creation he runs into his best friend Henry Clerval. He brings Henry back to his apartment and finds the monster gone. Victor falls ill and is nursed throughout the winter by the unsuspecting Henry. We hear nothing of what has become of the monster during those months. We just know that he is gone.
As spring arrives Victor regains his health and is cheered by Henry. They engage in study together and take a walking tour later that year. It has been nearly two years since the monster has disappeared. Victor appears to have forgotten the abomination and looks forward to his return to his family in Geneva. As he returns from his tour he finds a letter from his father. He finds that it contains dreadful news. His brother William has been murdered!
Victor begins his journey home deeply grieved over the murder of his youngest sibling. As he nears his home he is determined to visit the site of the murder, requiring him to take a boat across a lake. It is a stormy night, and as he lands on the opposite bank he observes a large and ghastly figure in the flash of lightening. He recognizes the monster immediately. He is stunned and with anguish realizes that it his creation, his monster, which has killed his innocent brother.
Victor resolves to remain silent about the monster for fear that he will be thought mad. When he finally reaches his home he finds that there is a suspect identified who will stand trial for the murder. It is the beloved servant girl, Justine, who is accused. She stands trial and is convicted. Victor does not come forward to reveal the existence of the monster, and the girl is hanged. Victor is now responsible for two deaths at the hands of his monster.