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Contents > Author > Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley > Frankenstein 15 1797- 1851
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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein 15
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Chapter 15

"Such was the history of my beloved cottagers. It impressed me deeply.
I learned, from the views of social life which it developed, to admire
their virtues and to deprecate the vices of mankind.

"As yet I looked upon crime as a distant evil, benevolence and
generosity were ever present before me, inciting within me a desire to
become an actor in the busy scene where so many admirable qualities
were called forth and displayed. But in giving an account of the
progress of my intellect, I must not omit a circumstance which occurred
in the beginning of the month of August of the same year.

"One night during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood where I
collected my own food and brought home firing for my protectors, I
found on the ground a leathern portmanteau containing several articles
of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize and returned with
it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language,
the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of
Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter.
The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now
continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories, whilst
my friends were employed in their ordinary occupations.

"I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced
in me an infinity of new images and feelings, that sometimes raised me
to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In
the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting
story, so many opinions are canvassed and so many lights thrown upon
what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects that I found in it a
never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and
domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and
feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded
well with my experience among my protectors and with the wants which
were forever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a
more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character
contained no pretension, but it sank deep. The disquisitions upon
death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not
pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards
the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely
understanding it.

"As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and
condition. I found myself similar yet at the same time strangely
unlike to the beings concerning whom I read and to whose conversation I
was a listener. I sympathized with and partly understood them, but I
was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none.
`The path of my departure was free,' and there was none to lament my
annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did
this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my
destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to
solve them.

"The volume of Plutarch's Lives which I possessed contained the
histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book
had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I
learned from Werter's imaginations despondency and gloom, but Plutarch
taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my
own reflections, to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many
things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very
confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers,
and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns and
large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the
only school in which I had studied human nature, but this book
developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned
in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the
greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as
far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they
were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these
feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa,
Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The
patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a
firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had
been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should
have been imbued with different sensations.

"But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read
it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as
a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the
picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of
exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity
struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to
any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine
in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a
perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of
his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from
beings of a superior nature, but I was wretched, helpless, and alone.
Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition, for
often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter
gall of envy rose within me.

"Another circumstance strengthened and confirmed these feelings. Soon
after my arrival in the hovel I discovered some papers in the pocket of
the dress which I had taken from your laboratory. At first I had
neglected them, but now that I was able to decipher the characters in
which they were written, I began to study them with diligence. It was
your journal of the four months that preceded my creation. You
minutely described in these papers every step you took in the progress
of your work; this history was mingled with accounts of domestic
occurrences. You doubtless recollect these papers. Here they are.
Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed
origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances
which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious
and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own
horrors and rendered mine indelible. I sickened as I read. `Hateful
day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. `Accursed creator!
Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in
disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own
image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the
very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire
and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.'

"These were the reflections of my hours of despondency and solitude;
but when I contemplated the virtues of the cottagers, their amiable and
benevolent dispositions, I persuaded myself that when they should
become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues they would
compassionate me and overlook my personal deformity. Could they turn
from their door one, however monstrous, who solicited their compassion
and friendship? I resolved, at least, not to despair, but in every way
to fit myself for an interview with them which would decide my fate. I
postponed this attempt for some months longer, for the importance
attached to its success inspired me with a dread lest I should fail.
Besides, I found that my understanding improved so much with every
day's experience that I was unwilling to commence this undertaking
until a few more months should have added to my sagacity.

"Several changes, in the meantime, took place in the cottage. The
presence of Safie diffused happiness among its inhabitants, and I also
found that a greater degree of plenty reigned there. Felix and Agatha
spent more time in amusement and conversation, and were assisted in
their labours by servants. They did not appear rich, but they were
contented and happy; their feelings were serene and peaceful, while
mine became every day more tumultuous. Increase of knowledge only
discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was. I
cherished hope, it is true, but it vanished when I beheld my person
reflected in water or my shadow in the moonshine, even as that frail
image and that inconstant shade.

"I endeavoured to crush these fears and to fortify myself for the trial
which in a few months I resolved to undergo; and sometimes I allowed my
thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and
dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with my
feelings and cheering my gloom; their angelic countenances breathed
smiles of consolation. But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my
sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam's
supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me,
and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.

"Autumn passed thus. I saw, with surprise and grief, the leaves decay
and fall, and nature again assume the barren and bleak appearance it
had worn when I first beheld the woods and the lovely moon. Yet I did
not heed the bleakness of the weather; I was better fitted by my
conformation for the endurance of cold than heat. But my chief
delights were the sight of the flowers, the birds, and all the gay
apparel of summer; when those deserted me, I turned with more attention
towards the cottagers. Their happiness was not decreased by the
absence of summer. They loved and sympathized with one another; and
their joys, depending on each other, were not interrupted by the
casualties that took place around them. The more I saw of them, the
greater became my desire to claim their protection and kindness; my
heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures; to see
their sweet looks directed towards me with affection was the utmost
limit of my ambition. I dared not think that they would turn them from
me with disdain and horror. The poor that stopped at their door were
never driven away. I asked, it is true, for greater treasures than a
little food or rest: I required kindness and sympathy; but I did not
believe myself utterly unworthy of it.

