"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley, Letter 1–Chapter 4

In this groundbreaking novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein works feverishly to bring an inanimate creature to life — but when he finally succeeds, he is horrified by what he has unleashed. Read the full text here.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Letter 1–Chapter 4, Chapters 5–9, Chapters 10–14, Chapters 15–19, Chapters 20–24
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Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. enterprise
    a purposeful or industrious undertaking
    You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
  2. surpass
    be greater in scope or size than some standard
    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.
  3. phenomenon
    any state or process known through the senses
    Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes.
    The chosen definition connects to the normal observation of everyday things. But a phenomenon can also be a remarkable development. Both fit Walton's meaning and tone in the example sentence. As he travels north, he expects to be amazed by the sight of the skies, but he also hopes to discover the secret of the magnetic compass, which could greatly benefit future explorers, astronomers, and merchants.
  4. satiate
    fill to satisfaction
    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.
  5. expedition
    a journey organized for a particular purpose
    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.
    Compare with "enterprise" in this list--although "expedition" often refers to a physical journey, the two nouns can be synonyms. In the example sentence, Walton makes a comparison between his enterprise and a child's expedition. This is to emphasize his joy and to lessen his sister's worries. But the dangers surrounding his enterprise into an unknown part of the Pacific Ocean far surpass those facing a child on an expedition up a nearby river.
  6. ascertain
    learn or discover with confidence
    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.
  7. ardor
    a feeling of strong eagerness
    I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole.
  8. industrious
    characterized by hard work and perseverance
    I am practically industrious—painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour—but besides this there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore.
  9. astonishment
    the feeling that accompanies something extremely surprising
    You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a question addressed to me from a man on the brink of destruction and to whom I should have supposed that my vessel would have been a resource which he would not have exchanged for the most precious wealth the earth can afford.
  10. endeavor
    attempt by employing effort
    Sometimes I have endeavoured to discover what quality it is which he possesses that elevates him so immeasurably above any other person I ever knew.
    The word is used as a verb here, but as a noun, it means "a purposeful or industrious undertaking" (compare with "enterprise" in this list). On the surface, Walton's enterprise for scientific and geographical discoveries does not seem as important as the discovery of Victor Frankenstein's personal qualities. But the author's layering of narration, which uses Walton's letters to his sister to highlight Frankenstein's story, suggests otherwise.
  11. discernment
    the trait of judging wisely and objectively
    I believe it to be an intuitive discernment, a quick but never-failing power of judgment, a penetration into the causes of things, unequalled for clearness and precision; add to this a facility of expression and a voice whose varied intonations are soul-subduing music.
  12. deduce
    conclude by reasoning
    I do not know that the relation of my disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may direct you if you succeed in your undertaking and console you in case of failure.
  13. divine
    perceive through some inexplicable perceptive powers
    The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine.
    The word is used as a verb here, but as an adjective, it means "being or having the nature of a god." In trying to divine the secrets of the world, Frankenstein discovers how to give life to lifeless matter--a divine power that had been used by the Creator of the universe.
  14. avidity
    a positive feeling of wanting to push ahead with something
    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.
    Compare with "ardor" in this list--the definitions do not look identical but the nouns are synonymous. Both example sentences describe the narrators' attitudes toward reading and discovery. But the Latin root of "avidity" connects it to greed, while "ardor" is connected to warmth and love. This difference is suggested by Walton and Frankenstein's approaches to their enterprises, and it can foreshadow their results.
  15. fervent
    characterized by intense emotion
    I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature.
  16. citadel
    a stronghold for shelter during a battle
    I had gazed upon the fortifications and impediments that seemed to keep human beings from entering the citadel of nature, and rashly and ignorantly I had repined.
    The example sentence's use of the words "fortifications," "impediments" and "citadel" suggests that Frankenstein's longing for scientific discoveries is similar to waging war with nature. The younger Frankenstein had repined ("express discontent") that humans could not conquer nature, but the older Frankenstein realizes that attitude is foolish.
  17. invulnerable
    immune to attack; impregnable
    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!
  18. multifarious
    having many aspects
    And thus for a time I was occupied by exploded systems, mingling, like an unadept, a thousand contradictory theories and floundering desperately in a very slough of multifarious knowledge, guided by an ardent imagination and childish reasoning, till an accident again changed the current of my ideas.
  19. acquisition
    the act of contracting or assuming possession of something
    I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge.
  20. pioneer
    open up and explore a new area
    So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.
  21. comprehensive
    broad in scope
    From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation.
  22. discrimination
    the cognitive process whereby stimuli are distinguished
    I read with ardour those works, so full of genius and discrimination, which modern inquirers have written on these subjects.
    The meaning that refers to the "unfair treatment of a person or group based on prejudice" did not arise until 50 years after the novel was written. Although modern readers can now see the discrimination against Frankenstein's creation, in the example sentence, Frankenstein uses the noun positively in connection with the genius he was discovering in the works of philosophers and chemists.
  23. apprehension
    the cognitive condition of someone who understands
    In a thousand ways he smoothed for me the path of knowledge and made the most abstruse inquiries clear and facile to my apprehension.
    The noun also means "fearful expectation or anticipation." The example sentence does not touch upon this meaning, but one theme of the novel suggests that the process of apprehension should be approached with an attitude of apprehension (see the example sentence for "precept" in this list).
  24. proficiency
    the quality of having great facility and competence
    A mind of moderate capacity which closely pursues one study must infallibly arrive at great proficiency in that study; and I, who continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was solely wrapped up in this, improved so rapidly that at the end of two years I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments, which procured me great esteem and admiration at the university.
  25. recourse
    something or someone turned to for assistance or security
    To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death.
  26. minutia
    a small or minor detail
    I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me--
  27. immensity
    unusual largeness in size or extent or number
    a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.
  28. distinct
    clearly or sharply defined to the mind
    Some miracle might have produced it, yet the stages of the discovery were distinct and probable.
  29. overwhelming
    very intense
    But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result.
  30. precept
    a doctrine that is taught
    Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

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