Robert Walton writes a series of letters to his sister Margaret Saville and tells the story of how his polar expedition becomes trapped in ice and how one day he sees a 'gigantic figure' in the distance. The next day he takes on board a mysterious stranger, Victor Frankenstein. Victor takes over the narration and tells Walton a complex tale about his life history and how he comes to be alone so near to the North Pole.
As a child, Victor Frankenstein's life in Switzerland is safe and secure with loving parents (Alphonse and Caroline) and two younger brothers (Ernest and William). Victor's charitable mother also gives a home to a young orphan girl, Elizabeth Lavenza, and Victor grows particularly fond of her. Victor shows an inquisitive nature and is particularly fascinated by anything scientific. Victor’s mother falls ill and passes away. It is her dying wish that Victor and Elizabeth will one day marry.
Victor attends the University of Ingolstadt in Germany where he becomes fascinated by the creation of life. For two years he pursues his ambition to create a man and bring him to life. During this time he neglects his family and friends and makes himself ill. Victor hopes to create a perfect being but in reality the huge creature he produces is made up from pieces of various corpses he has taken from graveyards and mortuaries. Eventually Victor succeeds in bringing this creation to life but when he realises how monstrous it actually is, he abandons it, thinking it will die a natural death from neglect.