"The winter advanced, and an entire revolution of the seasons had taken
place since I awoke into life. My attention at this time was solely
directed towards my plan of introducing myself into the cottage of my
protectors. I revolved many projects, but that on which I finally
fixed was to enter the dwelling when the blind old man should be
alone. I had sagacity enough to discover that the unnatural
hideousness of my person was the chief object of horror with those who
had formerly beheld me. My voice, although harsh, had nothing terrible
in it; I thought, therefore, that if in the absence of his children I
could gain the good will and mediation of the old De Lacey, I might by
his means be tolerated by my younger protectors.

"One day, when the sun shone on the red leaves that strewed the ground
and diffused cheerfulness, although it denied warmth, Safie, Agatha,
and Felix departed on a long country walk, and the old man, at his own
desire, was left alone in the cottage. When his children had departed,
he took up his guitar and played several mournful but sweet airs, more
sweet and mournful than I had ever heard him play before. At first his
countenance was illuminated with pleasure, but as he continued,
thoughtfulness and sadness succeeded; at length, laying aside the
instrument, he sat absorbed in reflection.

"My heart beat quick; this was the hour and moment of trial, which
would decide my hopes or realize my fears. The servants were gone to a
neighbouring fair. All was silent in and around the cottage; it was an
excellent opportunity; yet, when I proceeded to execute my plan, my
limbs failed me and I sank to the ground. Again I rose, and exerting
all the firmness of which I was master, removed the planks which I had
placed before my hovel to conceal my retreat. The fresh air revived
me, and with renewed determination I approached the door of their

"I knocked. `Who is there?' said the old man. `Come in.'

"I entered. `Pardon this intrusion,' said I; `I am a traveller in want
of a little rest; you would greatly oblige me if you would allow me to
remain a few minutes before the fire.'

"`Enter,' said De Lacey, `and I will try in what manner I can to
relieve your wants; but, unfortunately, my children are from home, and
as I am blind, I am afraid I shall find it difficult to procure food
for you.'

"`Do not trouble yourself, my kind host; I have food; it is warmth and
rest only that I need.'

"I sat down, and a silence ensued. I knew that every minute was
precious to me, yet I remained irresolute in what manner to commence
the interview, when the old man addressed me. `By your language,
stranger, I suppose you are my countryman; are you French?'

"`No; but I was educated by a French family and understand that
language only. I am now going to claim the protection of some friends,
whom I sincerely love, and of whose favour I have some hopes.'

"`Are they Germans?'

"`No, they are French. But let us change the subject. I am an
unfortunate and deserted creature, I look around and I have no relation
or friend upon earth. These amiable people to whom I go have never
seen me and know little of me. I am full of fears, for if I fail
there, I am an outcast in the world forever.'

"`Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate, but
the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are
full of brotherly love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes;
and if these friends are good and amiable, do not despair.'

"`They are kind--they are the most excellent creatures in the world;
but, unfortunately, they are prejudiced against me. I have good
dispositions; my life has been hitherto harmless and in some degree
beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they
ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable

"`That is indeed unfortunate; but if you are really blameless, cannot
you undeceive them?'

"`I am about to undertake that task; and it is on that account that I
feel so many overwhelming terrors. I tenderly love these friends; I
have, unknown to them, been for many months in the habits of daily
kindness towards them; but they believe that I wish to injure them, and
it is that prejudice which I wish to overcome.'

"`Where do these friends reside?'

"`Near this spot.'

"The old man paused and then continued, `If you will unreservedly
confide to me the particulars of your tale, I perhaps may be of use in
undeceiving them. I am blind and cannot judge of your countenance, but
there is something in your words which persuades me that you are
sincere. I am poor and an exile, but it will afford me true pleasure
to be in any way serviceable to a human creature.'

"`Excellent man! I thank you and accept your generous offer. You
raise me from the dust by this kindness; and I trust that, by your aid,
I shall not be driven from the society and sympathy of your fellow

"`Heaven forbid! Even if you were really criminal, for that can only
drive you to desperation, and not instigate you to virtue. I also am
unfortunate; I and my family have been condemned, although innocent;
judge, therefore, if I do not feel for your misfortunes.'

"`How can I thank you, my best and only benefactor? From your lips
first have I heard the voice of kindness directed towards me; I shall
be forever grateful; and your present humanity assures me of success
with those friends whom I am on the point of meeting.'

"`May I know the names and residence of those friends?'

"I paused. This, I thought, was the moment of decision, which was to rob
me of or bestow happiness on me forever. I struggled vainly for firmness
sufficient to answer him, but the effort destroyed all my remaining
strength; I sank on the chair and sobbed aloud. At that moment I heard
the steps of my younger protectors. I had not a moment to lose, but
seizing the hand of the old man, I cried, `Now is the time! Save and
protect me! You and your family are the friends whom I seek. Do not
you desert me in the hour of trial!'

"`Great God!' exclaimed the old man. `Who are you?'

"At that instant the cottage door was opened, and Felix, Safie, and
Agatha entered. Who can describe their horror and consternation on
beholding me? Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her
friend, rushed out of the cottage. Felix darted forward, and with
supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung, in
a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently
with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends
the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with bitter sickness, and
I refrained. I saw him on the point of repeating his blow, when,
overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage, and in the general
tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel."


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